Author: Dr Rehan Shah BEng (UCL), MSc (Oxf), PhD (UCL), FHEA, MIMA, MInstP (Queen Mary University of London). 

Topic: Implementing sustainability into technical engineering curricula. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Relevant disciplines: Any.  

Keywords: Teaching or embedding sustainability; Mathematical problems; Curriculum; Higher education; Ethical issue; AHEP; Sustainability; Gender; Environment; Interdisciplinary; STEM. 
Sustainability competency: Integrated problem-solving.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses three of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills) and Science and Mathematics (the ability to apply the knowledge, not merely understand it). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: See below for problems specific to SDG 5 (Gender Equality); SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation); SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy); SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure); SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities); SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); SDG 14 (Life Below Water); and SDG 15 (Life on Land). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Cross-disciplinarity.

Who is this article for? This article should be read by academics and educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate sustainability into the engineering curriculum within the typical mathematics-specific modules that are present. It will also help prepare students with the key graduate attributes and skills required by professional accreditation bodies and employers. 

Supporting resources:  



Global challenges that call for environmental, sustainable and innovative solutions have consistently pushed us to be open to the changes and challenges within engineering education (Graham, 2012; Graham, 2018; Crawley et al., 2014; Lawlor, 2013; The Royal Academy of Engineering, 2007). Despite the prevalence of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since 2015, several reports and studies (Mulder et al., 2012; Buckler and Creech, 2014; Lazzarini et al., 2018; Morrissey, 2013; Neubauer et al., 2017; Wals, 2014; Miñano Rubio et al. 2019) have noted that the incorporation of sustainability within universities finds the greatest barrier in the field of teaching, with curricula often failing to address key environmental and ethical issues. This situation reflects the need for educators to develop a toolkit of resource materials that can serve as a reference guide for the effective and systematic integration of sustainability into university engineering curricula (Thürer et al., 2018).  


Basic principles for embedding sustainability and ethics:  

The principles for integrating sustainability into mathematical problems and exercises within the engineering curricula share strong parallels to the embedding of ethical components, as documented within several guidance articles from the EPC’s Engineering Ethics Toolkit. Some of these include:  






Examples of mathematical problems with embedded sustainability:  

The following three example problems from Chiodo and Muller, 2023 with minor adaptations (as permitted under the Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0), illustrate ways in which sustainability aspects can be integrated within traditional technical exercise questions found in engineering mathematics courses:  

Partial solution comments have been included here for brevity, please refer to Chiodo and Muller, 2023 for full solution details.  


Problem 1: Pipeline construction 

Topic: Optimisation. 

SDG mapping: SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), SDG 15 (Life on Land). 

An oil company wants to build a pipeline connecting an oil platform to a refinery (on land). The coastline is straight. The oil platform is at a distance of 13km from the coast. The refinery is on the coastline, a distance 10km from the point on the coast closest to the platform. Building the pipeline will lead to a cost of £90,000 per km at sea and £60,000 per km on land.  


Calculate the optimal length for building the pipeline. What are the factors that need to be considered when providing a response to this question?  


Solution comments: The cost-minimising path is given by Snell’s law and is an exercise in trigonometry and calculus. But who said we were optimising over cost? This is an assumption often engrained into engineers while they are students, but it need not always be the right way to optimise. How many decisions made by government agencies (often based on advice offered by mathematical consultants) use economics as the sole criterion for optimisation?  

Economic actions almost always have externalities, such as possible damage to the environment (the pipe may go through a coral reef or protected habitat) or to existing infrastructure (it may go through a school or a site of archaeological significance). How could we mathematically model the environmental and human impact of laying this pipe? There are numerous factors to consider and students, much like policymakers would, should take a holistic view of these effects and at least be aware of, and question the implications of basing decisions solely on economic factors. 


Problem 2: Environmental disasters 

Topic: Differential equations. 

SDG mapping: SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). 

A chemical accident took place near a small village in Peru. The region’s local water reservoir has a volume V. The inflow and outflow of the reservoir is given by the flow rate r. Let x(t) be the amount of mercury in the reservoir at time t. Assume that the reservoir was clean at the beginning i.e., x(0) = 0. Let C(t) be the concentration of mercury flowing into the reservoir.  


a. Set up and solve a differential equation describing the concentration of the reservoir.  

b. How can you use your solution to model repeated pollution (e.g., criminals dumping mercury near the reservoir every weekend)?  

c. What are some relevant questions you can ask about the concentration of mercury in the reservoir?  

d. Suppose that the polluter is caught and after some cleaning, the incoming water is clean. How can you use your model to analyse when the water in the reservoir will be safe again? How sure are you of your answer and how much does it matter?  


Solution comments: This question is designed to show students that very simple mathematics can be used to model local environmental disasters, which can often be an example of how it may be used unsustainably. It teaches students to find good questions instead of merely answering someone else’s questions. 

For part c), possible questions for students to consider can include:  

For part d) for the sub question “How sure are you?”, students will need to explore what the ‘known’ unknowns are e.g., errors in the measurement apparatus, non-uniform mixing, samples taken in a very clean/dirty part of the stream or reservoir. They may also need to consider any ‘unknown’ unknowns e.g., other sources of pollutants, samples being tampered with accidentally or deliberately, etc. 

For part d) for the sub question “How much does it matter?”, students should identify that we are dealing with poison in drinking water, so it matters immensely! They should understand that this is an estimate, which helps forecast when the water might be safe to drink (the only way to actually know is to thoroughly test it). This question helps students to realise that the mathematics is simply one part of a much bigger solution and should not be relied upon as a definitive answer to a question as serious as the safety of drinking water.  


Problem 3: Simpson’s paradox 

Topic: Probability. 

SDG Mapping: SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities). 

In a particular admissions cycle, a mathematics department observes a higher success rate for male applicants than for female applicants. To investigate whether this is the same across he two sub-departments of Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, the following year the department asks each applicant to give their preference for pure or applied mathematics (they are not allowed to be ambivalent) and records the resulting statistics as shown in Figure 4 below:  


Applications Successful
Female 300 30
Male 1000 210
              Prefer applied

Applications Successful
Female 270 18
Male 350 15
                     Prefer pure

Applications Successful
Female 30 12
Male 650 195



          Figure 4: Admission statistics for male and female applications to study mathematics  



a. Compare the success rates for male and female applicants that prefer applied mathematics, prefer pure mathematics and their success rates overall.  

b. What do you notice? Why is this possible? This is known as Simpson’s Paradox.  

c. If possible, find the admission statistics by gender and mathematics preference (pure/applied) from your university’s mathematics department and see if the same phenomenon occurs.  


Solution comments: The purpose of this question is to demonstrate Simpson’s paradox in which a trend appears in several different groups of data but disappears or reverses when these groups are combined. It also attempts to highlight the immense gender disparity in many mathematics departments around the world.  

For part b) it is evident from the calculations in part a) that females with a given preference (pure/applied mathematics) have a higher success rate than males with the same preference, but lower overall. This is Simpson’s Paradox. The heuristic reason for why this is possible is that the largest male cohort (those that prefer pure) has a much higher acceptance rate than the largest female cohort (those that prefer applied). So, the overall acceptance of men is dominated by those who prefer pure, while the overall acceptance of women is dominated by those who prefer applied. This is a great lesson in why it is usually a terrible idea to take “averages of averages”. 

The main purpose of part c) is not so much for students to redo the calculation (it is not a given that Simpson’s Paradox will always arise here), but rather to illustrate the immense gender disparity in many mathematics departments around the world.  



The aim of this article is to provide academics and educators in higher education with an insight into how sustainability concepts may be integrated into technical, mathematical problems prevalent throughout engineering curricula. This should hopefully motivate lecturers to design their own versions of similar exercises to embed within their own courses and help build on ongoing calls to enhance the restructuring of our university programmes to better prepare future engineers to tackle global sustainability challenges by drawing not only on their technical and scientific knowledge, but also on their creativity, ethical, professional and leadership skills.  



Buckler, C. and Creech, H. (2014) Shaping the Future We Want: UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014); Final Report; UNESCO: Paris, France.  

Butt, A. T.; Causton, E. W. T.; Watkins, M. A. (2022), Embedding sustainability in the engineering curriculum: a complementary approach to performance engineering and sustainable design,paper presented at 2022 International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK.  

Chiodo, M. and Muller D., (2023) Teaching resources for embedding ethics in mathematics: exercises, projects and handouts.  

Crawley, E.F., Malmqvist, J., Östlund, S., Brodeur, D.R. and Edström, K. (2014). Rethinking Engineering Education. Cham: Springer International Publishing.  

Davis, M. (2006) ‘Integrating ethics into technical courses: Micro-insertion,’ Science and Engineering Ethics, 12(4), 717-730  

Graham, R. (2012). Achieving excellence in engineering education: the ingredients of successful change. Engineering Professors Council.  

Graham, R. (2018). The global state of the art in engineering education. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Engineering.  

Lawlor, R. ed., (2013). Engineering in Society. Royal Academy of Engineering.  

Lazzarini, B.; Pérez-Foguet, A.; Boni, A. (2018) Key characteristics of academics promoting Sustainable Human Development within engineering studies. J. Clean. Prod., 188, 237–252.  

Miñano Rubio, R., Uribe, D., Moreno-Romero, A.; Yáñez, S. (2019) Embedding Sustainability Competences into Engineering Education. The Case of Informatics Engineering and Industrial Engineering Degree Programs at Spanish Universities. Sustainability, 11, 5832.  

Morrissey, J. (2013) Regimes of performance: practices of the normalised self in the neoliberal university. Br. J. Sociol. Educ. 36, 614–634.  

Mulder, K.F.; Segalàs, J.; Ferrer-Balas, D. (2012) How to educate engineers for/in sustainable development: Ten years of discussion, remaining challenges. Int. J. Sustain. High. Educ. 13, 211–218.  

Neubauer, C.; Calame, M. (2017, pp. 68–77) Global pressing problems and the sustainable development goals. In Higher Education in the World 6. Towards a Socially Responsible University: Balancing the Global with the Local; Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI): Girona, Spain.  

Paulauskaite-Taraseviciene, A.; Lagzdinyte-Budnike, I.; Gaiziuniene, L.; Sukacke, V.; Daniuseviciute-Brazaite, L. (2022), Assessing Education for Sustainable Development in Engineering Study Programs: A Case of AI Ecosystem Creation. Sustainability 14, 1702.  

Ramirez-Mendoza, R.A., Morales-Menendez, R., Melchor-Martinez, E.M. (2020) Incorporating the sustainable development goals in engineering education. Int J Interact Des Manuf 14, 739–745.  

The Royal Academy of Engineering (2007). Educating Engineers for the 21st Century.  

Thürer, M.; Tomaševic ́, I.; Stevenson, M.; Qu, T.; Huisingh, D. (2018) A systematic review of the literature on integrating sustainability into engineering curricula. J. Clean. Prod. 181, 608–617.   

Wals, A.E. (2014) Sustainability in higher education in the context of the UN DESD: A review of learning and institutionalization processes. J. Clean. Prod. 62, 8–15  

Zelinka, D. and Amadei, B. (2017), A methodology to model the integrated nature of the sustainable development goals: importance for engineering education,paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio.  


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Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 


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Author: Martin Griffin (Knight Piésold Consulting, United Kingdom). 

Keywords: Equity; Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI); Collaboration; Bias; Social responsibility; Design. 

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate social sustainability, EDI, and ethics into the engineering and design curriculum or module design. It will also help to prepare students with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for. 



No engineer is an island; it is not good for an engineer to act in isolation. Rather engineers need to be part of a welcoming community in order to thrive.  How an engineering professional interacts with either other engineers and non-engineers is essential for building a culture and professional environment of collaboration, creating environments where engineers can create meaningful bonds with one another and feel comfortable communicating openly. This requires recognising and understanding how unconscious bias and privileges can create divides and foster negative professional (toxic) environments, and being committed to establishing standards of conduct for and addressing issues related to EDI. There is a great need to advocate for fellow engineers providing places to belong and empowering them to thrive in their chosen profession and career pathways. This includes people who are part of one or more underrepresented groups that have been historically, persistently, and systemically marginalised in society based on their identity, such as race, colour, religion, marital status, family status, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age. 

The Royal Academy of Engineering and EngineeringUK (2018) frequently publish reports on the demographics of engineers and the skills shortage in the workforce.  These reports highlight the under-representation of people from ethnic and minority groups, those with a disability or impairment, or those who are LGBTQ+.  In addition, the Institute of Engineering and Technology  recently reported that only 9% of businesses take particular action to increase underrepresented groups into their workforces.   

Engineering and technology are for everyone. It is morally right to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities and by doing so we can improve our world, shape our future, and solve complex global challenges. In order to accomplish these moral imperatives, we need to include a diversity of talent and knowledge. Furthermore, in the UK we still face a nationwide skills shortage threatening our industry. To address this and ensure the sustainability of our industry we must support equal opportunities for all and be truly inclusive. 


The three values: 

The three values of EDI are timeless and should be embedded into the way that engineering professionals act, starting with recognition that the unfair treatment of others exists. This unfair treatment may take the form of bullying, harassment, discrimination (either direct or indirect), victimisation, microaggressions, gaslighting, bias and inequity. An engineer’s role must also include advocating for the support of others in this regard too.  Each of the three values are very different, but all three together are essential to create opportunities for engineers to grow and thrive, and for a productive and creative engineering community to flourish. 

Equity encourages fair processes, treatment, and possibilities for everyone, resulting in an equal playing field for all. It acknowledges that oppressive systems have created varied circumstances for different engineers. By valuing equity, engineers must commit to fairly redistributing resources and power to address inequalities that systems have intentionally or unintentionally created, diminishing the impact of such circumstances and ensuring equitable opportunities.  Equality relates to ensuring engineers and groups are treated fairly and have access to equal opportunities. Note, it should be emphasised that equity is not the same as equality; in the simplest terms, equality means ‘sameness,’ and equity means ‘fairness’.  Thus, equality has become synonymous with ‘levelling the playing field’, whereas equity is synonymous with ‘more for those who need it’. 

Diversity refers to how diverse or varied a particular environment is, be it an engineering consultancy, academic funded research team, interdisciplinary joint venture designing as part of a national megaproject, and so on. Diversity involves professional openness and conscientiousness towards diverse social interactions. Therefore, diversity also involves intentional representation and collaboration with others from different demographic characteristics, identities, and differing experiences. Engineers should feel welcome to be their full self without the need to mask, being able to contribute and bring fresh perspectives where they are in attendance. 

Inclusion refers to a state of conscious belonging, meaning all are respected, empowered, and valued. Inclusivity should therefore be ingrained in an engineer’s daily operations and surrounding culture, being able to feel comfortable being their authentic selves. Inclusion involves extensive representation across roles, levels (grades) and the aforementioned demographic characteristics, recognising who is and is not in the room and the valuable perspectives and experiences they can bring. Inclusion also relates to ensuring all engineers feel valued and supported, where the benefits of creativity, innovation, decision making and problem solving are realised.   


Incorporating EDI in engineering education:

It is not possible to place EDI in a box and open it occasionally such as for annual awareness weeks or as an induction week module. It is a lifestyle, a conscious choice, and it needs to be embedded in an engineer’s values, approach and behaviours. Making engineering EDI an integral part of engineering ethics education will not involve an abstract ethical theory of EDI but rather a case-based approach. The teaching of EDI within engineering ethics through case studies helps students consider their philosophy of technology, recognise the positive and negative impact of technology, imagine ethical conduct, and then apply these insights to engineering situations. Moreover, when similar ethical modules have touched students, they are likely to remember the lessons learned from those cases. Several case studies found in the Ethics Toolkit that reference EDI concerns are listed at the end of this article. 

Good contemporary practical examples should be presented alongside case studies to promote and demonstrate why EDI ought to be embedded into a professional engineer’s life. The need to raise awareness, highlight the issues faced, and accelerate inclusion of Black people is provided in the Hamilton Commission report, focusing on all aspects of UK Motorsport including engineering. The importance of gender inclusivity in engineering design and how user-centred practices address this are addressed by Engineers Without Borders UK. Creating accessible solutions for everyone, including those who are disabled, is seen in the ongoing development of Microsoft’s Accessibility Technology & Tools. BP has launched a global framework for action to help them stay on track and progress in a positive way. The further benefits EDI brings to design and delivery in construction engineering are demonstrated by Mott Macdonald.   

Inclusive Engineering (similar to the principles of Universal Design) ensures that engineering products and services are accessible and inclusive of all users. Inclusive Engineering solutions aim to be as free as possible from discrimination and bias, and their use will help develop creative and enlightened engineers. Ethical responsibility is key to all aspects of engineering work, but at the design phase it is even more important, as we can literally be designing biases and discrimination into our technological solutions, thus amplifying existing biases. Recommended guidance is provided within PAS 6463:2022 as part of the engineering design process; this is a new standard written to give guidance on designing the built environment for our neurodiverse society. With the right design and management, it is possible to eliminate, reduce or adjust potentially negative impacts to create places where everyone can flourish equally.  

It is vital to recognise that achieving true equality, diversity, and inclusion is complex and cannot be ‘fixed’ quickly. An engineer must participate in active learning and go on a six stepped journey of self-awareness from being ‘not listening,’ ‘unaware,’ ‘passive,’ ‘curious,’ and ‘ally,’ to ‘advocate.’ A ‘not listening’ attitude involves shaming the unaware, speaking on behalf of others, invalidating others, clumsy behaviours, being bigoted, prejudiced, antagonistic and unwilling to listen and learn. Cultivating an ‘ally’ attitude is being informed and committed, routinely and proactively championing inclusion by challenging accepted norms, and taking sustained action to make positive change. It is for this reason the values of EDI should be part of an engineering professional’s ongoing lifestyle to have any real and lasting effect on engineering environments. 

Therefore, the importance of EDI needs to influence how an engineering professional thinks, acts, includes others and where engineers seek collaborative input. The concept of engineering is far more important than any individual engineer and sometimes engineers need to facilitate opportunities for voices to be heard. This involves respect and empathy to create trusted relationships and the need for self-awareness and self-development. Sometimes this means stepping back so that other engineers can step forward.   


Resources and support: 

Specific organisations representing protected characteristics such as InterEngineering have the goal to connect, inform and empower LGBTQ+ engineers.  Likewise, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and the Association for Black Engineers (AFBE-UK) provide support and promote higher achievements in education and engineering.  The aforementioned organisations are partnered with the Royal Academy of Engineering to highlight unheard voices, raise awareness of the barriers faced by minority groups, and to maximise impact. Many other umbrella groups, for instance Equal Engineers, also raise awareness of other underrepresented groups, such as the neurodivergent in engineering, by documenting case studies, undertaking surveys, holding regular careers events and annual conferences, and more.   

There is evidence to support the widely accepted view that supporting and managing EDI is a crucial element in increasing productivity and staff satisfaction. Diverse experiences and perspectives bring about diversity of thought which leads to innovation. It allows everybody to be authentic at work and provides the opportunity for diverse voices to be heard. Consequently, implementing EDI has proven to increase performance, growth, and innovation, as well as improvements in health, safety and wellbeing. EDI will therefore help to prepare students with the fundamental attitudes that are needed as practitioners and human beings.  

Finally, engineering with EDI embedded into a professional engineer’s lifestyle will make a difference to those most in need. In a globalised world it will put us in a good position to bring innovation and creativity to some of the biggest challenges we face together. Equitable, diverse and inclusive engineering must be at the heart of finding sustainable solutions to help shape a bright future for all. 



Resources in the Ethics Toolkit that link to EDI: 

Additional resources: 


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The decisions engineers make on a daily basis can have significant consequences for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups in society. Prof Dawn Bonfield, Visiting Professor of Inclusive Engineering at Aston University, Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence at King’s College London and a member of the EPC’s Engineering Ethics Advisory Group explains…

In the recent ethics report published by the RAEng (1) you might have noticed the explicit references, in an ethics context, to the societal and social justice implications of our engineering solutions that can lead to biased or discriminatory outcomes for different groups of people. This prioritisation of inclusive outcomes is a welcome expansion of the conventional focus of engineering ethics, which is often rooted in issues such as safety, corruption, and competence.

Reference was made in the first page of the report to the use of crash test dummies that have been designed to represent male drivers, leaving women (and pregnant women in particular) at greater risk in car accidents; the potential for algorithms and internet search engines to influence our thoughts on the world; issues arising from facial recognition technology failing to accurately identify those from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority communities; and the use of artificial intelligence systems that will make safety-critical, legal, and other life changing decisions, which are often based on historical and biased datasets. You can further explore some of the issues with facial recognition technology in one of the ethics case studies produced by the EPC for their RAEng-supported Engineering Ethics Toolkit.

These are all examples of how, as engineers, we can inadvertently create solutions that are biased against minoritized groups of people if we are not careful. This generally occurs as a direct result of the fact that these groups of people are poorly represented in the engineering sector, and so their inputs are missing in the specification, design, and testing of new technologies (2).

But even before we get to a truly diverse engineering workforce, all engineers must be mindful of the ways in which the decisions they take can be discriminatory or can promulgate bias. In situations like the ones mentioned above it is relatively easy to spot the opportunity for discrimination, but in other cases it can be much more difficult. For example, there are ethical implications associated with the sort of ducting that gets chosen for a new building, where one material causes more pollution to socially and economically disadvantaged populations than another. It is in cases like this that a little more thought is required to spot whether the outcomes of these decisions are inclusive and ethical, or not.

Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us very clearly what the ethical implications are of our built environment decisions and designs, where people living in densely populated and overcrowded urban areas with minimal access to outdoor space have had significantly worse health outcomes than those with access to outdoor and green spaces. Inclusive design of the built environment is now a growing and recognised area of our engineering work, and as well as the more obvious examples of ensuring equitable access to those with disability issues, it also recognises that public spaces should be equitable and accessible to all communities. Everybody needs to see themselves represented in these environments and feel able to use them safely and fully. These are issues of ethics and inclusion, as well as social justice and equality, and the requirement we have as engineers to consider all of these perspectives as the creators of our future world must be a part of our systems engineering mindset. Several of the EPC’s ethics case studies focus on responsibility, equity, and stakeholder engagement, such as the Ageing Pipeline and its Impact on Local Communities case.

The importance of systems, design, iterative thinking, and the focus on ensuring that the whole life cycle of a product, including maintenance, repair, deconstruction, and end of life decommissioning, requires true stakeholder engagement, means that these inclusive outcomes can be considered at the very start of projects, rather than as an afterthought, where any changes are much more difficult and costly to integrate. The strengthening of the Social Value Act (3), which requires people who commission public services to explicitly evaluate how they can secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits, also puts emphasis on ensuring the outcomes of any procurement are inclusive and ethical. Similarly, the Sustainable Development Goals ethos of Leave No One Behind (4) requires that outcomes are considered from all perspectives, and that solutions taking all of the goals into account are balanced and not considered in silos. The EPC’s ethics case study on Business Growth Models allows engineering students to explore many of these issues.

Designing with the gender perspective in mind, especially in parts of the world where women have very different societal roles based on culture, stereotypes, local norms, and religion, is key to ensuring that the differences and disadvantages that women face are not exacerbated. Understanding these differences is the first step in addressing them, and in many cases, technology can act as a real enabler in situations where women have limited access to traditional education, information, and independence. For example, the widespread use of microfinance in many parts of Africa – a technology not aimed specifically at women – is nevertheless giving women much better access to loans and financial independence than the traditional banking structures did, which women are not always able to access easily. Other examples include understanding the need for sanitation facilities in public spaces such as schools, government offices, transportation hubs and health clinics, without which women’s access to these facilities becomes restricted and their participation curtailed (5).

Another ethical issue comes into play here too. Do we design just to remove bias and discrimination, or do we design to reverse historical bias and discrimination? For example, women have traditionally worked in certain sectors such as care giving roles, and not in sectors like engineering and technology. Algorithmic decision-making tools can use this historical data to preferentially show stereotypical job opportunities based on past trends and evidence, which could foreseeably prevent women from being targeted for engineering related roles. Adapting these tools to make these job opportunities open to all in an equitable way is one thing, but what if we decided to preferentially show engineering roles to women and caring roles to men – a kind of social engineering, if you will? What are the ethics of this, and would that be going too far to remove biases? I will leave you to think about this one yourselves!  If you would like to write a case study about it, we are currently looking for contributors to the toolkit!

The decisions we make daily as engineers have consequences to individuals and communities that have not always been understood or considered in the past, but by understanding the need for inclusive outcomes for all stakeholders, we also ensure that our solutions are ethical, and that we leave no on behind. The ethics case studies in the EPC’s recently launched Engineering Ethics Toolkit reveal the ethical concepts that comprise our everyday activities and what lies behind those decisions – resources like this should be used to ensure ethical decision making is integrated throughout an engineers’ education and continuing professional development.

This blog is also available here.



  1. RAEng Ethics Report
  2. website
  3. Social Value Act
  4. Sustainable Development Goals ethos of Leave No One Behind
  5. Towards Vision Website ‘Gender Perspective in Engineering’


Dawn Bonfield MBE CEng FIMMM FICE HonFIStructE FWES is Visiting Professor of Inclusive Engineering at Aston University and Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence at King’s College London.


This blog is also available here.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Graduate employability and recruitment, Research

Author: Dr Salma .M.S. Al Arefi (University of Leeds)

Keywords: Science and Social Capitals, Sense of Belonging, Intersectionality, Student Success

Abstract: Being in a marginalised position due to feeling of otherness because of one’s gender as well as intersecting identity can create psychological hidden barriers. Coupled with science and social capitals such variables are key determines of student’s self-concept of engineering self-efficacy, competencies, and abilities. The impact of being othered may not only be limited to interest for participation in engineering but could extend beyond and significantly affect student engagement, success, and affiliation with engineering. This could impact students’ sense of belonging to their degree programme, university, and discipline, leading to adverse impacts ranging from low engagement to low attainment, or discontinuations. Such experiences can be greatly exacerbated for students with intersecting identities (‘double, triple, jeopardy’), e.g., a female student who identifies as a first-generation, working-class, disabled, commuter, carer, neurodiverse or mature student. This report presents work on progress on a student-centred interventional case study on exploring the impact of the intersectional lived experiences of underrepresented, disadvantaged and minoritised student groups in engineering beyond obvious gender and pre-university qualifications characteristics.


1.     Problem Statement

Initiatives on closing the technical skills gap remain limited to access to either engineering education or the workplace.  Identifying and supporting students facing barriers to continuation can be key to enhancing student success in a way that bridges the gap between the ignition of interest and transition to the engineering industry.  Early but sustained engagement throughout the life cycle of an engineering student is however vital to cultivate students’ sense of belonging to their modules, degree programmes and the wider industry. That would in turn support the formation of their engineering identity.

Gendered identity, as well as pre-university qualifications, are yet perceived to exert the strongest force for marginalisation and underrepresentation in engineering education and the workplace. The impact intersecting identities can have in relation to ignition of interest, participation, as well as the formation of engineering identity, also need consideration.  Along with gender, characteristics such as race, class, age, or language can have an added impact on already minoritized individuals (the ‘double, triple, quadrant…. jeopardy’), whereby the experience of exclusion and otherness can be exacerbated by overlapping marginalised identities. Coupled with the self-concept of own science capital, efficacies, and competencies [1-2], the formation of engineering identity could be expressed as a direct function of a sense of inclusion or otherwise exclusion [3]. Within this context, such an inherent feeling of connectedness describes the extent to which the lived experience of individuals is acknowledged valued and included [4], which is a healthy fertilizer for the formation of engineering identity. Perceived threats to one’s belonging due to a feeling of exclusion or rejection could on the contrary negatively impact one’s perception of self-efficacy and hence affiliation with engineering.

2.     Project Aims

The role of effect in learning to foster a sense of belonging and enhance a coherent sense of self and form the engineering identity has attracted growing pedagogical research interest. In academia, a sense of belonging has been shown to excrete the largest force on one’s intent to participate in engineering and to be the key sustainable vehicle for successful progressions. Because engineering learning activities are pursued in complex social interactions, acknowledging, and understanding the role of belonging in academic success is key to fostering an inclusive culture that encourages and recognises contributions from all.  It is hoped that the project outcomes can advise on understanding to support underrepresented, marginalised and minoritised students overcome self-perceived psychological barriers to their degree programme, university, or engineering workplace. The intersectional lens of the project is aimed to uncover key culprits that impact engineering identity formation for traditionally underrepresented, disadvantaged and minoritised students beyond obvious gender and pre-university education characteristics.

Outcomes will role model fostering an inclusive culture where engineering students from all backgrounds feel that they belong in an effort to support engineering higher education institutions to adhere to the changes introduced by the Engineering Council to the U.K. Standards for Professional Engineering Competency and Commitment around recognising inclusivity and diversity. This should be applicable to other STEM-related disciplines.

3.     Decolonial partnership

The project centres on students’ voices through a decolonial participation approach that acknowledges participants as co-researchers and enables them to take an active role in the co-creation of the project deliverables. Participation will be incentivised through recognition (authorship, certifications) as well as financial incentives.  The use of evidence-based active listening to enable students to share their lived experiences of belonging through storytelling and story sharing is hoped to create a safe space to empower and acknowledge student voices so that every student feel that they matter to their degree programme, university, and discipline. That in turn would cultivate authentic learner identity and a sense of belonging.

4.     Outcomes and future work

The findings are hoped to advise on a sustainable support approach whereby early and sustained engagement (throughout the student lifecycle from access to continuation, attainment, and progression) are prioritised to facilitate the transition of students into and from Engineering. Co-created artefacts from the project will be used to support access and continuation by providing examples of lived experiences for prospective students to associate with. Fostering a sense of belonging is hoped to have a direct impact on learner engagement, success, and attainment as well as enhancing students’ ability to progress towards achieving their unique goals beyond their degree.

The second phase of the 2-year project will involve student recruitment and selection, interventional listening, storytelling-based approaches and co-creation of artefacts.


The work is carried out as part of the fellowship of the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence in partnership with Dr Kendi Guantai, from Leeds Business School, Marketing Division and Dr Nadine Cavigioli Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds.



Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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