Dr Mark McBride-Wright launched his company EqualEngineers in 2014 in order to make the engineering and technology sector more diverse by connecting employers with inclusive talent.
He set it up after years of working in the sector and seeing not only the challenges a lack of diversity can bring but also the risks posed to health, safety and wellbeing.
Being a gay safety engineer himself, working for major engineering firms before later setting up networking group InterEngineering for LGBT+ engineers gave him the drive to set up an organisation covering all aspects of diversity.
Mark speaks honestly with Out News Global about his experiences as an openly-gay business leader, his hopes for change in the future and what he’s doing to help accelerate that.
How did you feel as a gay man working in the engineering sector?
I never personally felt any hostility when entering the engineering sector. I have always been out.
I had to have an honest conversation about my feelings when choosing where to do my PhD. I was offered a fantastic opportunity to do some research as part of a $75 million research programme, the centre of which was sponsored by Shell and Qatar Petroleum. I was concerned there might be a need for me to travel to Qatar, and didn’t know what that would mean for my psychological safety. Going back in the closet? I was able to speak with my supervisors who allayed my concerns and indicated it would be my choice whether to go should any international opportunities arise.
I think things are (slowly) improving for the engineering industry – there are many more engineering employers represented in Pride parades (for example) and I do hear of increasingly more companies supporting same-sex parenting within their parental leave and pay policies.
What made you set up EqualEngineers? Was there any specific trigger or incident that led to the creation of this enterprise?
I was fired up by my employer at the time when I was trying to set up an employee network, and a senior director said “Mark, if you think we’re going to do anything on sexual orientation then you can think again”. So, I set up InterEngineering in 2014 to connect, inform and empower LGBTQ+ engineers and supporters across the engineering sector. Invest my time into an initiative which would exist with me independent of whoever my employer was. A symbolic “middle finger up” to that director.
Four years into that journey, it became apparent the focus on single-strands of identity wasn’t going to have the systemic impact needed to create a transformative cultural shift. I therefore created my business, EqualEngineers, which considers minoritised communities more broadly, and also has a focus on engaging the male-majority through the lens of psychological safety and addressing the high suicide rate in engineering. This strategy has been much more rapid in gaining empathetic understanding of the need for inclusive cultures.
How far do you feel the engineering and technology industry has come to support LGBTQ+ people since your creation of EqualEngineers and what work have you done to improve their treatment in this sector?
I like to think of InterEngineering as a cross-engineering LGBTQ+ network. A place to subscribe as a member if your employer is too small to have a dedicated network, or perhaps has not considered setting one up. It’s a place to meet other like-minded LGBTQ+ people working in engineering because it is essentially not possible to connect on this shared-identity level when you are at industry events because your sexual orientation and gender identity is hidden.
We have held workshops with LGBTQ+ engineers where we have addressed themes such as supporting colleagues through the transition process, supporting bisexual engineers, and how to support network leaders. These workshops have led to open-source publications freely available via our website for people to use. We have also produced an award-winning video series entitled “What’s it Like being LGBT+ in Engineering” which has been viewed thousands of times.
EqualEngineers is the overarching entity, and I am now looking at setting up cross-sector networks on strands of identity and hope to help layer in an intersectional focus for our communities we support. InterEngineering is the LGBTQ+ network and we are now in the early stages of bringing a community focus for neurodivergent engineers and disabled engineers.
How do you feel about the way LGBTQ+ people are treated in the engineering and technology sector right now and how can this be improved?
I believe more needs to be done on supporting the LGBTQ+ community in engineering and technology. There still exists a lot of stigma where people are not comfortable coming out. I also strongly feel that in business, we need to take it upon ourselves to be the guiding light for shaping a progressive moral compass. Especially so in the case of supporting transgender and non-binary communities. Legislative protections are in jeopardy and the landscape is quickly becoming regressive.
Misinformation is stirring up the wrong attitudes and serving as a scapegoat for pertinent problems we should be addressing. Trans* people are one of the most stigmatised groups who disproportionately are affected by high rates of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and death by suicide. We need to be vocal in countering misinformation and to ensure that trans* and non-binary people have a platform for their voices to not only be listened to, but to be heard and understood. I have met numerous people now in my time running InterEngineering who have transitioned later in life. Generation Z are also more likely to identify as something other than cis-gendered and something other than heterosexual. Therefore, there are more parents and guardians out there who are seeking advice and support as well. It is only going to become more commonplace, and if we want to attract people to work in our industry then we need to make sure people will feel welcomed and like they will belong should they apply to join.
What achievement are you most proud of so far?
I had a moment recently at our Engineering Talent Awards whereby I was hearing the stories of the nominees and winners, in a room of over 200 people from engineering, lots of businesses and charities. It hit home that all this had been created from an idea I had had in my bedroom. I’m most proud therefore of all the work my team and I have done to help create a platform for minoritised groups, and I am especially proud when I hear that someone has secured a job through something we have done as EqualEngineers.