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What Next for Diversity in Engineering Simulation?


What Next for Diversity in Engineering Simulation?

According to Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, Chair of the Diversity Leadership Group subgroup of the Royal Academy of Engineering: ‘creating inclusive cultures across engineering companies is critical in not only engaging, attracting and retaining engineers of all ages, but also as regards driving innovation and creativity’ [1]

If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.

Moreover, diversity, equity and inclusion matter because we live in a world that is increasingly becoming ever more deeply interconnected. Again, and again, it has been proven that greater diversity leads to increased innovation and creativity. Now, new research from McKinsey & Company [2] shows a strong correlation with financial performance. In their report, the companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity were 30% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median. McKinsey & Company warned however that ‘This correlation does not prove that the relationship is causal — that greater ethnic and gender diversity in corporate leadership automatically translates into more profit — but rather indicates that companies that commit to diverse leadership are more successful’ [2, p. 3].

Engineering UK is a not-for-profit organisation, which works in partnership with the engineering community to ‘inspire tomorrow’s engineers and increase the number and diversity of young people choosing academic and vocational pathways into engineering’ [3]. As stated in the Engineering UK report, 2018, ‘the engineering workforce does not reflect the diversity of the overall UK working population, particularly in respect of gender’ [4]. They also highlighted in their report that “while women comprised 46.9% of the overall UK workforce in 2016, they only made up 20.5% of those working in the engineering sector. This proportion is even lower when considering just those working in core and related engineering roles, at 12.0%. Likewise, only 8.1% of workers in the engineering sector were from ethnic minority groups, compared with 12.7% in non-engineering sectors, and 12.2% of the broader population.” [4,p. 13]

According to the WISE Campaign (Women into Science and Engineering) “projections from the last ten years of workforce data show that by 2030, on current trends, almost 30% of core-STEM roles will be filled by women-1.5 million women in total. Evidence suggests that 30% is the ‘critical mass’ level at which a minority group becomes able to influence real change” [5]. So, we want to be part of helping these goals be reflected within the NAFEMS Community.

The Royal Association of Engineering found that disabled engineers were

  • More than twice as likely to have experienced bullying or harassment than their non-disabled colleagues (27% vs13%)
  • 13% less clear about what they need to do to progress their career than their non-disabled colleagues
  • 21% reported planning to leave the profession, or were undecided about doing so for reasons other than retirement, within the next 12 months, compared to those without a disability (13%) [6]

These statistics show that diversity goes beyond gender issues. Diversity without inclusion is useless, as representation is just one piece of the puzzle. Creating an equitable environment for all employees is essential as Ekaterina Walter said in Forbes magazine [7]: ‘If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.

’Why Does Any of this Matter?

An important first step in creating an inclusive organisational culture is understanding why diversity and inclusion are beneficial in engineering. Numerous research studies demonstrate that inclusive cultures can lead to significant positive impacts on a range of factors for both individuals and organisations. Scott E. Page, Professor of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan, has looked at the link between greater diversity and increased innovation. In his book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies [8], the author goes through a rigorous, formal description of how diversity brings benefits to organizations. Indeed, the author constructed a formal model with Lu Hong, an economist, that showed mathematically that diversity can trump ability. Using case studies, he was able to show how diversity in staffing results in a stronger organisation.

Professor Page found that when teams are made up of diverse individuals (identities, education, and general life experience) they allow for different perspectives which, when taken into consideration, result in greater collective intelligence compared to that of homogenous teams, even those considered more capable. As Page puts it; ‘Progress depends as much on our collective differences as it does on our individual IQ scores.’ [8,p. xxvi]

Professor Page does note that some of the models showing the impact of diversity that he cites in the book have been tested via computer simulation only, and not in practical settings [8, p.351]. However, I think it’s fair to say that within the NAFEMS community we are well aware of the value of simulation! Figure1: Illustration of the disparities between representation of women and ethnic minority groups in the general UK workforce vs the engineering sector. [4] What Next for Diversity in Engineering Simulation?

What Progress has been Made?

Although programs raising awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion issues have been running for a while, why hasn't the situation progressed to a noticeable degree?

McKinsey & Company’s research [2, p. 15] suggests that it’s often a matter of a lack of recognition and understanding. They found that there are a number of important barriers to the recruitment of all diversity groups:

  • Lack of a clear and consistent mandate with visible support from leadership;
  • Inadequate collection and use of data on the advantages of more diverse organisations;
  • Training that is limited and exclusive in its content and audience.

They do state that all of these barriers, once understood, can be addressed and overcome if an open, multifaceted approach is instituted.

Frank Dobbin, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, and Alexandra Kalev, an associate professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University delve deep into the issue in their 2016 Harvard Business Review article, ‘Why Diversity Programs Fail’ [9]. According to Dobbin and Kalev, the very high failure rate (70%) in diversity programmes that try to change the composition of leadership teams or staff and to disrupt old habits and established routines fail because the people they target—management and employees— do not believe in them and, as a result, do not prioritise them.

Similarly, the McKinsey &Company report noted that, based on earlier research by McConnell and Leibold [10], the type of challenges that these programs face — from resistance to apathy driven by unconscious as well as conscious biases—can be ‘deeply ingrained in an organisation’s culture and unknowingly practised by individuals’ [2, p. 15].

Dobbin and Kalev [9] point out that ‘Black men have barely gained ground in corporate management since1985. White women haven’t progressed since 2000.’ The reason is not that there aren’t enough educated women and minorities. For example, in the engineering sector, there are now over 50,000 women in engineering professional roles in the UK – almost double the number since 2009 [5]. Only 9% of UK engineers are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds although an average of29.9% of engineering university graduates are from BME backgrounds [11]. The authors bluntly point out; ‘we can’t motivate people by forcing them to get with the program and punishing them if they don’t.’ The article makes it clear; solutions that focus on control simply do not work.

So, it looks like no significant progress has been made and none of the current strategies work well. Why is that? Dobbin and Kalev point to the ineffectiveness of popular tactics like diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, and grievance procedures. Studies have shown that the effect of diversity training can often be short-lived and have the adverse effect of actually activating bias and sparking backlash [12]; Hiring tests have been used selectively by managers who do not like being told that they cannot hire whoever they want [9]; Performance ratings have been shown to have no positive effect on minority hiring and promotion and to have in fact decreased the share of white women in management by an average of 4% [9, p. 7]. As for grievance procedures, there is evidence that these are often met with retaliation, ranging from ridicule, demotion, or worse.[13]

So, What Next Then?

So now we know what doesn’t work and why, what can we do to implement strategies that do work? For successful diversity and inclusion programmes Dobbin and Kalev encourage the applications of three key principles.

The authors encouraged people to apply three basic principles:

  • engage managers in solving the problem,
  • expose them to people from different groups, and
  • encourage social accountability for change.

Why Engagement?

Engagement, the first of the key principles the authors recommend can be used as a tool to prompt people to actin ways that support a particular view in order to shift their opinions toward that view. This is based on the idea of ‘cognitive dissonance’ [14] which is, according to psychologists, what we experience when we encounter new information that challenges a deeply held belief, or when we act in a way that seems to undermine our own positive self-image. When this happens, we feel uncomfortably ‘out of sync’ with ourselves and tend to want to correct that. This is where the ‘Engagement’ part of Dobbin and Kalev’s strategy comes in. If managers When a collection of people works together, and one person makes an improvement, the others can often improve on this new solution even further: improvements build on improvements. - Professor Scott Page”“ engage with and actively contribute to diversity programmes that yield positive results for their companies, they begin to feel good about themselves, which boosts that positive self-image and diminishes cognitive dissonance. Or, as the authors put it: ‘they begin to think of themselves as diversity champions.’ [9, p. 9]

University recruitment programs and mentorships are two ways to engage managers. The authors reveal that overseeing mentees and providing them with guidance and the opportunity to learn, gives them the opportunity to grow and advance their careers which in turn gives the mentor proof that the mentees deserve new opportunities.

Why Contact?

The authors explained how something as simple as physical proximity to one another can help break down stereotypes and impact hiring and promotion decisions. They used the example of self-managed teams, defined as a group of workers who have come together and are accountable and responsible for all or most aspects that revolve around the tasks that they do’ [15]. Such teams increase contact among diverse types of people because specialties within firms are still largely divided along racial, ethnic, and gender lines. Additionally, these types of teams facilitate co-working between people in different roles and functions without the usual organisational hierarchies getting in the way.

Another way of increasing contact is rotating management trainees and cross-training. This, the authors explained, gives people the opportunity to try out a variety of jobs and gives them a more in-depth understanding of the organisation as a whole. It impacts diversity and inclusion objectives positively as it exposes members of the organisation, at every level, to a wider variety of people. Why Social Accountability? The third of Dobbin and Kalev’s key principles, social accountability, plays on our need to look good in the eyes of those around us. A way to strategize this, the authors suggest, is to set up voluntary teams put together by CEOs, consisting of department heads and members of underrepresented groups. These task forces’ responsibilities are; familiarising themselves with the stats on diversity (on an organisational as well as departmental level), identifying areas for improvement, and coming up with strategies for their level of organisation to implement. Done regularly, this ensures that members of the task force notice any lack of effective engagement, colleagues not volunteering to mentor or to participate in recruitment events, for example. The authors explain that having the task forces in place has the effect of evoking the tenets of accountability theory —'having to justify one's beliefs, feelings, and actions to others’ [16] — which in turn encourages managers to examine their hiring and promotion decisions.


Percentage change over five years in representation among managers


Figure 2: Percentage change over five years in representation among managers [9]


Diversity Iceberg, based on Hall's Iceberg Model of Culture


Figure 3: Diversity Iceberg, based on Hall's Iceberg Model of Culture [Online].

The authors also recommended that people in charge of diversity take the role of accountability manager or watchdog, this means reminding managers to consider everyone who is qualified instead of hiring based on familiarity, or some other connection. The authors tell us this is effective because ‘when people know they might have to explain their decisions, they are less likely to act on bias.’ [9, p. 16]

The (maybe) surprising highlight of the ‘Why Diversity Fails’ article is that diversity training, grievance procedures, and other popular methods long used in Diversity and Inclusion programmes have less positive impact than activating engagement in a mission and intergroup contact.

Finally ...

Evidently, there is plenty of good information out there on what does work, we just need to do more of it in order to develop truly inclusive workplaces and leave no one behind. As part of the NAFEMS community, our focus will be to do that not only with regard to gender and race disparities but other grounds of discrimination. Caroline Casey, writing for the World Economic Forum, describes intersectionality as ‘a way of understanding how and why every individual’s view of the world is different’ [17]. We want to make sure that all views and perspectives are represented. Contrary to the UK International Trade Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss’s approach, as expressed in her recent speech on the UK’s equalities policy [18] , we won’t favour one issue over another and we don’t consider people speaking out a “fashion” movement, but a cry for justice. We consider demonstrations as freedom of expression and not a lobby, we see them as representing the individual and collective will for more rapid and visible changes. All these issues are stemming from structural discrimination that needs to be faced.

Speaking to The Independent, Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women's Budget Group (‘a network of academic researchers and policy experts that analyses government policy from a gender perspective’ [19]), reacted to Liz Truss’ speech by saying. “We can’t separate experiences of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, and racism from socioeconomic status and geographic location. To tackle one, we need to tackle the others.” Dr Stephenson said addressing poverty and inequalities based on class was not an “either/or question pitting gender and race on one side against class on the other” [19]. This is important to NAFEMS: we want to make sure that we address the full spectrum of diversity.

As the saying goes ‘there is strength in numbers’, so we hope you will join us at one of our upcoming diversity and inclusion events, if you have not already attended. We hope you will share your ideas and help us move the needle forward towards a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable Simulation Community. Most organisations, including NAFEMS, still have a lot of work to do in taking full advantage of what a more diverse leadership team represents, and, in particular, more work to do at all levels of the organisation. Considering the increasing returns diversity is expected to bring, it is better to start investing now or else end up struggling to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.



[1] Diversity Leadership Group-Royal Academy of Engineering, “Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering- a case study toolkit (Summary),” Royal Academy of Engineering,[Online]. Available:

[2] V. Hunt, D. Layton and S. Prince, “Diversity Matters, ”McKinsey &Company, November 2014. [Online]. Available:[Accessed 25 January 2021].

[3] “EngineeringUK,” 2021. [Online]. Available:[Accessed 25 January 2021].

[4] S. Neave et al, “Engineering UK 2018:The State Of Engineering,” EngineeringUK, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

[5] WISE Campaign, “2019 Workforce Statistics – One million women in STEM in the UK,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

[6] Royal Academy of Engineering, “World Disability Day: 3Dec 2020,” 2020. [Online]. Available:

[7] E. Walter, “Reaping The Benefits Of Diversity For Modern Business Innovation,” 14 January 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

[8] S. E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, NewJersey: Princeton University Press, 2008.

[9] F. Dobbin and A. Kalev, “Why Diversity Programs Fail, ”Harvard Business Review, July-August 2016. [Online].Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

[10] A. R. McConnell and J. M. Leibold, “Relations among the implicit association test, discriminatory behavior, and explicit measures of racial attitudes,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 37, no. 5, p. 435–442,September 2001. [11] AFBE-UK-Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers., “About us.,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

[12] D. Rock and H. Grant, “Is Your Company’s Diversity Training Making You More Biased?,” 07 June 2017. [Online].Available:

[13] U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),“Retaliation - Making it Personal,”, [Online].Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

[14] Psychology Today, “Cognitive Dissonance,” [Online].Available: [Accessed 2025 January 2021].

[15] H. Bhasin, “What Are Self-Managed Teams And How Can They Be Effective?,” 2020. [Online]. Available:[Accessed 25 January 2021].

[16] J. S. Lerner and P. . E. Tetlock, “Accounting for the Effects of Accountability,” Psychology Bulletin, vol. 125, no. 2, pp.255-275, 1999.

[17] C. Casey, “What is intersectionality and how can it help businesses tackle diversity and inclusion?,” World Economic Forum, 23 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

[18] E. Truss, ““Dignity and humanity... not quotas and targets, or equality of outcome.” Truss’s speech on fairness – fulltext,” 17 December 2020. [Online]. Available:[Accessed 25 January 2021].

[19] M. Bulman and M. Oppenheim, “Backlash as ministers vow to ditch focus on ‘fashionable’ fight against inequality,” The Independent, 17 December 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 January 2021].

Olivia Bugaj has been a Digital Marketing Executive at NAFEMS since 2015, leading the organisation's social media presence, assisting in global marketing initiatives, and developing the website at She also leads the NAFEMS’ diversity and inclusion efforts and is happy to accept any thoughts or suggestions on how we can make the simulation engineering community more welcoming for all, at

our social identities are not limited to just one facet –not race, gender, class, marital status, faith, sexuality, disability, socio-economic background nor age. - Caroline Casey”