The importance of fairness in engineering, and two case studies.

What is the fairest way to approach the allocation of a resource?

Stones balanced on a fulcrum As an engineer your decisions will have an impact on a variety of different groups of people. These stakeholders could include your employers, other engineers (including other members of the IET), other colleagues, customers and the public at large. As a professional you have a duty to treat all of these people fairly. 

It is sometimes difficult to identify exactly who will be affected by a particular decision, and what their interests are. Taking a wide view of your work and its place in society will allow you to balance your responsibilities to various groups, and to make optimal decisions based on all of the information available. Engineers need to consider fairness when:

  • Distributing resources;
  • Dealing with employees/subordinates and other colleagues;
  • Interacting with customers;
  • Taking decisions with implications for equality and diversity.

Being fair is not simply a matter of treating everybody as having an equal stake. Sometimes decisions will affect some stakeholders disproportionately, and some groups will have rights which must be protected even at the expense of others’ interests. An engineer will sometimes be subjected to conflicting pressures and will need to exercise professional judgement in balancing the interests of different groups.

The first case study will place you in the position of an engineer advising Ofcom about allocations of the radio spectrum.

The second case study will place you in the position of a manager working on an international project. The project is based in a country where the attitude to women in the workplace is quite different to the UK and you are faced with the situation where local staff are refusing to work with one of your engineering staff because of her gender.

You can also see which IET Rules of Conduct are relevant to fairness.