What professional engineers can bring to the boardroom

Friday, 01 September 2023

Romilly Madew AO
CEO, Engineers Australia

    In uncertain times, Romilly Madew AO says engineers bring valuable perspective to the boardroom table. 

    One of the most interesting questions I’ve been asked since becoming CEO of Engineers Australia and talking up the value of this wonderful profession is, “What does an engineer bring to a board of directors?”

    The answer is simple — what don’t they bring?

    At a time when boards are looking around more than ever to ensure that they have the best and brightest talent in the room, consider the following questions: Does your board need outcome-focused problem-solvers? Is your board looking for people who have a strategic mindset and at the same time can balance risk mitigation? Do you need people who, by their nature, process information and data from a variety of sources and use that to inform critical decision-making?

    It is basic governance that the answers to all the above are a resounding “yes”. Enter the engineers.

    Engineers are complex problem-solvers and focused on achieving outcomes. They are skilled at leading large multi-disciplinary teams and delivering results. Primed for making critical decisions and managing risks, engineers have a skilled, strategic mindset. They are also collaborative and creative, adept at finding a new way forward. These capabilities make engineers an asset to any type of board — and we need more of them.

    It is also clear that boards — much like workforces — benefit from diversity around the table by encouraging a broad range of views and perspectives from people of contrasting backgrounds and areas of expertise. Groupthink strangles the innovation and fresh thinking required to produce better outcomes for shareholders, consumers, employees and the community, especially in uncertain and disruptive times. Yet, fewer than three per cent of corporate directors in Australia are from a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) background, with professionals from management, finance, law and operations filling the bulk of board seats.

    A 2019 AICD report found that this left Australian boards with low technical and innovation skills, and with a clear need to broaden the director talent pool to include more people with STEM backgrounds.

    The skills developed by an engineer over his or her career are needed and relevant to boards at a governance level, for example, scenario planning during the COVID-19 crisis to address strategy and risk management.


    Engineers are intimately involved in leading Australia out of many crises or challenges. As one of the most trusted professions — behind doctors, nurses and teachers — engineers can also help to address the shortfall of trust in leadership.

    For more than a century, Engineers Australia has supported engineers as they shape the future of Australia and create safe, sustainable and thriving communities. I am proud to say that our nine discipline-based colleges and 29 specialist technical societies are at the forefront of engineering innovation globally.

    Since its introduction, the Engineers Australia board has attracted a varied pool of high-calibre candidates. It has consciously worked to reflect the diversity of the profession — supported by a target of at least 30 per cent female representation on all national boards and committees.

    As an organisation, our governance has been strengthened by the engineering expertise on the board. We have particularly benefited from the appointment by national congress of a collegiate board of non-executive directors with a broad range of complementary skillsets and experience that includes engineering qualifications and expertise. This is a prime example of all that engineers bring to the table and a timely call-out that we need more of them on our nation’s boards.

    Engineers are key to the success of so many of Australia’s current priorities. Whether it be adapting to climate change, transitioning to renewable energy, building critical infrastructure, increasing productivity and economic growth or delivering the AUKUS security pact, engineers play an essential role in delivering better outcomes for all Australians.

    Now, more than ever, our nation’s boardrooms need people with critical thinking, innovative and technical skills. They need engineers.

    Romilly Madew AO is chief executive of Engineers Australia and a director of Minerva Network, supporting elite Australian sportswomen.

    This article first appeared under the headline 'Engineering The Future’ in the September 2023 issue of Company Director magazine.

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