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Delivering diversity from top to bottom

Diversity and inclusion is not an initiative, says Skanska, but an integral part of the way it operates and just as core as health and safety and sustainability.

From the approach to recruiting staff to the steps taken to retain them, Skanska is undergoing a quiet transformation that will see diversity and inclusion become a crucial part of its DNA.

In fact, over the next few years the company is aiming to garner the highest possible reputation for embracing a more inclusive workforce in the same way it has done for safety and sustainability – for which it was crowned Green Company of the Year in 2011 by the Sunday Times.

“By the end of 2017 you’ll be able to go to any of our sites and they will have a D&I plan, as they do now for health and safety,” says talent and capability director Dan Forbes-Pepitone.

“They’ll be able to tell you how they are engaging with schools or recruiting and promoting in an inclusive way. The whole change will be driven by every individual in the business rather than from the centre.”

Proactive recruitment

The sort of change we’re talking about includes proactive recruitment of people from other industries, screening applicants based on their values, and more opportunities for ex-offenders and ex-military.

It also means fostering flexible working environments where everyone feels comfortable putting across their point of view and being who they are regardless of gender, sexuality or background.

“It makes good business sense and is part of a wider contribution to society”

Harvey Francis, Skanska UK

It’s an acknowledgement that the world is changing, that clients want more imaginative thinking – and that doesn’t come from recruiting people with the same look and the same outlook.

This culture change has been promoted from the very top. Johan Karlström, president and CEO of the global organisation, which employs 58,000 people worldwide, said two years ago he wanted Skanska to be the best among all industries, not just construction firms.

“It’s important to society, important to clients and important to those who work for us and to those we want to attract in the future,” says Skanska UK group HR director and executive vice-president Harvey Francis.

“It makes good business sense and is part of a wider contribution to society.”

Client demands

Many public sector clients are already demanding construction firms take a more active stance in becoming more diverse, such as Highways England – on whose framework Skanska recently won a place – and Network Rail.

On a local level, much is already happening to get staff to think in a more inclusive way. Every team takes time to debate ethical dilemmas, and team-building requirements have been rewritten to ensure it will be something the whole team can engage in.

“In the old days people might have watched football - not everyone likes that,” says Paul Heather, managing director for Skanska’s London-based construction business.

“Similarly, horse racing may exclude some people on religious grounds. Physical activities also need thinking about.”

Skanska is also keen to be playing a bigger role in influencing and supporting the wider industry. Its first diversity and inclusion event in May this year attracted 200 people, with guests coming from the supply chain, government and competitors.

Though the principles and aspirations for embracing D&I were set out from Sweden, strategy and delivery is down to Skanska locally in the markets in which it operates.

For Skanska UK, one of the first action points was to gather the top 25 managers from around the country and also establish Paul as diversity advocate acting as champion, with Dan leading from the HR team as his ‘project manager’.

It was during this away day that the idea of an action group to drive it all forward emerged.

Gender target

One of Skanska’s key aspirations is for 30 per cent of its emerging talent to be female by 2020. At the moment the overall number of women in the organisation is about 28 per cent, though the numbers are swelled by a high proportion in service functions including marketing and HR.

At operational levels, like construction and engineering, the numbers drop. “These are aspirational targets, but we are not going to positively discriminate,” Harvey says.

“We know it will be hard so it’s really down to us to keep on pushing away from tradition”

Dan Forbes-Pepitone, Skanska UK

Instead, the strategy will be to sell Skanska and construction to a wider talent pool, including younger people, and honing in on where the talent is.

Line managers are being encouraged to take on people with transferrable skills such as programme management and leadership experience in comparable industries such as manufacturing, rather than demand a tightly defined skillset.

The Clear Company founder Kate Headley has been working with Skanska on D&I, including facilitating its away day and recruitment policies.

“Skanska is determined to set the agenda for the industry, and for one as traditional as construction that means looking outside industry and also being aware of any unconscious bias, such as use of language that might be discouraging applicants,” she says.

“The biggest challenge for Skanska will be getting over the fear of hiring someone who hasn’t done the job in this industry.

“They are recruiting 1,400 people a year and the key is ensuring many of those appointments don’t become transactional just to meet the deadline.”

Skanska’s Dan acknowledges the task ahead: “We know it will be hard getting managers to consider people from different backgrounds and so it’s really down to us to keep on pushing away from tradition.”

Paul adds: “We need to keep this really high on the agenda and educate our staff that inclusive teams deliver what we want to deliver as a business. It’s not an initiative; it’s something we have to do for the greater good of our industry.”

This article has been produced in collaboration with Skanska as partnership publishing

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