Recently, I attended a meeting hosted by WISE entitled “Executive Action on Gender Balance”. As the Chairman of an SME (a small to medium-sized enterprise), I was very aware that there were some very big employers in the room, employers whose HR resources were probably larger than the whole of my own company, CGL.
Of course, there was much corporate-speak that involved ‘journeys’, ‘moving the dial’, ‘in‑work networks’ and ‘360 degree mentoring’. Language to chill the heart of the most enthusiastic SME director. It was clear, however, that there was a strong sense of a need to change things from where they currently are and to set aspirational goals that deliberately stretch all of us. To those looking to come in to professional engineering, hearing of such conversations should excite them and fill them with belief that a worthwhile career of great opportunity awaits them.
Who should lead the change?
It is easy for leaders of SME’s to see taking action on inclusivity and diversity as the realm of the bigger corporates. This, of course, fuels the view from corporate companies that “we are doing everything we can, but our sub-contractors, now that’s where you do find attitudes from 40 years back”. From the point of view of an SME I would respond… Are you sure?
Here at CGL, we have a near 50:50 gender split across the company and, in construction, work within an industry where this is unusual, if not unique. We have supported WISE and the Royal Academy of Engineering on diversity and inclusivity initiatives over quite a few years, with budgets and commitments that are dwarfed by many other industry leaders that are involved.
CGL has small budgets for marketing, recruitment and charity support and it would be easy for us to say “we’re doing all we can”. We provide STEM ambassadors, we go out to schools and deliberately use female graduates to dispel the myth so common amongst teachers that construction is for boys. We support tool kits on what we do here to assist others to plan and copy for their own diversity and inclusion strategies. Frankly, this all felt a bit passive.
In June last year, on International Women in Engineering Day, we pledged do more. Our aim was to produce a booklet for 14 to 15 year-old students about women in civil engineering. The booklet, ‘Female Face of Civil Engineering’, was launched in August last year on GCSE results day.
The Female Face of Civil Engineering
We searched through colleagues, alumni and contacts to produce personal stories of a number of women who would look “a lot like me” and present relatable role models to young women planning their career in construction. Of course, we got more offers than we could use at the time, but it was encouraging to see the call for assistance was met with enthusiasm and commitment.
CGL staff provided their time for free and we outsourced the document design to a team of talented, local graphic designers. By the end of July last year, we had examples of a tree house building structural engineer; a one-time national triathlete and now professor of engineering; and an equestrian enthusiast, who is also a specialist geoenvironmental engineer, to name but three.
However, we needed endorsements for this document. After all, we felt as an SME that we needed some additional “accreditation” and were delighted when both WISE and the Institution of Civil Engineers were true to their word and provided a strong endorsement for the project.
So, from these little acorns some mighty oaks can, and will, grow. SME’s can play a significant part in leading by example and we believe at CGL that we can make a difference even with modest resources. Picking your initiative, delivering with as high a quality as you can and disseminating the message as widely as this electronic age allows can have more impact than the priciest international campaigns.
Finally, for any CEO wondering whether this is for them, here is the business case. The enthusiasm that this relatively simple initiative developed within the company, coupled with the sense of pride in who we are and what we do, has seen business returns on recruitment, retention, commitment and creativity that would otherwise have needed major investments to achieve. Inclusivity- it’s a business no-brainer.