The Journey of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

I am delighted to have been asked to be the Board Sponsor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion across the Osborne Business.

The current industry statistics are truly alarming and our workforce simply does not reflect the diversity of the communities that we serve;

• Less than 1 in 10 Board members are female.

• It is common for white males to fill a staggering 90% of management roles.

• There is a low representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees at all levels.

In taking on this role, I have spent some time reflecting on the importance of these issues and fully understanding why so many businesses are investing heavily in this area. Whilst many are focussed on addressing skills shortages, ensuring social justice, corporate social responsibility and legal compliance, there are many others who regard inclusion and diversity as a source of competitive advantage and an enabler for growth. I have used this research to develop my own view.

It is clear that our skills shortage is a real issue. Reading through the Analysis of the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, it is incredible to think that £600bn will be spent on UK Infrastructure over the next 10 years.  This really is unprecedented levels of investment, and I am concerned that as an industry, we simply will not have sufficient skills to deliver this volume of work.  We already have skills shortages in several core areas, so when the increase in investment is considered, together with an ageing workforce and the uncertainty surrounding the impact of Brexit, then this issue is compounded even further.

With regards to a source of competitive advantage, it is well documented through a variety of international studies that businesses with more diverse leadership tend to be more profitable.   In fact, the evidence of a strong link between diverse leadership teams and business performance is very compelling, with the recent McKinsey report Delivering through Diversity indicating that companies in the top quartile for diversity in executive teams were over 20% more likely to outperform in profitability.
A key source of this competitive advantage comes from some deeper underlying factors. Organisations with more diverse teams tend to have a more engaged workforce and tend to be more creative and innovative and therefore more progressive.  Diverse teams also tend to better reflect the demographics of their customers, ultimately making them more customer-centric and more successful as a result.

The business case is clearly compelling and so why has industry currently not addressed the underlying causes of these issues and not addressed the barriers that perpetuate the issues of under-representation?

At Osborne, the business case is even more compelling. With our ambitious growth plans, targeting £600m in sales by 2021, we must attract talent that would otherwise choose alternative industries to showcase their skills.  We have to create a wider talent pool from which we can encourage people into the industry.  We must also provide a nurturing environment that both develops our talent and ensures our people want to stay working in our business.

In addition to enabling growth, our customers are both demanding increased activity in this space, expecting organisations to create more diverse leadership teams and develop a business that better reflects the demographics of the communities that they serve. Our customers are also encouraging more creative thinking, more innovative approaches to solving the problems they have.

But to me, creating greater diversity within our teams is more than setting out a compelling business case to enable growth and competitive advantage; it is so much more than just satisfying legal requirements or customer demands.  It is a deep rooted personal belief that all people should be treated with the utmost fairness and respect.  This also aligns perfectly with our Osborne culture, a culture underpinned by supporting and growing our people to generate a sustainable business with a lasting legacy.  Indeed, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion flow through each of our core Osborne values;

• Integrity – Creating a fair culture, with an equal opportunity for everyone to thrive and achieve their best.
• Caring – Treating our people fairly, with dignity and respect, ensuring they feel valued.
• Quality – Actively attracting the best possible talent into our Business to raise the bar.
• Openness – Respecting all our people and promoting an open culture with fair and transparent processes.
• Progressive – Inspiring creativity and innovation and encouraging fresh ways of thinking.

Given this synergy with our values and our culture, it surprises me that we are not leading the industry with our diversity statistics. Therefore, it is even more important that we identify the underlying causes and put in place strategic actions to overcome the challenges and redress the balance.For me, the required actions are not about special treatment for under-represented groups; it is about fundamentally creating a workplace with an inclusive culture that values diversity in every sense.  It is about creating an environment where EVERYONE is accepted and respected for the wonderfully unique person that they are; they feel fully supported every day and can thrive and perform at their very best.  This is about a People Strategy that is inspiring for our people and excellent for our Business, and I am delighted to be part of this exciting journey.

John Dowsett is the Managing Director for Infrastructure at Osborne.