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Want to break the bias? Play the long game

Toni Allen, of the Institution of Engineering and Technology talks glass ceilings, skills gaps, and why organizations must make a long-term plan for diversity and inclusion.

Alisha Lyndon

by Alisha Lyndon

August 9, 2022

Toni Allen, Executive Director, International, Strategic Marketing & Engagement for the Institution of Engineering and Technology talks glass ceilings, skills gaps, and why organizations must make a long-term plan for diversity and inclusion

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Click here to download the full podcast.

What is your career background?

I have worked the full gamut from public relations and comms to strategic marketing, sales and commercial roles. I sit more in that transformation space now, trying to encourage marketing to really be the brains of the business. It’s not just about brochures and balloons, nowadays, it’s about data and insight, customer journeys, sales enablement, and account-based marketing – the 360 degree hub of marketing and what it can do for revenue generation.

As well as heading up the IET’s marketing strategy, you’re Executive Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. How did you come to be so passionate about this topic?

“I did my dissertation many years ago around women and the glass ceiling. I interviewed 200 women in middle management and senior management about the glass ceiling, and I just couldn’t get my head around the idea that there was this perceived barrier. I certainly had never felt it growing up. So, it’s been important to me to make sure that I’m using my position as I’ve managed to climb up the ladder to encourage others to take their rightful place at work and to really be a champion and ally. It’s crucial because it takes everybody to break the bias. I want to be a person that mentors and coaches and gives everybody a voice.”

What diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives does the IET run? 

“We were the first professional engineering institution to offer a woman electrical engineer a membership, so [D&I] goes right back to our heartland and heritage. At our Board of Trustee level, this year for the first time we had a 50/50 split for gender. We run our Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards every year, we are part of LGBTQ+ forums, and we work with organizations in trying to reach [students] that are not necessarily in the top leagues or in the top colleges or universities and get them into engineering. So we really are about the ‘engineer for everybody’.”

What’s the state of D&I in the industry today?

“There are still only 16% of engineers globally that are women. And when you’re looking at race and culture, particularly BAME workers, they make up only 9% of engineers. It’s not good enough. And if you think about the diversity of thought needed to solve societal challenges of tomorrow, like sustainability and digital futures, engineers are so crucial to that.

“It’s so important to learn about intersectionality. Engineering not a one-size-fits-all space, if you fall into the neurodiversity box or you fall into the ethnicity box. It’s important to recognize that people have many, many boxes that they’re in every day.”

What is contributing to the lack of diversity in the industry – and how can we change it?

“We recently launched our UAE engineering and technology skills survey, which highlighted this huge skills gap in the UAE, as there is in the UK. And that is because graduates are not necessarily equipped to hit the ground running when they get into industry, because they’re not getting that industry experience.

“We know through studies that it starts off from the age of four and five ­– that’s when kids decide that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) is for them. It’s that pipeline that we must feed all the way through to university and graduation. It’s about collaboration. It’s about making sure that the universities are promoting gender equality and diversity. It’s about making sure that the industry recognizes the importance of hiring women and promoting women and getting women in the boardrooms.

It's about collaboration. It's about making sure that the universities are promoting gender equality and diversity. It’s about making sure that the industry recognizes the importance of hiring women and promoting women and getting women in the boardrooms.

Toni Allen, Executive Director, International, Strategic Marketing & Engagement for the IET

It’s the long-term game. The UAE are focusing on far more than 10 years – they’ve got a plan out to 2071. Other countries should have some real long-term plans for diversity.”

What do you have for women entering the industry?

“Make sure that your passion and your curiosity and your love for engineering is felt not just in the workplace, but by joining networks and getting out of the office. Ella Podmore, who won in our Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards 2021 was McLaren’s first ever materials engineer working on race cars at the age of 24. Our recent winner, Dr Ciara McGrath, is a Lecturer in Aerospace Systems at the University of Manchester. These are young women who have formidable backgrounds – and they haven’t just done that through their employment, they’ve done it through championing and mentoring and having role models. It’s so important to make sure these women are promoted and that other women, other girls, can see them.”

Listen to the full podcast with Toni Allen, Executive Director, International, Strategic Marketing & Engagement for the Institution of Engineering and Technology here.

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