Are you flexible?

Are you flexible?

In the last year we’ve been asked with increasing frequency by transport and infrastructure clients that they would like to see more

women on their shortlists for senior posts. Some are starting to introduce quotas, typically one female candidate on a shortlist of four.

The reasons for this is clear to see when you look around the industry.

With a number of major infrastructure projects in the pipeline, an industry steadily recovering from the depths of the end of last decade, and the spotlight ever turning on the chronic under-representation of women, a number of organisations in the sector are starting to act.

Where a decade or so ago a chief executive at a major infrastructure company might have paid lip service to increasing the employment of women, now we have Thames Tideway Chief Executive Andy Mitchell setting a firm target that 50% of the staff at the body delivering London’s super sewer scheme will be women when it completes in 2023.

He’s not alone. Network Rail CEO Mark Carne has demanded that 30% of his workforce be made up of women by 2018. Carne has also been quoted as saying he would like to be succeeded by a woman.

TfL have launched a campaign to attract more women into leadership roles in the transport sector, as Mike Brown, TfL commissioner put it: “We simply don’t reflect the human race, and this is completely unacceptable.”

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom recently told nuclear firms to set “more ambitious goals” for recruitment of women, while society itself is also changing, and equality bodies such as Women into Construction keep the issue in the spotlight.

All this is why we’re often now asked, when we meet clients – particularly plc’s– whether there is any way we can get some female candidates on the shortlist we’ve been asked to draw up for a critical senior role.

Usually we say yes – we can get the client a female interviewee – but they’ll have to tweak the job and person specification they have just outlined. If the client only wishes to recruit from the management teams of their competition, of which 95%* are men, it will likely lead to a male appointment. To get different results, you need a different approach.

If a client asks us to find a four-person shortlist for an engineering director role for example, with all candidates needing to be chartered engineers with ten years’ experience of running a similar size engineering function in their industry, we’ve got a very limited pool to fish in for a female candidate. If they were already out there in large numbers, we wouldn’t be talking about diversity in the first place.

If we do find a woman with the experience and competencies they want – guess what? She will have had four calls from executive search firms like us in the past six months, and she’ll either have moved job recently with a nice pay rise, or stopped returning the calls.

But imagine we do get through to this in-demand statistic-defying engineering director hotshot. What do I tell her? That the firm wants her in the office 80 miles from her current home at 7.30am five days a week?

No. We would always advise clients embrace flexible working – rather than lower its sights – in order to get the best people through the door.

Several campaigns including Business in the Community have advocated flexible working practices to boost women’s career chances, again giving the firm the chance to find the right person for the job by removing its blinkers. The organisations in the transport & infrastructure sectors that have embraced flexible working are often the businesses with the highest number of women in senior management roles, it makes a big difference to both recruitment and retention. Flexible working is also valued highly by most staff, regardless of gender.

An additional way of increasing gender diversity of senior teams in transport and infrastructure businesses is to be open on attracting candidates from allied industries, where there may be greater gender diversity. This type of candidate may have all the ability, loads of relevant functional management knowledge plus an advantageous outside view of the leadership challenges faced in the role.

The above are just a couple of examples of the way companies can help us to help them to find the right women for their top teams – which in turn is helping the industry and the people it serves.

We recently produced an eBook; “Diversity in UK Transport & Infrastructure boardrooms” where we took a look at the risks the industry faces and what can be done about it. To get your free copy please click HERE

*In our diversity report (which you can attain a free copy of, see above) we found that across the top 150 businesses in UK Transport only 4.6% of the Directors leading core business functions were women. This figure rose to 15% when Directors in corporate support functions were accounted for, with HR being the most likely function to have female representation in the boardroom.

Author: Jim Newsom

Jim Newsom

Managing Director