Italy: Global Diversity Discussions and Reflections

Presenting at the World Engineering Education Forum in Florence, Italy brought out several issues regarding engineering perspectives on diversity and social justice. Our discussions on gender diversity in engineering featured women in the academy with ties to Australia, Switzerland, Italy, South  Korea, Latin America, and the U.S. The global diversity in engineering session focused more keenly on issues of ethnic diversity and included an interactive segment that received perspectives from the UK, South Africa, Turkey, and other countries.  The global diversity session with colleagues David Delaine, Darryl Williams, Autumn Reed, and Rovani Sigamony included implicit bias exercises, an exercise to illicit responses about identifying and addressing inequities, and discussions about addressing diversity in engineering on a world stage. My section in the global diversity session included discussions about the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the U.S., the #IStandWithAdam campaign in support of Aboriginal football player Adam Goodes in Australia, and differences in cultural norms. I also discussed the definition of underrepresentation, and statistics from the National Science Foundation which show that the numbers engineering professors from diverse ethnic backgrounds are extremely low. Participants were surprised to see that out of more than 27,000 engineering professors in the U.S., there are some categories for women from underrepresented ethnic groups where the numbers are so small that they are suppressed because you could identify the women.

Act & Engage

During the gender diversity session (with co-chair Jennifer DeBoer, and researchers from around the world), I discussed ways of engaging diverse researchers, and introduced some recommendations from an ASEE paper with my colleagues,  Factoring Family Considerations into Female Faculty Choices for International Engagement in Engineering, IT, and Computer Science. I also discussed inviting students and diverse researchers to engage in international work based on my ASEE PRISM article on Global Exposure. One of my reminders to faculty both at ASEE in Seattle, and at this WEEF conference in Italy is the need to ACT:

ACT: Actively Invite. Active (not passive) “invitations” to engage must be employed as part of the consciousness raising when there is a goal to increase the participation of women and people from underrepresented groups in international projects.

We discussed the fact that it’s incorrect to assume that someone is not interested in pursuing engineering or working on a project because they don’t volunteer.  People can’t be eliminated from the pool because they didn’t answer an ad on a wall. Many people in the conversations didn’t realize that *they* were actively invited to participate in events, put on projects (even if they didn’t ask for it), or added to research (even if they didn’t think that they were interested), or added anyway even if they said that they didn’t want to do it. It was a nice conversation to point out to these colleagues that they had indeed been mentored, even if they didn’t realize it. It was important to point out that despite their resistances, there were people in their lives who kept them engaged and connected to engineering. Why shouldn’t these researchers, who are now seasoned professors,  do the same for others? It is therefore a mistake to assume that people from other ethnic groups “don’t want” to participate in research or special projects when the faculty member or person in power doesn’t extend an invitation.

Speaking Up, Setting Policy

During our sessions, we found that many participants are interested in diversity and want to be part of inclusion efforts, and they are looking for ways to meaningfully address inequitable situations. In many cases, people in senior leadership roles such as university presidents or CEOs are ready and willing to speak up, and work toward equality within their organizations, and in spaces where their power gives them a voice.  As an example, SEFI, the Société Européenne pour la Formation des Ingénieurs, (European Society for Engineering Education) has a new diversity statement as part of their 2015 position paper on “Developing Graduate Engineering Skills” which states:

Higher engineering education institutions should embrace diversity both in the students they attract, the academic staff they employ, and the inclusive programmes they deliver.

There were several topics that connect to my work that were discussed during the conference. I strongly agree with looking at engineering as a profession that is humanitarian. My Twitter feed for the conference can be found here:

Renetta’s Twitter Feed for WEEF2015: Search results for “@Renetta_Tull #WEEF2015” on

Reflections in Pictures

  1. I enjoyed Europe and especially appreciated learning the perspectives of colleagues from the region. This photo was taken following a series of discussions about diversity, and reception for the GEDC Airbus Diversity award shortlist announcement.


2. The beauty of the country is a sight to behold. This photo was taken from the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo which has gorgeous views of Florence and the valley. If you plan to go, get ready for some serious walking and stair climbing. The Fitbit logged 28,000 steps that day!


3. This is the Palazzo Uffizi, outside of a world-famous gallery. The palazzo had statues of several scholars, and the courtyard had artists who were painting as we passed by. There are about 28 niches with statues of “famous Italians,” among them are Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Vespucci, Galileo, and others.


4. Piazza della Signoria near Palazzo Vecchio


5. Near Palazzo Vecchio, with the statues.


6.  The “Duomo” at night. Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Il Duomo di Firenzeis the cathedral of Florence.


7.  After a day of meetings and discussions, I had a chance to dodge the raindrops and see other parts of the city.  We had a chance to meet a woman who knows her craft! Introducing Saskia – I think that she makes some of the most beautiful shoes for men that I have ever seen. Save your Euros … you can get fitted, and get some custom shoes.   Here is a feature:


8. I chaired a session on cultural diversity, and it featured researchers from Japan, Puerto Rico, Russia, and the U.S. This photo was taken at the end, featuring the presenters and their collaborators.  I also had a chance to meet and hear some outstanding women in our other sessions such as University president in Turkey, Dr. Sirin Tekinay, and leader in innovation in Germany, Dr. Sabrina Jeschke.


9. Next stop? Amsterdam. I can say that I’m getting used to these long flights. Eight hours now seems light a drop in the bucket compared to 14 hour flights. One of the outcomes that came out of research that we’ve conducted with women and diverse researchers (via LACCEI, ASEE, and WEEF) is that technology can facilitate introductions and follow-ups, but the substantive discussions and the results come from good old-fashioned face-to-face interactions.  Do you have your passport? It’s a good investment! I invite you to join us for the next set of discussions!