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Business: How to square equality

Creating a more gender balanced workforce is a business imperative for consultant Hyder, championed by its UK managing director and the firm’s new women’s development programme.

equality ident

Consultant Hyder has launched an initiative to tackle the problem of too few women engineers rising up through the business and taking senior roles. Spawned from its gender diversity steering group, its new women’s development programme is a focused effort to increase the proportion of women in senior management within three years.

“I’ve experienced businesses with high female and high male proportions, and each group tends to think in a certain direction,” says Hyder UK managing director Graham Reid. “You need a balance. Men and women are programmed differently and [evidence shows that] high performingbusinesses have more of a [gender] balance.”

Hyder’s women’s development programme addresses what it believes is holding some women back: lack of confidence means that women do not put themselves forward for roles they are more than capable of taking on.

“You tend to like people who are like you, and men cannot often see the strengths in women”

Graham Reid, Hyder

“It’s that thing that men oversell themselves and women undersell themselves,” explains Reid.

A report by management consultant McKinsey, A business case for women, supports this assumption: “… women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100% of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60% of the requirements,” it says. The report also explains that coaching, mentoring, and networking programmes help women to be more successful.

Equality

Balance: Hyder is looking for teams that knit together a variety of skills

Aligned with this thinking, Hyder’s programme involves training to develop negotiating skills and techniques to influence and make an impact.

“Women, historically, don’t negotiate well - they are not the ones asking for a bigger salary,” says Hyder gender diversity steering group chair Chantelle Ludski. Related to this, the company has reviewed all its processes and policies - including salaries - to ensure they are visible and fair.

Being mentored by senior members at Hyder and by external mentors also forms part of the programme to instil confidence and an “if they can do it, you can too” attitude in female engineers.

Unconscious bias training for managers should ensure that women are not put off joining Hyder at interview stage and that managers do not inadvertently create barriers preventing women being promoted.

Diversity charter

Hyder’s gender diversity charter states its commitment to

  • Identify and takes steps to remove the personal and institutional obstacles to women making the transition to senior management and to increase the number of women at senior levels within technical and management positions from its current 6%
  • Developing and implementing clearly defined strategies and practices to support the recruitment and retention of female talent
  • Supporting employees, irrespective of gender, to reach their full potential through a combination of leadership programmes and events, the introduction and encouragement of supportive policies and the utilisation and strengthening of internal and external networks

“You tend to like people who are like you, and men cannot often see the strengths in women,” says Reid. Unconscious bias training, he hopes, will reverse this trend so that interviewers appreciate talent regardless of gender, ethnicity or educational background.

A revamp of Hyder’s media campaigns and website to reflect gender diversity is also planned to ensure they do not deter women.

“The market is buoyant, but [recruiting] in certain sectors is very tight. You wind that forward a year and you can see a problem brewing,” says Reid.

“Our job is to attract the best graduates - male and female - and to offer them training that is second to none in an environment which is so attractive that they don’t want to leave.”

Being open to flexible working is considered to be one way of attracting and retaining staff, particularly as Hyder’s IT systems allow the same access to information and communication at home as in the office. “It means mums returning to work have the ability to be flexible and work from home when they need,” says Ludski.

She continues: “It’s a fact of life: women will want to have children and we want to give them an environment they want to come back to. The reality is that times have changed and people want a balance between family life and work life.”

“Women, historically, don’t negotiate well - they are not the ones asking for a bigger salary”

Chantelle Ludski, Hyder

The trend at Hyder is that most women returning from maternity leave work part-time, starting at, say, two days a week and increasing to four after a few years. Keeping in touch with those on maternity leave and preparing the team for their return is also yielding a better retention rate.

“The teams are made up in such a way that someone is there to pick up the slack when that person is on their day (or days) off,” explains Ludski.

Reid is adamant that all jobs can be carried out part time using this model, including working on projects that are on site, high profile and complicated. Ludski, who is also HR and change management director, is open to any form of flexible working.

“What we say is, come to us, give us a proposal [for flexible working] and we will see if we can make it work,” she says.

Even candidate split

Hyder already routinely requests an even split of male and female candidates from employment agencies to fill roles. This is to ensure a level playing field from which to start the recruitment process.

Reid feels that having both sexes equally represented at application stage allows any gender bias to be more easily identified and, therefore, addressed.

The consultant has not set a target for the proportion of women engineers it hopes to employ, but is adamant that, from this point on, every effort needs to be made to improve on the current percentages - to make the few women who go into engineering want to work for Hyder.

Ironically, it is already close to achieving a gender balanced graduate intake, as last year 40% were female. However this compares with only 14% of the total technical and engineering workforce in the firm being women, and only 6% at senior level.

But what tangible gain is there in having men and women equally represented on a team, a project or at board level? Are there specific skills inherent in men and women that, when combined, lead to better decision making; better outcomes?

The subject is a minefield for Reid and Ludski, as both clearly do not want to offend or show preference, nor, when pressed, do they want to stereotype women as multi-tasking nurturers and men as single-minded hunters.

Action plans

Hyder’s initiatives to attract, retain and support women in engineering 2013-2016:

  • Organising an “engineers tea” (March 2014) to promote the careers of female engineers and scientists. Hyder staff met secondary schoolgirls for a chat about engineering, followed by tea
  • Launching the women’s development programme and gender diversity charter.
  • Targeting similar numbers of bursaries for male and female undergraduates at university
  • Organising a bring your child to work day
  • Publicising case studies of working mums and dads
  • Assigning a “buddy” to keep in touch with someone going on maternity leave and organising a formal induction on their return
  • Unconscious bias training for managers

Ludski says Hyder’s aim for gender diversity is aligned with attracting a range of views and, hence, a more balanced view on how to manage a project; and also to reflect the gender diversity of many of its clients.

“Personally, I have found women to make superb project managers,” admits Reid finally, adding that women bring “clarity of thought, focus and team building skills” to the table, while men can be task-focused.

“Both arrive at the same end point through their own means,” he adds.

He continues: “A team feels different when there is evenness. Teams which work well have a holistic view of understanding a project’s needs. Non-gender-balanced teams perform well too, but the impression is that a balanced team is more effective.”

Reid is not saying all men and women fall into these categories, but highlighting the differences makes it easier to understand how members of a gender-balanced team knit together the many skills needed to deliver a project successfully.

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