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The right words

On several occasions recently, articles in Civil Engineering, including the President’s Notes, have mentioned the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I am not sure these terms belong in the practice of civil engineering. Following are my reasons for this.

Diversity: I started working in structural engineering in the late 1960s. Most offices were a miniature United Nations. With the exception of Antarctica, I worked with engineers from every continent, with people of various skin colors and religious beliefs. Diversity of color and religion is a given in civil engineering. Initially, a female engineer was the exception, and that gradually morphed into a much broader representation.

The kind of diversity that I find to be most beneficial is diversity of thought. If that does not exist, you get groupthink.

Equity: To me equity is a merit-based achievement. It is not a birthright. There is nothing wrong with assisting someone to achieve equity.

Equity as practiced today appears to be an outcome-based definition. The path to equity requires excellent math and science skills. This path should really be addressed (and monitored) before elementary school. If someone is behind in the acceptable skill set, this is when the push for improvement should come. Tutors and some added schooling are two ways to assist.

At the professional level, added guidance and education should provide the skill sets to achieve varying degrees of equity. This is what I received and continued to pass on to the next generation of engineers to further our profession.

Inclusion: If you have the required technical skills and meet basic interpersonal office criteria, you are included. If you work well and don’t cause trouble, you are included.

The terms diversity, equity, and inclusion are a given in our practice and need no further artificial attention.

Gerd Hartung, P.E., S.E., M.ASCE (Ret.), Bloomfield Hills, Michigan


Thank you for sharing your thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We realize there are many opinions on this topic, and we know many wonder how it should be achieved or believe, like you, that these efforts are unnecessary. However, ASCE holds firm to the belief that diversity of thought, advancement of technical knowledge, and recognition of personal merits are best achieved when the profession commits to addressing and alleviating barriers that restrict individuals from historically underrepresented populations from engaging and flourishing in the profession.

To that end, ASCE’s Code of Ethics and Policy Statement 417 clearly outline the fundamental principles that govern professional practice and affirm ASCE’s and members’ commitments to:

1. Treat all persons with respect, dignity, and fairness in a manner that fosters equitable participation without regard to personal identity.

2. Eradicate discrimination and harassment in all its forms.

3. Fulfill our roles as leaders for, major contributors to, or supporters of the attainment of each of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, such as Goal No. 16 to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

4. Consider the current and anticipated needs of society.

5. Utilize our knowledge and skills to enhance the quality of life for humanity.

ASCE also believes that civil engineers are essential to advancing inclusive engineering problem-solving that recognizes, values, and addresses the unique needs of myriad demographic, social, economic, and cultural groups when considering, balancing, and mitigating the societal, environmental, and economic impacts of our work.

Demonstrating understanding, empathy, and support for the populations we serve is as essential to earning the trust of our constituents as is providing effective technical solutions.

Our profession faces a number of challenges, from aging infrastructure and climate change to a labor shortage, to name just a few. It’s going to take a commitment from each of us to find the right balance and solutions to advance the health, safety, and welfare of everyone in a just, equitable, and inclusive way.

This letter and response first appeared in the July/August 2023 print issue of Civil Engineering. 

Letters to the editor are welcome. The opinions and positions stated are those of the authors and not by the fact of publication necessarily those of the American Society of Civil Engineers or Civil Engineering.