Diversity Allies and Sponsorship in the Industry

Written by: Catherine Martsolf
Published on: Jul 22, 2021

Diversity Allies
Image credit: Rey Kamensky/Shutterstock

Studies show that diverse teams produce more effective solutions. Harvard Business Review found that diverse teams are able to solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people. Therefore, teams composed of members with diverse backgrounds lead to more informed decision-making processes and improved results.

Engineers should aim to create diverse teams and never discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, ability, age, nationality, country of origin, sexual orientation, ethnicity, marital status, or veteran status. Not only should engineers be against discrimination, they should also seek to act as allies and include others in strategic decision making. The importance of diversity allies in the engineering field must not be understated. As we seek equitable participation from minorities and underrepresented genders in engineering, we need to remind ourselves that the mission to create an inclusive culture does not fall solely on minorities in the industry; the responsibility falls on everyone.

With engineering firms and organizations addressing barriers to entry and leaks in the pipeline for diverse talent, many are looking toward active protégé mentoring programs, such as Cisco’s internal Multiplier Effect program. However, executing this strategic move in a company structure is much more difficult than it looks. Let it start with you acting as a diversity partner and active ally in your leadership role.

Below are strategies to utilize to become a more inclusive leader and active ally in your organization:

  • Understand and appreciate differences in perspective. Your worldview and lived experiences may not align with others, and vice versa. However, being aware that everyone’s lived experiences are unique is a great place to begin improving your own awareness of others and the strengths they bring to the table.
  • Intentionally seek input from others in meetings, including in professional organizations. Don’t keep seeking input from the same people over and over again. Try to seek input from underrepresented genders and races, neurodiverse professionals, and professionals with different backgrounds. Embracing your role as an active ally could take the form of asking everyone to include their pronouns during introductions in meetings or providing public forums for anyone interested in your organization to access and voice their willingness to be involved. Too often, individuals overlook their peers because they remain in their own cliques and bubbles.
  • Embrace intersectionality. Prospective allies may consider themselves active allies because they simply try to include women in their initiatives. While this is a great first step, being aware of intersectionality is an improved way of being an active ally. Diversity includes everything about an individual; inclusion and equity is not created if you are simply checking boxes and not looking at the intricate details of an individual’s identity.
  • Delegate leadership responsibilities and roles equally among your team members (without favoring anyone). Too often, our unconscious biases take control of our decisions as leaders. We cannot continue to groom those who think and look like ourselves to take our places. Challenge yourself to create equitable participation on your diverse teams by giving everyone an equal and fair opportunity to contribute.

Catherine Martsolf, EIT, M.ASCE, is the chair and founder of the HeForSWE ally mission in Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and serves as corresponding member in numerous ASCE committees, including Member of Society Advancing Inclusive Culture, Member Communities Committee, and Committee of Preparing the Future Civil Engineer. She is a full member of the ASCE Governing Documents Committee. She also serves the Lehigh Valley Section as secretary and founder of the Lehigh Valley EWRI chapter, in Pennsylvania.