Whilst we are still under the lockdown of Covid-19, another critical issue has come under the spotlight from the unnecessary and avoidable death of one man in Minneapolis. But behind that incident lies the far deeper malaise of racism. This has resulted in protests across the world, including London, and an outpouring of grief for the inability of the world to have beaten that spectre of inequality and discrimination. The Lord Mayor signed a statement on 4th June saying:
We are shocked and saddened by the senseless death of George Floyd. The City of London Corporation is committed to equality, inclusivity and diversity and we stand in solidarity with Black, Asian and ethnic minority colleagues and communities. We understand it is not enough to say we are against racism but we have to work to eradicate all forms of racism in all that we do…We pledge to fulfil our responsibility to create a fair and inclusive society. Black Lives Matter.
This is all the more poignant in the UK when we now know that the toll of Covid-19 has been proportionately greater on our fellow citizens from ethnic minorities, many of whom were vulnerable through their service as medical doctors or nurses, carers or front-line key workers.
Those protests that have ended in violent incidents or criminal damage are not to be condoned in any way, and it is a major concern to me that social distancing rules were flouted by large gatherings. It’s a great pity that more care was not taken to protest safely, mindful of the wider community. But setting that aside, racism has no place in a civilised society. The Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Council expects all engineers to promote equality, diversity and inclusion. The verb was carefully chosen (I know because I was in the working group that updated the Statement in 2017). We are expected to promote – not just practise, not just accept, not just tolerate – but to promote. This requires a proactive, leadership role.
Our Worshipful Company of Engineers has formally adopted that same Statement of Ethical Principles for all members as our yardstick for ethical conduct. The Clerk has recently circulated our updated Regulations to remind us. If we fail to comply with that Statement, such behaviour shall be regarded as of a nature that may be injurious to the character and interest of the Company. Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion is therefore incumbent on all of us – and fittingly so for a Worshipful Company.
A simple, repeated phrase in one of the tributes at George Floyd’s memorial was powerful and shaming – “you kept your knee on our neck”.
Whoever the victims of inequality may be, and whatever the circumstances, the values of our Company of Engineers hold us accountable not to put our knee on the neck of anyone, ever.