A diversity culture is now a must-have business imperative

Diversity in the workforce means business are accessing the best pools of talent. Is it time for an industry wide diversity charter asks ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin in his regular monthly column?

For an increasing number of consultancy and engineering organisations, the talent crisis is no longer an abstraction.  It’s an all-too-real threat that’s spurring companies, perhaps for the first time, to treat the pursuit of new talent as a vital business concern and look wider to expand their pool of recruitment opportunity.

"Diversity and Inclusion needs to be embedded in our company DNA and lived through every member of our teams; from the chairman, down to project delivery and support staff."

With an ageing population in the UK, an increased global future infrastructure project pipeline and the growing attraction for graduates to work internationally in the emerging and dynamic global economies – what must the engineering sector do to appeal to diverse gender and ethnic groups?   We must ask ourselves why would anyone choose a career in engineering when it is perceived as a predominantly white, male industry.  Then we have to create the right messages that engage at a level that connects with those diverse audiences.  At the core of our strategies we should and must foster a culture of inclusion so that everyone is welcomed and valued in our business. 

No longer can a company’s cultural diversity and inclusion agenda be thought of as just an HR exercise where boxes are ticked to pay lip service to a corporate function.  Diversity and Inclusion needs to be embedded in our company DNA and lived through every member of our teams; from the chairman, down to project delivery and support staff.

Last week, Business Secretary Vince Cable was banging the drum for all-women shortlists for board positions at Britain’s biggest companies in his attempt to reach a target of 25 per cent female representation on FTSE 100 boards by 2015.  That this is double the current representation of 12.5 per cent astonishes me.  Surely the myth about the ‘glass’ ceiling must have been shattered by now.

So it was a privilege and of great personal significance to join the Diversity Leadership Group established by the Royal Academy of Engineering last year.  Set up to enable the collective engineering industry to think together, and not in silos, to tackle the diversity issues head on.

The initial group discussions agreed that the will to make change is there but strong leadership and firm action were needed to affect an inclusive cultural change in our industry.  We looked at the ‘best client practice procurement’ initiatives such as TfL and the Highways Agency.  In particular we commended the Olympic Delivery Authority on its ground-breaking procurement model, where  it worked with its contractors to embed diversity requirements on local employment throughout the bidding process.  Its Jobs Skills Futures Brokerage managed to get 50% of the people into work on the Olympic Park from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds; 41% women and 9% disabled people in an industry which has dragged its feet when delivering diversion, equality and inclusion.   Now that is something the engineering world can truly celebrate and build upon.

On Sunday it was International Women’s Day and it reminded me of the article I read in the London Evening Standard on Friday where Crossrail was proudly heralding the fact that almost 30% of its workforce is female.  Now that is what I call progress. How many other engineering based organisations are prepared to stand up and sign up to an “Industry-wide Diversity Charter” and participate in annual benchmarking on their progressive diversity achievements?

Whilst I do not subscribe to a legislative approach as adopted in Scandinavia and North America, I say that “an inclusive diversity culture is not a nice to have option, but a business imperative agenda to secure UK engineering sector international competitiveness”. 

What are your diversity strategies and successes. Let us know by emailing