5 questions to Carmen Leicht-Scholten, Professor of Gender Diversity in Engineering
5 questions to... Carmen Leicht-Scholten, Professor of Gender Diversity in Engineering
Importance of Diversity and Social Responsibility in Engineering Professions
Ms. Leicht-Scholten, what is the situation regarding diversity and equality in the engineering professions?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not so simple, as it is necessary here to differentiate between different fields of engineering science. Overall, we see an increase in female employed engineers from 205,000 in 2005 to 312,900 in 2018 (the figures are regularly collected by the Institute of German Business for the VDI). Nonetheless, the proportion of female engineers in employment is increasing very slowly: It is 18 per cent in Germany, which is below the EU average of 19.7 per cent. However, diversity and equality are not only aimed at gender aspects, but also at aspects such as social and ethnic origin, age, mental and physical abilities, sexual orientation, etc. Every seventh engineer in Germany has immigrated. Unfortunately, there are no statistics on most categories of diversity.
What is a special social responsibility of engineers towards other professions?
Engineering artefacts and infrastructures influence our everyday life and thus also our society. They change our mobility, our communication, our coexistence. Technical innovations are therefore becoming a driver of social change. The responsibility of engineers cannot only be limited to purely technical questions. Engineers are also called upon to discuss the social scope of technical innovations with outsiders who do not have specialist expertise. It is important to enter into discourse with those who make decisions about technology from an economic, political or social point of view. Awareness of this should be created early on amongst engineers, preferably during their studies within the framework of courses that deal with social responsibility and technology development, and which offer opportunities for reflecting on one’s own self-image.
Which are the characteristics of responsibly produced products?
Responsibly produced products are sustainably produced products. The three central pillars of sustainability should always be considered; i.e. products must be produced in such a way that social, ecological and economic aspects are taken into account. Who produces the products under what conditions? Do the products benefit an already privileged class or a broader target group, who, for example, can thus benefit from more participation and a better quality of life? Which resources are used for the production? What impact do these materials have on the ecosystem? What is the longevity of the product? How can it be disposed of? Who can afford it? Communication with different groups (including many technical laymen and people from other fields) is, therefore, becoming increasingly important in the context of technology development.
You are an advocate of the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) process. What are the advantages of this process and how can it be adapted by companies?
RRI is a concept for a comprehensive policy strategy - involving a wide range of stakeholder groups - from citizens to scientists - in innovation processes in order to promote socially responsible and sustainable research and innovation. The RRI process also focuses on getting science out of the much-cited ivory tower and involving society more closely in research. Numerous scientific studies confirm the positive effects of diversity on creative, innovative processes. The more diverse the group that develops a product, the more perspectives can at best be included in the development process. Ideally, the end product can be used by a wider target group than if a very homogeneous group had developed the product. Diversity management is part of the corporate strategy for many companies. For companies, this could mean focusing more on "user-driven innovations" and involving not only experts but also other groups in product development.
Which trends will become increasingly more important in the engineering industry in the coming years?
The World Economic Forum has identified artificial intelligence and robotics, biotechnology, automation and cyber security as central topics for 2018 and also pointed out which risks may be associated with these globally. Here, too, it becomes clear that technology development and social responsibility go hand in hand.
Prof. Dr. Carmen Leicht-Scholten holds the joint professorship "Gender and Diversity in Engineering" at RWTH Aachen University. She studied Political Science, Sociology and Romance Studies and received her doctorate from the University of Hamburg in 1998. Leicht-Scholten is an expert-consultant for the European Commission in the Horizon 2020 project. She is also co-editor of the magazine "Gender".