E&T Innovation Awards: ‘A range of thinkers is paramount to the success of a project’
Image credit: Alistair Veryard
TV presenter Dr Shini Somara talks about the 2022 E&T Innovation Awards and, as the host for this year, reflects on diversity and how it generates innovation in engineering.
These days, the terms ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are commonplace. Yet it’s up for debate whether their value and significance within an organisation’s culture is truly embraced. Fulfilling diversity quotas is not enough. So much more needs to be done by companies to inspire and evoke an innovative mindset in all its employees. The strategies for doing this effectively are surprisingly basic.
We are living in a constantly changing world, where innovation is essential for overcoming the challenges that brings. As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.”
The process of innovation has itself changed over the years. In the past we forged it with our intelligence, believing that in gathering interdisciplinary groups of elite academics, optimum solutions could be found. This approach worked for a while. Yet today, we live in a very different world. Through confinement, we became more globally connected and our approach to innovation had to adapt.
Innovation has reconditioned itself to be more inclusive. There is a need for fresh enlightened thinking, which is a nod to the under-represented for inspiration. There is more trust in minority voices and perspectives because we offer an offbeat approach. How effectively companies value our unorthodox viewpoints, will be an innovative marker.
Inclusion ensures that diverse teams feel appreciated, supported, and welcomed into the fundamental fabric of an organisation. This could be achieved through reverse mentoring or simply acknowledging and respecting differences in cultures. Companies should encourage their employees in communication, empathy, and social skills.
On my podcast, ‘Innervation’, I’ve spoken to many engineers and scientists about the importance of diversity and inclusion at work. I have learned through these conversations that innovation of a globally impactful variety must include diversity and inclusion. And by the same token: within diversity and inclusion, innovation must be encouraged.
When speaking with a Nigerian civil engineer recently, she expressed gratitude for being hired (despite being more than qualified for her role). She felt encouraged and supported by her peers. However, she was reluctant to bring her traditional home-cooked food to work for lunch, for fear that its spicy aromas would draw attention to the differences between her and her colleagues. It was only after her company had organised a World Food Day that she was able to fully be herself at work.
World Food Day invited employees to freely share their heritage, traditions, and culture through food. Barriers were broken down and individuals felt welcomed to let go of the self-restraint that can also hinder organisational innovation and creativity.
There are many ways in which companies can encourage employee integration. Acknowledging various cultural days across all traditions and nationalities is one simple, interesting, and considerate solution. Recognition can often be all that is required to burst the dams of creativity.
The changing waves of approach to innovation are subtle, yet Einstein’s timeless quote still rings true: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Companies need a range of thinkers on a project – it is paramount to their success. I hope we can soon move past company cultures that believe it is acceptable to hire only one female engineer into an all-male engineering team designing femtech. As is the case for Shrouk El-Attar, a senior electronics engineer. There is a wealth of brilliant, hard-working minority engineers, who are passionate about engineering and will bring an original flair to a company if given half a chance. Let’s give them an opportunity to shine after years of systematic suppression – the results will be uplifting for all.
Recently, I spoke with Molly Stevens, professor of biomedical materials and regenerative medicine in the Department of Materials and the Department of Bioengineering, and the research director for biomedical material sciences at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. She also expressed the importance of diverse teams in developing cutting-edge healthcare: “It’s really important to have diversity right across my group,” she said. “It just makes for much better working relationships and better team structures. Everyone has strengths to contribute, and I focus on getting the best out of my team.”
This is where innovation finds itself today. Acknowledging people’s differences and fortitudes and using them as fertiliser for new seeds to blossom. It is essential that companies know their employees beyond a box-ticking-exercise because it is innovation that will help companies survive, and inclusion that will permit them to thrive.
I’m looking forward to celebrating all those thriving at the Innovation Awards this year; it promises to be the most diverse and inclusive year yet!
How to enter
This year’s awards are now open for entry, and the closing date is Monday 4 July 2022.
Winners will be announced at the Awards ceremony at Hilton London Bankside on Thursday 10 November 2022.
All details about the Awards, the range of categories and the entry procedure are on the website: bit.ly/eandt-innovawards
Will 2022 be the year your invention or project joins the E&T Innovation Awards Roll of Honour?
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