“Diversity is a reality - inclusion is a choice!”

09 Feb 2021

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Companies in the global construction and infrastructure industry need to have a total commitment to better diversity and inclusion in the sector if they want to achieve lasting business success was the key message at the latest FIDIC webinar, an event entitled “Improving diversity and inclusion in the engineering industry”, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

The second event in the FIDIC Committee Webinar Series on 9 February 2021 was attended by 357 people and moderated by Michele Kruger, chair of FIDIC’s diversity and inclusion panel. The speakers included Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapo, the World Bank’s global disability advisor, Cultivate Sponsorship director, Katriina Tahka, FIDIC board member Catherine Karakatsanis and PRO6 Managers partner, Joost Merema. They were joined at the event by FIDIC president Bill Howard and chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin.

The webinar was organised by FIDIC’s diversity and inclusion panel to look at the crucial importance of diversity in all its forms in the global engineering and construction industry and to examine how inclusive the industry is in 2021 and what needs to be done to achieve a more diverse industry in the future.

Kicking off the event, Michele Kruger, chair of FIDIC’s diversity and inclusion panel, paid tribute to all those working so hard within FIDIC and elsewhere to improve diversity in the industry. She hoped that the event would make a significant contribution to the debate around such crucial area for the entire construction, engineering and infrastructure sector.

Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapo, the World Bank’s global disability advisor, highlighted the importance of making the industry more accessible to disabled people. Given that there are an estimated two billion disabled people in the world, 37.5% of the world’s population, and that most disabilities are invisible, this shows how diligent firms need to be. “Work environments needed to be made accessible for staff with disabilities,” McClain-Nhlapo said. She also said it was critical to provide adequate training for all staff in this area. “The return on the investment made for all staff versus the cost of not doing this is significant,” she said. It should be a priority for the construction and infrastructure sector to make the industry a lot more disability inclusive, she said.

Cultivate Sponsorship director, Katriina Tahka, applauded the approach that FIDIC was taking in the diversity and inclusion area. Focusing her remarks on gender equality, Tahka said: “We have come a long way even though the engineering industry has been a male-dominated industry, with women and girls still feeling that this is not an industry for them. There are still too many women who leave the industry for other sectors, especially at the age of 30-35 and this is a big problem that we need to fix,” Tahka said. She said that the industry needed to look at the cultural norms that make people think that they do not fit into an engineering firm and highlighted the key importance of flexible working in improving matters in this area.

FIDIC board member and chief operating officer at Morrison Hershfield Group Catherine Karakatsanis, said that diversity and inclusion was embedded in her company’s strategy and reported that 40% of the firm’s staff were women. “For years, I was our first female shareholder and the first female executive but since then we have made significant progress and I think that my insights and others like me have helped in this,” she said. Training and education around diversity issues had been crucial in her company and necessary changes have been made as a result of the feedback received. “We have also reviewed the firm’s benefits programme to take account of diversity and inclusion issues and 83% of our staff believe that we offer a diverse company in which to work,” said Karakatsanis. She also stressed strongly that in order to engage the best minds in the profession, it was important to ensure that the construction industry reflects the society it works in.

PRO6 managers partner, Joost Merema talked about the work that had been done by FIDIC in producing a draft industry policy on diversity and inclusion, Embrace differences, treat equal. “It starts with looking in the mirror,” said Merema.  “We have to practice what we preach and also appreciate the regional differences and so it’s smart to collectively raise the bar on this topic but also leave room for a varied regional approach,” he said. Merema highlighted that FIDIC had highlighted a number of themes for improvement and three were singled out as being crucial to make a difference on. These were gender equality, ethnic diversity and religious equality. “If we start moving on these three topics then at least we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “But this is only a starting point – we need to involve people more, because to involve more than we evolve more,” he said.

The discussion covered many issues including some interesting questions around recent global social unrest, like the Black Lives Matter movement, which had led to a new heightened and focused awareness on diversity and inclusion that had changed the expectations and demands of clients. This was something that all the panellists were aware of and firms have had to factor these developments into their approach on diversity and inclusion. Joost Merema also made the point that while it was crucial to take account of such movements, it was important not to allow the debate to become polarised by overreacting as this could be counterproductive too.

Other questions covered the LGBTQ+ agenda, how FIDIC contracts would in et future deal with diversity and inclusion issues, the role that clients have in asking the right questions of the people they work with, how best to positively increase the number of women on the leading bodies of the global construction and infrastructure industry – including FIDIC. Answering this question, Catherine Karakatsanis said that she was certain that before too long there would be a female president of FIDIC.

Closing the webinar, FIDIC president Bill Howard, said that it was crucial for companies and the industry as a whole to make life easier to keep a diverse range of people active and involved in firms. “Be as flexible as possible and keep people involved, as this will pay dividends in the future,” he said.

The next FIDIC webinar is a special event to launch the new FIDIC State of the World report series. "Time to $Tn-vest" takes place on Thursday 18 February 2021 at 12 noon CET. Please register your place as soon as possible as another big turnout is expected for this event.

Click here to book your free place at the FIDIC State of the World launch webinar, “Time to $Tn-vest”.

View a recording of the webinar "Improving diversity and inclusion in the engineering industry" on the link below. 

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