-20 Feb. 2020

We can’t be bystanders on diversity

Why the programme is important, why we are supporting it and why chose our female leader?

By Graham Shaw, managing director for Willmott Dixon Interiors

There are pivotal moments in business when you know it’s not an option to be a bystander.

Diversity and inclusion in property is just such a case. We’re at a tipping point that requires us all to take action to address the inherent gender challenge where we miss out on a huge part of the talent pool. We need to reflect wider society and not get left behind by other sectors.

This was not on the boardroom agenda when I started my career in the early 90s, but the evidence we see now is compelling.  Diverse teams breed success. They promote higher levels of performance and make the office or site a more enjoyable and productive place for teams to thrive.

This is backed up by McKinsey’s 2017 report that showed companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

That’s why I wanted Willmott Dixon Interiors to stand up and be part of Estate Gazette’s FFL programme; it’s helping to create the awareness that’s going to make our industry fit for purpose in the long term.

This is not a quick solution.  We all need to look at our culture and ways of working to create an environment that encourages people from all parts of society.

We’re on that journey now. We became the first construction company to publically commit to achieving gender parity at each job grade by 2030.  This means taking bold decisions to deliver a workplace that supports diversity, such as agile working in offices and sites, without comprising on our ethos of always recruiting the best people for the role.

This area is critical to our future. It’s one that our FFL participant Sarah Bissessar will be picking up for her talk in June. Sarah is a senior estimator at Willmott Dixon Interiors and is exactly the sort of highly skilled person our industry needs.

As a mother, she is also balancing the demands of home life with that of working in property, which makes her ideally placed to explore how we create a workplace that will help retain more women, keep them in post and able to focus on career progression and leadership positions while also meeting family and other life commitments as they evolve.

We’ve made good progress improving recruitment at apprentice and graduate level; now we need to focus on middle to senior levels where there remains a gap. I know Sarah is as passionate as me in unlocking the huge potential of a more diverse workforce, and I’m looking forward to the ideas she’ll develop about balancing work and home life in the context of a young mum who is available for their children while remaining in an industry they are trained and committed to.

I know she’ll also challenge the senior team and I along the way! Yet by raising awareness, I know Sarah and FFL will also help move our thinking further forward.

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