Gender balance: three things that work

Three things that work well in improving gender balance in the work place have been highlighted by the Major Projects Association. This follows as a principal output from the fourth event of the MPA's gender balance initiative held last week.

Reverse mentoring – understanding new perspectives

A programme of reverse mentoring has pushed the profile of diversity and inclusion to the very top of the agenda at professional services firm PwC. The structured programme, which began two years ago, has seen company leaders mentored by junior staff from a different gender or ethnic background in order to show partners what life is like from a very different perspective. It was mandatory for all partners, which sent a powerful message to staff at all levels within the company.

As a direct result of the initiative there have been very practical and real changes in the business. A deeper consideration of gender and ethnic mix is becoming embedded into the processes behind recruitment, project team creation, external event participation and talent development.

Leadership – giving people a safe place to flourish

Change presents opportunity, said HS2's director for organisational effectivness and change, Dr Nina Cope. Highlighting the experiences of three female employees that she has led, Nina demonstrated how giving people a safe space to flourish benefited both the individuals and the organisation. These experiences also demonstrated that building confidence is just as vital as providing opportunities.

Ali, a chartered occupational therapist, was a senior employee who had always been placed in facilitative roles rather than given the chance to lead. In enabling Ali to take up a leadership position she was challenged in new ways, and although this was difficult it gave her a large number of new skills.

Barbara too was given the chance to lead a project management office. As a mature member of the team, Barbara embraced this new opportunity and undertook training courses that enabled her to perform at this new vocation late in her career. The results were incredible. As an effective employee Barbara became an ‘awesome’ team manager that everyone wanted to work with.

Finally, Kate was supported to ensure that she could flourish in her demanding role, delivering a human resources change programme which included making redundancies. As a young female employee there was some discrimination from the parties involved, yet Kate did an amazing job.

Flexible working – policy is not enough

As the project director of a major parcel transformation programme at Royal Mail Group, Pauline Broadway knew that it would be challenging to combine the huge responsibility with her need for flexible working. Having been trusted by Royal Mail Group to deliver at this high level, Pauline set about critically analysing how she and the team would operate, which meant a clear definition of accountabilities and putting in place what she described as a rhythm and routine that worked for the whole team. Communication was crucial, as was the need to ensure that flexibility was retained on both sides of the arrangement.

Through this experience, and in her current role as Business Change Director at business change consultancy firm Afiniti, Pauline said that it was vital to ensure that flexible working policies are properly supported within organisations, for example through coaching and empowering employees to be open about their flexible working requirements.

Royal Mail Group’s Chief Operating Officer Sue Whalley said that the company was still on the journey of improving its flexible working policies, which was one of many major steps that the 500-year-old organisation had taken to improve diversity and inclusion. Driven by the need to innovate and grow, the 140,000-employee- strong company took a strategic decision three years ago to improve business performance by growing diversity. It has made huge changes to its recruitment procedures, undertaken unconscious bias training among senior staff, changed its training programmes and is working hard on retention of female employees.

The fourth MPA gender balance meeting was hosted by PwC, attended by participating companies including AECOM, Affinity, Arcadis, Arup, Copper Consultancy, HS2, Mace, Tideway, Costain and Balfour Beatty. The full document can be accessed here