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Building an inclusive business

People By Carole O'Neil, Managing Partner – 25 July 2022

Carole O'Neil having a fun discussion with her fellow Cundall colleagues


Carole in a coral top in front of a wooden panel wall

Carole O'Neil

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ME Construction News recently spoke to Carole O'Neil, global Managing Partner to discuss her thoughts on the future of Cundall, diversity and inclusion and climate change.

How do you envision your day-to-day schedule changing once you officially assume your new role in July?

I expect to be doing a lot more travel around our global business. We’ve always been passionate about retaining our “One Cundall” ethos, and I see it as a key part of my role to help keep everyone connected with where we are headed, and to listen and respond to the feedback from people across the business. I’m also looking forward to meeting more of our clients and other leaders in the industry.

What are three short and three long-term goals that you have as global Managing Partner?

My short-term goals are to launch our new business strategy and to get people talking about it. I’ll be getting out to meet as many people as possible across the business and supporting our regional leadership teams in developing plans to implement the strategy in their own territories.

Long term goals include building a high-performance culture at all levels and in all parts of our business. Building on our reputation for working collaboratively with our clients to deliver great projects and delivering on our Zero Carbon Design 2030 commitments.

What’s one key issue within Cundall that’s very close to your heart that you want to push?

Our strength has always been our people, and my own professional background in human resources means that building a business where all talent can thrive will always be close to my heart. I want to continue to drive this by building our leadership capability through activities such as leadership development, succession planning and mentoring. At Cundall we are committed to being the most inclusive employer in our industry, and I’m looking forward to continuing to provide visible leadership on this in my new role.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the construction industry, is it progressing at a pace you’re happy with or do you think the industry could progress faster?

It’s not progressing at the pace I would like, but I think there are really positive signs that we’re starting to take this seriously as an industry. There is still a huge amount to do, and there are systemic issues that contribute to the lack of diversity that we continue to see. We’ve had success at Cundall in the last few years in beginning to address the challenges that under-represented groups can face at work; we’re seeing increasingly visible engagement at all levels within the business, and we’ve seen the proportion of women in our leadership roles double over the last two years. We have a responsibility to share our learning and experiences with others in the industry, and we are actively engaging more widely on this.

How can the construction industry better engage with an influence young people to get them thinking about careers in the built environment?

We need to continue to provide positive, relatable role models, and to showcase the amazing opportunities that exist within construction. We need to be doing this at the earliest possible stage, which means talking to primary school children and getting them involved in fun activities that reflect what we do is important. We must also be engaging with those who influence young people (parents, carers, teachers etc.), as so much of young people’s messaging comes from their home and school environments. There is so much that we can offer, and the work that we do has such an enormous impact on the world, but as an industry we are not consistently good at selling the opportunities that exist.

In May the WMO said there is a 50:50 chance of global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5°C threshold in next five years. Please share your reaction to this and what part can the industry play in ensuring this doesn’t come to pass?

Our planet is witnessing a series of devastating climatic effects, and scientists cannot be clearer on the direct negative role humans are playing here. Without an immediate and global commitment to action, both short and long-term consequences will be terrible. Good faith efforts and traditional ESG initiatives are no longer sufficient, we must witness a complete societal transformation through more integrated and purposeful solutions, starting from the bottom up.

In my new capacity as global Managing Partner, sustainability will be at the forefront of my agenda and all future company decisions. I plan to continuously invest in our teams to build the sustainable capabilities needed to effectively guide our clients and help stakeholders play a leading role in shaping the global sustainability agenda.

In 2020 we were recognised as the first consultancy worldwide to achieve the Net Zero Carbon Trust certification, following twelve years of data recordings. We fully understand the challenges at stake and aim to capitalise on these lessons learned to provide stakeholders with tangible tested solutions that can achieve Net Zero Carbon. At Cundall, we always strive to push the boundaries of the built environment and have set ourselves a new and even more ambitious goal: by 2030 every project we design will be zero carbon. We’re on a journey towards zero carbon in this decisive decade, and we invite everyone in the wider industry to join us in making zero carbon design 2030 a reality.