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The Gender Balance: Lasting Impressions

Diversity and Inclusion By Kieran Thompson, Head of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion – 24 June 2019

4 colleagues sitting around a table high fiving


Kieran Thompson in a black shirt with a wooden and living wall background

Kieran Thompson

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As part of the Ethics & Equity strand of the Sustainability Roadmap Cundall has made a public commitment to tackling gender inequality within our business and within our industry. With this in mind Cundall sponsored the 2019 Women in Construction Summit that took place at Olympia in London on 16 May 2019. Myself and a number of colleagues from the UK business went along to learn from like-minded professionals all seeking to build a diverse, inclusive industry. After a long day of talks and workshops covering a range of diversity topics, I caught up with some of our other attendees, and asked them for their impressions from the event:

Kieran: Which of the many influential speakers at this year’s event left you with the most food for thought, and why?

Gemma Christian: Alison Cox from Sir Robert McAlpine offered a ray of hope. She has demonstrated through her team at Battersea Power Station that instigating a cultural shift is the best way to attract and retain staff. An inclusive culture is something that we can work to create; diversity and its benefits are something that should naturally follow.

Julian Sutherland: Seconded. Alison demonstrated that by creating the right workplace environment diversity can thrive. It is not about how long you spend in the office but the value and output from your efforts that counts.

Kieran: What did the event reveal to you about the commitment to tackling gender inequality in our industry?

Charlotte Mercer: I was surprised that the demographic was majority women, all of whom have a passion for tackling gender equality. The few men at the conference were senior leaders which was great but would have been good to see more men in attendance at all levels who can initiate change. The biggest challenge I believe facing the industry is embedding cultural change to a more inclusive environment so that it becomes the norm.

Duncan Cox: How essential it is that we tackle gender inequality in our industry. On the more positive side it was great to hear from some inspirational speakers on the many benefits to an organisation of fostering a gender balanced environment.

Kieran: One of the main sessions asked for each attendee to make one single personal commitment to help foster a more diverse and inclusive culture within their own business. What’s yours?

Andrew Moore: To raise awareness among London Partners and support wider initiatives and awareness within the business. I’ll also strive to challenge preconceptions, including my own, as to what makes an individual suitable (or capable) for roles within the business.

Duncan Cox: We need to make it clear that female engineers have a career path available to them, and that when they arrive into senior positions that they are made to feel valued and welcome. So, my commitments are twofold – to promote and facilitate this career path, and to be an advocate for equality among the partnership group.

Julian Sutherland: I’m committing to help people balance the demands of home and work, and to create project roles which suit flexible working and diversity.

Kieran: Finally, when it comes to Cundall’s commitment to substantially increasing the % of women in leadership roles over the next 10 years, what one step can we take to make sure this happens?

Gemma Christian: It feels hollow to be told there are no barriers to progression for women, when so many women have to take their progress elsewhere. When women move on from the business, we should be conducting honest, detailed exit interviews to understand their reasons for leaving and crucially using this information to address any barriers or behaviours that they feel may have contributed to their decision. The loss of a female senior/principal/associate is felt throughout the team, as women in more junior positions not only lose a potential role model but also see the glass ceiling in action and so the cycle is perpetuated.

Charlotte Mercer: I feel it important to not to set metrics for this as many women will feel that their progression is due to positive discrimination. Everyone wants to be in their position through merit alone and all Cundall really needs to do is provide equal and transparent opportunities and continue to work to remove unconscious bias throughout business. Role models in the business is an important objective to achieve also, I agree with Gemma that the loss of senior female engineers is felt by all women in the business. It is important to confront this issue to understand why this is happening and what we can do to change it.

Elise Campbell-Bates: In order to make measurable and impactful advances in the proportion of women in leadership roles, we need to set clear recruitment and development targets, and link these to the overall performance and KPIs of managers and leaders. As unforgiving as this seems, this is one of the few hard-wired ways to shift perceptions towards acknowledging equality being business-critical rather than a “nice-to-have”. We also need to further embed a culture of flexible working and educate our leaders around the business benefits of diversity and the negative impacts of bias.

The world of work has changed in a positive direction, and Cundall must adapt to remain an employer of choice. As we continue to grow, building a business that provides a work environment that embraces a diversity of ideas and perspectives is a commercial imperative. Unsurprisingly mounting academic shows that people perform at their best when they feel engaged and valued, and an inclusive workplace is one that can attract and retain the very best talent.

With this in mind, I will soon be circulating a Workplace Inclusion Survey to all staff, the results of which will influence our future culture, policies and ways of working for years to come.