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How mixed mentoring develops an inclusive culture

Skanska is adopting a variety of initiatives to help develop and cement an inclusive culture. One of the most successful has been mixed-pair mentoring, which has brought benefits to both established managers and those starting their careers.

Steve Holbrook, a building commercial director in London and the South-east, admits that when he was asked to take part in a new scheme to help attract more women to the sector and help their retention and progression, he was a little sceptical.

“The business is getting more intense and we need people to have a different outlook. I probably started understanding this more when I started mentoring”

Steve Holbrook, Skanska

“I’ve been in the business for 20 years and grown my career in the London office market, which can be pretty cut-throat, so I had a typical builder’s outlook on life. Also, I was busy and I thought, ‘What’s in it for me?’” he says.

Eighteen months later, his opinion of the mixed-pair mentoring scheme could not be more different.

“The business is getting more intense and we need people to have a different outlook. I started understanding this more when I started mentoring. For most of my career there have been few women in the office, let alone on site.”

How mixed mentoring works

The programme works by pairing up established male managers to mentor young females or established female managers to help young men.

The aim is twofold: to support and advise those starting their careers, and to give mentors a different perspective of the workplace that can help inform their management modus operandi.

Each relationship is also paired across operating units and enabling functions. The plan is to expand beyond gender to bring together other forms of mixed-pairing groups – by sexuality, ethnicity and backgrounds, including ex-offenders.

“The company’s D&I agenda is credited as one of the reasons it was selected to work with what was then the Highways Agency”

“The benefit to Skanska is that it breaks down silos and encourages broader thinking. It also helps us from a business perspective,” says head of leadership development Paula Lindores.

Highways England, one of Skanska’s key clients, applauded the scheme when it carried out a diversity and inclusion audit.

The company’s D&I agenda is credited as one of the reasons it was selected to work with what was then the Highways Agency.

Steve Holbrook says he has been able to help his mentee’s confidence and communication skills; in turn, the experience has helped him spot when others in the team also need more help.

“Males who tend to bang on the table and shout. Women tend to calm the situation down, and maybe get better outcomes because of it”

Steve Holbrook, Skanska

“It certainly changed my views about the make-up of teams. My background is of working with males who tend to bang on the table and shout.

“I can see it doesn’t have to be like that – you can get the same thing without that behaviour. Women tend to calm the situation down, and maybe get better outcomes because of it.”

Scheme accelerates

Since the programme started three years ago there have been 126 matched pairs; in this year alone 100 new pairs have been brought together. The mentoring programme is cited as a factor in females progressing in the company.

Today, 10 per cent of senior roles are filled by women compared with 8 per cent in 2011. Additionally, 70 per cent of females from the original cohort have been promoted and 92 per cent of those who have been mentored from 2013 and 2014 (both men and women) have stayed in the company.

Paula says careful consideration is key when matching the needs and aspirations of mentor and mentee.

She says it’s also essential that both mentor and mentee make regular time commitments – and that mentors visit sites if that’s where their mentees work.

“It can be a real eye opener – it makes you appreciate how tough it can be and what Skanska as a business does.”

Sophie Allard has been mentored for the last 18 months by a senior business development manager within Skanska’s piling and foundations business, which has helped her transition from an assistant bid manager to an assistant QS within utilities.

Sophie chose to make this change after being encouraged to spend time in different parts of the company.

She says moving from a job in the bid team, which involves working with directors and senior managers, to taking an operational role based on site that involves dealing with many different types of people, has been something of a culture shock.

“I think I would have got where I am without the mentor, but his help has meant I’ve got there quicker,” she says. “There have been a lot of situations I wouldn’t have been able to handle so well without his steer.

“People who have not had a mentor might not appreciate how pivotal it can be. To be able to talk to someone I can trust and get their support is proving invaluable.”

Women’s network to help boost retention

Like other contractors, Skanska has experienced the ‘leaky pipe syndrome’ where women leave the company before progressing into middle management.

It’s keen to reverse this trend and is setting up a female network to both attract more women and help retain them.

Leading this initiative is Kelachi Amadi-Echendu, who joined the firm five years ago as a graduate civil engineer and is now working with the HS2 bid team.

“We’ll be working with the emerging talent team on activities for schools and universities to see how we can portray construction to make it more attractive to young women. Internally, one of the big things we want it to address is one of visibility.

“If you’re a female working on site in a team of 30 men you can be quite isolated, so it’s about getting them to connect.”

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

Readers' comments (1)

  • I have been mentored for 3 years by our CFO - an interesting combination when looking at a comms professional just getting into construction, but the different approaches and priorities have helped both of us understand a far wider breadth of the company and the industry - Our business has been mixing up the mentoring process for years and as Skanska show, the benefits are huge for all.
    Line Managers already understand and guide their team members within their role, but having the perspective that sits outside of the day to day; providing a different support avenue is of huge value, to the mentor, to the mentee and to the company.

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