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NCE100 | Engineering Equality Awards

engineering equality

Good firms take responsibility for making the construction and engineering workplace one that is welcoming to all by pushing the diversity agenda and striving to be great and safe places to work.

On diversity, 87 of the NCE100 firms have diversity policies in place; 82 have a board director accountable and 18 have now signed up to Women Into Science & Engineering’s (WISE’s) 10 Steps to Gender Equality initiative. 

ICE Council has just agreed to adopt this initiative and it would be great to see more firms signing up.

engineering equality


But many of the firms have really interesting strategies in place not least the winner, Mott MacDonald. 

Few are as surprising as highly commended diversity champion Byrne Bros. It has created partnerships with organisations such as Women into Construction. 

In 2013 it received a special commendation for the opportunities it provided for women on one of its projects. This relationship has continued with engineering graduates put forward by Women into Construction getting direct access to apply for its graduate scheme. 

25% of UK staff in the NCE100 are female; 11% are from ethnic minorities and 4% are beyond the statutory retirement age

It is a programme that is clearly reaping reward: currently 58% of Byrne Bros graduates are women, way above the average.

Other firms are taking action too. WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff’s UK strategy includes targets for 40% of its graduate intake and 30% of its apprentice intake to be female by 2020. 

And at Arup, a multifaceted approach to diversity and inclusion is also working. Its graduate intake is 35% female, from a female graduate pool of just 14%. It has done this through proactivity: in 2011 it recruited from just 33 universities with the result that 26% of its graduates were female and from just 19 nationalities. In 2015, this increased to 93 universities, with the result that 35% were female and from 40 nationalities. 

Skanska operates a code of conduct hotline to support good conduct and a zero tolerance to unethical behaviour

So at graduate level work is being done. And, in an industry where just 5.5% of engineers are women, our 100 claim that 25% of the UK workforce is female. So that’s something to be proud of.

On other diversity metrics the numbers are lower: 11% of the NCE100’s UK staff are from ethnic minorities; 4% are beyond the statutory retirement age and just 1% are registered disabled. Assessing the employment of LGBT people was difficult as information supplied by the companies was limited. But work is being done here, whether it is Mott MacDonald’s Advance programme of WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and its LGBT working party. Arup was Stonewall star performer last year. 

Some work is still needed to remove the glass ceiling. Women fill just 162 of 739 executive board places in our survey – 22% of the seats available. 

That’s close, but just shy of the 25%  target that Lord Davies tasked FTSE100 companies with hitting by the end of last year in his government-commissioned review. Davies has now set a new, voluntary target of 33% for all FTSE350 companies by 2020, and so much to do.

Board members

Ethnic diversity is not as evident at senior levels. On average, just 6% of NCE100 board members are from ethnic minorities.

New Civil Engineer’s research shows that civils firms do like to work their employees hard: 34 of our 100 have asked employees to opt out of the European Union working time directive and almost all expect employees to work more than a 37.5 hour week.

To mitigate, 77 of the NCE100 have a policy to manage workplace stress but investment is low – on average firms invest just 1% of turnover on occupational health. 

As high-scoring on people company Clancy Consulting says: “Being at work is a fundamental part of most people’s lives and it can affect their lives as a whole. We need to feel useful, wanted, challenged and fulfilled. As we gain further responsibilities in our life we have to make sure there is a balance to manage them all.”  

As Clancy says, it is important to treat people as people and not a process. It provides flexibility so its staff can manage when life gets in the way. It also recognises the needs of staff, so when many were stressed as the UK came out of the recession, it conducted a mental health, wellbeing and emotional resilience course with them all. 

Many of the NCE100 have similar initiatives. Opus Consulting International’s annual health and safety week provides themed activities, including a day focused on overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness. Skanska operates a code of conduct hotline to support good conduct and a zero tolerance to unethical behaviour, including bribery and corruption and bullying and discrimination.

Diversity Champion Winner: Mott MacDonald

mott macdonald

Mott MacDonald’s 2015 strategic action plan for equality, diversity and inclusion included 28 actions, 22 of which have been completed, while six  have been carried forward to 2016. 

One outcome is an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) employee network called Advance, led by chairman Keith Howells and including the managing director for Europe, HR director, champions representing each of its UK regions, and its EDI manager. Advance delivered 12 events in 2015, marking dates such as Women in Engineering day, Black History month, Ramadan and Diwali.

The action plan has also included initiatives to implement agile working, drive more inclusive recruitment practices and tackle bullying and harassment. A specific initiative was Mott MacDonald’s first Inclusion week, which ran from 15-19 June and began with a peer learning forum supported by Business in the Community. For this, the consultant brought together 25 senior contacts from 19 peer firms to explore how best to move forward on EDI in the construction sector.

Alongside LGBT, gender, race, disability and age discrimination, Mott MacDonald has been tackling mental health and wellbeing, with assistance from the Scottish Association of Mental Health. It is also reviewing and relaunching its annual staff survey, which will be conducted by an independent external organisation to provide assurance that the results, are impartial and transparent. It plans to use the results to shape its workplace engagement and inclusion strategy.

The NCE100 judges unanimously named Mott MacDonald the winner. They were impressed with its comprehensive, sophisticated approach and the way the firm articulated how action was leading to a measurable return on investment.

Highly commended

Byrne Bros



Clancy Consulting

Eastwood & Partners

Mott MacDonald

Vinci Construction UK

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff


Best Place to Work Award Winner: MWH


MWH believes that its people are there to do more than just a job. It says it cares about them as individuals and wants them to value the company they work for and know that the business, in turn, values them and their safety too.

It has developed a variety of ways for its employees to engage and share their thoughts. In addition to an annual engagement survey, it introduced BOB the Big Orange Button, a method for sharing views, concerns and improvement suggestions regarding health, safety and wellbeing issues. 

It has introduced wellbeing campaigns to help employees be happier, healthier and more engaged at work. Its stress awareness training programme for all managers helps them to identify signs of stress and be more comfortable in helping to deal with the challenges people may be facing. 

The NCE100  judges said that MWH demonstrated the kind of values and engagement often only found in smaller practices. They said exceptional leadership demonstrated a commitment to wellbeing initiatives across a number of issues including mental health. 

A welcoming approach to flexible working was demonstrated through excellent and diverse examples of sabbaticals, part-time and parental working opportunities.

MWH is also proactive around gender diversity. A three pronged approach focuses on recruitment processes, senior management attitudes and increasing retention.





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