Diversity provides unique perspectives

December 23, 2013

First published in Engineers Australia General Edition Vol 85 No 12, December 2013.

Engineers Australia’s Council in 2013 is one of the most diverse in its history. Current members vary in age and background, and bring a wealth of experience and differing skills.  After years of involvement with Young Engineers Australia, I was very fortunate to have been elected to the nine member Council, late last year.

My first twelve months on Engineers Australia’s Council have been challenging and a great learning experience.  Being a Councillor, which equates to being a board member of other organisations, has meant more focus on the governance and direction of Engineers Australia and less on the operational activities as was my focus in Young Engineers Australia.  One of our key motivations is to ensure Engineers Australia remains relevant to its members and continues a culture all engineers want to be a part of.

In addition to the regular duties of the Council, each member actively participates in activities, such as commemorating historically important engineering sites and works, as well as discussing the direction of the organisation with our members informally and in structured events.

The board of any organisation or company is where its strategic thinking and governance happen.  Recent research has shown that a diverse board can improve decision making and make an organisation much more effective, relevant and financially progressive.  Bringing together a varied range of skills and experience on a board is an essential part of good corporate governance in that it provides different perspectives on those governance matters including identifying opportunities and risks and dealing with each in an appropriately informed manner.

Recent research also proves that diversity at the board level is advantageous in providing different skills and relevance to the direction of a company or organisation.  Further, as noted by the 2011 Bain & Company/Chief Executive Women report, decision making effectiveness in organisations is improved by a diversity of perspectives, and measures for achieving greater diversity, tailored to the needs of an organisation or company, are welcomed.

As a young engineer and a woman, I have contributed to the diversity of our Council.  I’m not saying that people should be appointed or elected to Council or any other board for diversity’s sake. Members should be appointed on merit and the skills they offer.  However, diversity and differing skill sets often go hand in hand.

Engineers Australia’s Council is elected by its advisory committee, the Congress, which is made up of approximately 50 delegates representing all members of Engineers Australia.

A third of the Engineers Australia Council is female.  This is significantly higher than the percentage of females on ASX 200 boards which presently sits at 16.4%.  At least a third of the Engineers Australia board is under 50 years of age with one member classified as a young engineer (35 years or younger), this is a significantly higher percentage than many other boards in all industry and not-for-profit sectors.  In the mix of Council members there are senior managers and executives of large multinational engineering consulting and design firms and a global resources company; directors who run their own engineering companies; academics/lecturers; those with engineering and executive search experience; and those with mediation, contract dispute resolution and contract management experience.  Like all the other Councillors I have an engineering background.  I also have specialised legal qualifications, experience in intellectual property and key business skills.

Diverse board members provide unique perspectives, identifying different opportunities and risks.  Mentoring that Dr Marlene Kanga, other Councillors and colleagues have provided has been invaluable and has enabled me to contribute more effectively in my role.  When I finish my first term on Engineers Australia’s Council I will be privileged to have been the first young engineer to have completed a full term.  I encourage all members of Engineers Australia to become part of the Council or another board if you feel that you have the skills to contribute.

A diverse board is essential in any organisation and I believe that in 2013, the Engineers Australia’s Council has been well equipped with a broad range of important skills and experience as well as wide-ranging views to govern in the best interests of the organisation; as one may call it – a fresh way of thinking and a fresh approach.

It has been very rewarding being a member of the Engineers Australia Council in 2013 and I look forward to the challenges that 2014 will bring.

By Carla Cher

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