Episode 3 - The Professional Empathy Podcast
Empathy and Engineering with Katie Fletcher
In this episode of The Empathy Podcast, Leanne welcomes Katie Fletcher. Katie is a civil engineer and specializes in Stormwater Engineering. She currently works at Arup and has worked in both consulting and local government.
Today she and Leanne have a conversation about the importance and benefit of having empathy in engineering, the implications of not having empathy in engineering, and what prevents an engineer from having empathy. They also talked about internal and external empathy, mental health, and established paradigms in the engineering sector that need to be overcome. Listen to them as they have an enriching conversation on engineering and empathy.
Tune in now!
TIMESTAMPS AND HIGHLIGHTS:
[02:40] - Katie tells how she was able to make the connection between empathy and engineering. She says if you're designing an asset, you have to deal with different elements like the environmental constraints, the safety constraints, cost, and how the community interacts with it.
She explains her statement by giving an example, "if you've to do a waterway restoration project in the middle of the city that has an ugly concrete drain and runs through a park where it's just flat grass. You've to rehabilitate that into a sort of natural waterway that has vegetation (environmental benefit of plants to prevent flooding). But what if, in the process of doing that, you make it creepy as hell. And people are afraid to walk there alone at night. So you've to focus on safety, environmental, and social impact as well in engineering".
[05:38] - She says empathy is practical because it makes you put yourself in the shoes of somebody else and understand their needs and limitations. And this means that we can fix it.
[09:00] - It's essential that empathy is always the ability to understand somebody else's point of view and then respond appropriately.
[11:39] - She says engineers should be provided with technical guidelines and documentation. Because at present, the guidelines are very dry and quantitative. And also, these guidelines do not require the engineers to consider the social aspects.
[17:56] - There're a lot of established paradigms to overcome in the engineering sector. One of them is safety and the work environment. For example, individual people work late the week before their deadlines, instead of balancing the resourcing better, having more people on the project when the deadlines are due.
[21:57] - The trouble with internal empathy is that it can vary from person to person, even within individual companies. She shares how one can resolve the issue by pre-planning how you're going to manage the backup resources or support people so that if someone in the team is sick, the work will not be affected. This will allow people to have flexibility.
[24:59] - Telling about the social benefits of incorporating empathy in your design, she says it provides a good opportunity for people to interact with nature. For example, in Stormwater engineering, a lot of the work involves landscaping and creeks and vegetation, which helps engineers empathize with the environment. And also, there have been countless studies documenting why it's good for people's health and well-being to get out into blue space and green space.
[30:47] - Katie says that she tends to say things that other people might keep on the inside, like standing up in front of 200 people and confessing that she has struggled with health issues. Many people have come up to her and confessed their problems and things that they don't tell anybody else, presumably, because they're worried about the people's perceptions of them as a result.
"Empathy is the ability to understand somebody else's point of view, and then respond appropriately."
"Having a different way of viewing things is an asset."
"It's cheaper to keep someone, nurture them, and work with them than it is to replace them."
"Sometimes people forget that they are human. They're allowed to be imperfect and be different."
"Having a good workplace mental health culture saves you money and makes you money."
"It takes guts to be honest and vulnerable."
KEY POINTS DISCUSSED:
− The connection between empathy and engineering
− Implications of not having empathy in engineering
− The barriers that prevent engineers from having empathy
− What changes does she want in engineering guidelines?
− What are external and internal empathy, and why are they important?
− How to resolve the issue of internal and external empathy?
− How she maintains her mental health
− The social benefits of incorporating empathy in engineering