Webinar highlights “absolute imperative” of building a more diverse and inclusive industry

10 Oct 2023

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Engineering and construction professionals gathered online on 10 October 2023 for the latest event in FIDIC’s 2023 webinar series, which offered attendees an update on the progress the industry is making towards become more diverse and inclusive.

The webinar, Building a diverse and inclusive industry for a diverse world, organised by FIDIC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council and sponsored by infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems, FIDIC’s 2023 webinar strategic partner, heard from a diverse range of speakers from around the world who offered their views on why the engineering, construction and infrastructure industry needs to become more diverse and inclusive to meet the challenges of an increasing diverse world.

Speakers at the webinar, which was chaired by Michele Kruger, functional general manager at SMEC South Africa and chair of the FIDIC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council, included Josie Fitzgerald, land and water leader at Aurecon in New Zealand, Natalie Plummer, director of diversity equity and inclusion at Bentley Systems in the USA, Athena Sooklall, major project executive at WSP in Australia and Jyothsna Amrith, project manager at SYSTRA in Denmark.

Introducing the event, FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin said that the subject of diversity and inclusion was a very important one for the industry and one which the FIDIC board is totally committed to. “I am so pleased that this year FIDIC has its first woman president and we will continue to strive to improve diversity withing FIDIC and the wider industry,” he said.

Opening the webinar, Michele Kruger highlighted some of the current initiatives of the FIDIC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council, which is doing important work providing input to FIDIC and the wider industry on multiple levels including regional, gender, cultural background, working environment and organisation diversity. “Even after all this time though, there is still much for us to do to achieve a more diverse industry,” said Kruger.

Kruger also spoke about some of the benefits of diversity, including collaboration, innovation and increased productivity which she said led to increased revenue. She also tackled some of the barriers to implementation and pointed towards some solutions which have been seen to be successful in the industry.
Josie Fitzgerald from Aurecon in New Zealand said that building an industry group, by the industry for the industry, to drive focus and accountability for diversity, equity and inclusion, was essential. She also highlighted the need for gender parity at a senior levels in organisations to drive retention and discussed the apparent dichotomy around driving results or measuring and tracking progress.

Crucial to address the gender pay gap

Fitzgerald also highlighted the Diversity Agenda Accord initiative in New Zealand which had done much to improve ED&I across all aspects of diversity. “Building a network of champions for diversity and inclusion has been crucial as has the collection of accurate and meaningful data on the topics that matter,” she said. Monitoring targets on a range of diversity issues was also vitally important she said, especially the gender pay gap.

Natalie Plummer from Bentley Systems highlighted the importance of cultural competence in developing diversity across a global landscape as well as the need to build internal affinity groups and employee resource groups as a pipeline for recruiting and retaining diverse talent. She also stressed that diversity was an absolute necessity to encourage innovation. Plummer also spoke about her passion for achieving diversity in society and not only the workplace. “The younger generation of employees are demanding more diversity – they are looking at company boards and leaderships and they want to see change,” she said.

“Young people won't stay with companies if they don't feel included”

Education of colleagues was also important, she said. “Part of cultural competence is recognising the specific needs of different regions and nationalities. Employee resource and affinity groups are crucial in this so we can create spaces where we can have tough conversations and learn about things and understand our differences. This is no longer an option – we have to do it to become more diverse. So, it’s an absolute imperative for businesses as young people in particular will not stay with an organisation if they don’t feel included,” said Plummer.

When she spoke, WSP’s Athena Sooklall focused on creating safe work places as a way to encourage diversity. Highlighting the need for local laws to impact on workplace policy, she said: “We must go beyond the minimum requirements or before the laws are made/addended to create and sustain safe workplaces.” She also said that it was important to take a global view and not assume that things were the same in each country.

“There is so much good practice, legislation and diversity information that can be drawn from other countries and we need to tap into that,” said Sookall. “Leaders need to be responsible for their own learning and then bringing that back into your businesses and your teams,” she said. Sookall also said that it was also important to advocate for diversity beyond the workplace and to challenge prejudice wherever people found it. “We have to create the environment and safe spaces for people to be heard,” she said.

Another way to improve diversity and a more welcoming workplace environment, said Sooklall, was to encourage the integration of company policies when creating a new delivery team, filling any gaps and strengthening policies to drive improvements across the industry. She also made the point that how projects were structured had an effect on encouraging diversity, with policies and processes and how the organisation of teams determined visibility and access to opportunities. “New projects should be a thriving environment for everyone on the project to deliver successful outcomes,” she said.

“EDI is not just a catchphrase, it is a way of life”

Jyothsna Amrith from SYSTRA in Denmark spoke about the benefits of working in different countries, highlighting the unique cultural and professional aspects of each country while recounting her personal experiences of working in India, the UK and Scandinavia and on projects all over the world. She used the example of India, one of the most diverse nations on the planet, to highlight the benefits of a diversity-aware approach.

On moving to the UK, she discovered the challenges of promoting STEM to a diverse audience, an experience which had shaped her outlook to this day. She also talked about the strong focus and emphasis on EDI in Scandinavia and outlined a comparative analysis of EDI policies and practices in Scandinavia compared with other regions.

“Inclusivity extends beyond hiring practices in Scandanavia. EDI is not just a catchphrase, it is a way of life,” said Amrith. “We need to create a culture and an industry that reflects the diversity of the world itself.”

Amrith also highlighted the role of EDI in daily life and work and the importance of integrating diversity principles into everyday life as an individual and a consultant and talked about the impact of EDI on design, workplace dynamics, decision-making and collaboration.

During a wide-ranging audience Q&A session and panel discussion, the webinar explored some of the key issues around diversity, equity and inclusion in more detail and the panellists highlighted a number of effective and practical measures to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion across the sector.

Summing up the event, FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin thanked the panellists for their excellent contributions and pledged that FIDIC would continue to maintain a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion at every level of its operations and he looked forward to working together to achieve real change in the industry.

Click here for full details of further events in FIDIC’s 2023 webinar series, sponsored by FIDIC’s 2023 webinar strategic partner Bentley Systems.

Watch the full webinar recording below.

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