Leading with difference – inclusion and diversity

Caitlin Trumble

Associate Director

Jessie Schilling

Senior Consultant

Caitlin Trumble and Jessie Schilling attended the Women in Construction, Engineering and Infrastructure Leadership Summit, presented by the National Association of Women in Construction and the Women Leaders Institute.

There was a fantastic array of speakers and an opportunity to network with industry leaders and peers throughout the two-day conference. Jessie and Caitlin share their takeaways in two articles.

Leading with difference – inclusion and diversity

Create positive pathways for women

Australia will be nearly 70,000 engineers short by 2023. Retention is key, but we have a leaky pipeline.

How do we solve it? By creating a culture of diversity and an environment where others can fulfil their potential. This is an industry problem, not just about women but diversity generally. (Marlene Kanga AO).

In the war for talent, there is an increase in the percentage of women in construction.

“There is too much work to be done in Australia to ignore 51% of the population.”

Josh Murray

There is power and productivity in diversity of thought, but only when accompanied by inclusion and belonging. Diversity can’t be leveraged without inclusion. And we can’t consider diverse opinions if we aren’t creating inclusive environments. We need to acknowledge and celebrate diversity.

What do diversity and inclusion look like?

Diversity should not be limited to gender, culture, religion, or disciplinary knowledge domains. When committing to diversity and inclusion, we open ourselves to the non-defined, non-binary, non-conventional, non- ‘us’ categories of human experience. We are all human, and we all have something to offer. This contributes to diversity; how we choose to offer and receive others’ offerings is how we frame inclusion.

To create a positive pathway to diversity and inclusion:

  • Enable people to do their job in an environment where everyone is united to achieve a common outcome
  • Allow people to bring different ideas, approaches, experiences and thinking to the table.

We discover and achieve better solutions when we learn how to leverage, and listen to, different voices.

Diversity is a catalyst for innovation if we are open to new and different problem-solving methods.

A systematic approach to building inclusive team cultures

Construction is not all hard hats and hi-vis. It’s a tapestry of individuals with an array of skills and varied opportunities. To build inclusive teams, we need to change how the industry is presented to open up participation.

Are we showing the industry, the next generation, and the world what we believe to be possible? If we are trying to build a world for everyone, an industry where everyone is welcome, everyone needs to be involved in creating that world, including in the boardroom.

“When you get to the table, the boardroom – bring people to the table with you.”

Kirsty Edward

Finding welcoming workplaces is not a given for women in the industry. Commitment to gender diversity and inclusion goes beyond quotas and targets to whether workplaces are designed for women. For the workplace, this means ensuring the right policies are in place to protect women, not to police them (e.g. dress codes, etc.). Body policing affects confidence in women more than it will affect performance.

The inevitable question is, how do we enable people to show up to work and perform?

In a hyper-competitive market, workers are empowered to choose where and why they work there. This means workplace culture must be by design, not by chance. There is a need for intentionality when a company defines what they do and do not want the workplace culture to be. Culture is driven by policy, purpose, behaviour and strategy.

A healthy culture is conducive to human flourishing; a sense of belonging and an inherent level of inclusion invites everyone to have a voice and participate. Leadership sets the tone for healthy workplace culture.

“Culture trumps performance.”

Louise Adams

Be open to new leadership models

Leading through structure is a dying model; co-leading is the way towards a sustainable future.

We heard how Atlassian’s Co-CEOs inspired Arup Australasia Co-Chairs Kerryn Coker and Kate West to pioneer a new leadership model. This co-leadership model requires suspension of ego and a shared, purpose-led vision toward a sustainable future. It presents an opportunity for complementary skills to join forces, map agendas linked to capability, and increase capacity through geographical reach. 

Champions for Change

The way the industry presents itself to the market is not appealing to high school students or experienced hires. Who wants to work in an industry with inflexible work hours and practices or to work a six-day work week?

How do we solve this?

As a start, there should be fewer photos of tunnel boring machines and hard hats and more of women doing other things in the construction industry.

Focusing on flexible working arrangements and five-day work weeks improves retention for all employees, particularly women who need access to child care etc. For example, champions of Change Award Winner Stephen Surjan increased female representation at his company by 7% in one year.

Women also need to help themselves:

  • Don’t accept disrespect
  • Don’t accept the statement that flexibility ‘can’t be done’ – it’s possible to work part-time in an engineering role
  • Be brave and reach out; people generally want to help
  • Don’t apologise for networking
  • Don’t sell yourself short. Know your worth.

The industry needs to help by paying women what they are entitled to and boosting their pay when it is clear they are being underpaid.

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