Conference on Diversity and Engineering

This is so much more than engineering. This is solving the problem of diversity.

By Jonathan Kettle, Former Staff Writer/Contributor-Extraordinaire.

Now more than ever, it’s Canada’s time to show the world that we are leaders in diversity. Students studying non-STEM subjects may get more explicit exposure to the concepts of diversity through their classes, but those in Engineering rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to celebrate each other’s differences that make us stronger.

The Conference on Diversity in Engineering (CDE) served to educate Engineering students on the problems surrounding diversity in professional workplaces. Engineering students across the country, featuring Jon Kettle, Joy Santos, and Steve Cole from Lakehead, mobilized in Montreal to learn about topics and issues in diversity within the profession. Who better to tackle these problems than some of the world’s natural problem solvers?

It’s widely known that many women still earn around $0.78 for every dollar a man makes. The abilities of ethnic minorities are frequently underestimated, those with disabilities may not be employed because of them, and those who identify as non-heterosexual may not receive the same opportunities as the majority. Clearly, our nation isn’t where it needs to be; however, nearly everyone can agree that there has been immense progress. Conferences like the CDE are the next step in accelerating societal transitions – exactly what the doctor (of philosophy) ordered.

It’s impossible to summarize a full weekend’s worth of talks, but I’d like to share some of the more applicable and interesting ones with you.

One of the best received workshops at CDE discussed “upping your creative thinking game”. It can be applied in an uncountable number of settings, both technical and not. It begins with initiating an inclusive, non-judgmental ideation environment, where everyone in the group contributes brief ideas about solving the problem. Upon completion, the ideas are grouped into four categories. The first consists of those that are impractical to implement. The next contains schemes that could readily be implemented and are simple. The following “Wow” section consists of ideas requiring substantial effort and are revolutionary. The final “How” section consists of ideas for the future; they’re possible to implement, but are more ‘long term’ goals than anything else. Once these ideas from the ideation phase have been grouped, any two ideas from different sections may be amalgamated, and the results can be fantastic; so much so, in fact, that the idea my group came up with is too valuable to be published! This method is called the CoCD Box, and is definitely something problem solvers should investigate.

Solutions to social problems may be classified under two different headings. Sending food-aid to other countries, supporting companies like Toms Footwear, and sending people to build houses in developing nations can be classified as “sympathetic” solutions. These are the ones that don’t address the root cause of the problem, and in many cases originate from feelings of pity. Sympathetic solutions can even worsen problems (seriously, read up on the effects of Toms on the economies of villages in Africa). Empathetic solutions, where problem-solvers can truly relate to people at the root of the problem, are the only ways to surpass challenges. One former student from McGill University created a back pack with solar panels, allowing students to study at night time by using the stored energy from the day to power lightbulbs. Now, that is an empathetic solution.

There were so many other valuable insights from the conference that it’s impossible to bring them all to light within a single article. The most important thing I took away from CDE was that diversity does make us stronger. I met the most driven, passionate, intelligent, and dedicated individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting throughout my entire life at CDE. The prospect of them being denied the same opportunities as others because of their race, gender, or sex is incredulously disturbing. The challenges facing diversity in the professional workforce are immense, and the only group big enough to tackle it, is everyone.