Posted: 6 March 2014
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All together now

This Saturday is International Women’s Day. All this week WiNG (Women in National Grid) has been celebrating the occasion with a series of events to raise awareness about gender imbalance within business. Simon Langley, National Grid’s UK Lead Manager for Inclusion and Diversity, explains why this is such an important issue.

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All together now

All together now

Only 5.5% of engineering professionals in the United Kingdom are female.

“Despite recent economic turmoil, FTSE 250 companies are generally investing more in inclusion and diversity than ever before.”

Simon Langley, National Grid’s UK Lead Manager for Inclusion and Diversity

Insight:

25% - the desired target for female Board representation in FTSE 100 companies by 2015, set out by the Davies Report in February 2011.

Source: The Davies Report

Last month I represented National Grid at an Imperial Business Partners event in London, themed on the importance of diversity in the workplace. At the forum, I was joined by professionals from companies like BP, BT, the Atomic Weapons Establishment and Rio Tinto, who meet regularly with experts at Imperial College London to discuss developments in science, technology and business.
Simon Langley, National Grid’s UK Lead Manager for Inclusion and Diversity

Simon Langley, National Grid’s UK Lead Manager for Inclusion and Diversity

The question of diversity was a pressing one for everyone there. Together we discussed the reasons for, and possible consequences of, the following alarming statistics. Even though females make up more than 55% of all undergraduates (Source: Higher Education Statistics Authority), only 15% to 18% of engineering, technology and computer science students are female, and only 5.5% of engineering professionals are female (Source: HESA and WISE), with the majority instead preferring to use their skills in industries like finance and computing.

Rapid social change

Why is such a gender imbalance worrying for engineering? And what can the industry do to address this point and tackle the wider challenge of making business more inclusive and diverse? First and foremost, it’s the responsibility of any big company, especially one with the scope and influence of National Grid, to reflect the society in which it operates and serves.

A comparison of UK census figures between 2001 and 2011 shows this society has changed rapidly over the past decade, becoming more diverse and complex, a trend only accentuated by technological developments, which are making the word even more inter-connected.

So businesses need to respond in kind – and it’s in their interests to do so as well. Having access to the widest pool of talent available is the lifeblood of any organisation and is a major factor determining its long-term, sustainable success. Moreover, an inclusive and diverse workforce is simply a more dynamic and effective one, better able to make well-rounded, informed decisions that benefit all its stakeholders.

Measuring and benchmarking

I’ve worked in Inclusion and Diversity since the late 1990s, and have been pleased to see how this issue has risen higher and higher up the corporate agenda. Despite recent economic turmoil, FTSE 250 companies are generally investing more in inclusion and diversity than ever before.

There’s a growing emphasis too on how it can be measured and benchmarked as part of general corporate governance. The Davies Report of February 2011, which called for FTSE 100 boards to aim for a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015, has further added to momentum.

From National Grid’s perspective, we’ve consistently appeared in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women and are hopeful to retain this position in 2014. Organisations like Race for Opportunity and Opportunity Now, which campaigns for gender equality in the workplace, are also recognising our efforts with Gold Awards, and we’ve made Inclusion and Diversity an integral part of our Employee Opinion Survey.

‘Unconscious bias’

Nevertheless, when you consider the statistics I mentioned at the start of this blog, we recognise there’s still a lot of progress to be made. This week, WiNG (Women in National Grid) has celebrated International Women’s Day on Saturday with a series of events that included speaking at the UK Parliament, organising networking events in the US and inviting the company’s most senior female colleagues to share their experiences and opinions.

Over the next 12 months, we’ll be making advancements in how we recruit people and manage talent. Part of this will involve addressing ‘unconscious bias’: training National Grid’s recruiters and interviewers to recognise the kind of false assumptions people instinctively make when meeting people for the first time, and which can therefore act as significant barriers to inclusion.

We’ll also be continuing our work on the National Equality Standard, a groundbreaking initiative led by Ernst & Young which is setting clear equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) criteria against which companies will be assessed. This is something done by business for business, and is another step in making Inclusion and Diversity part of companies’ DNA.

An existential question

There’s no doubt this is all hard work. It will take effort, teamwork, the right attitude and money to achieve what we want to achieve. But it’s essential to our future. One thing I’ve learnt in this job is that young people are becoming more values-orientated in their career choices, targeting companies who are more open-minded, progressive and ethical in outlook.

So the question of inclusion and diversity is ultimately an existential one. Depending on the response, it will influence whether companies thrive or suffer in the long-run. And when you think about it, it’s also common sense. Why would any business knowingly exclude a group which is equally capable of producing the next innovative idea that could potentially be worth millions of pounds?

Read more:

Sara Habib, National Grid’s Head of Emergency Response and Repair Process, Transmission, talks about her experiences of working at National Grid.

A report on the ‘girl gap’ in engineering.

External links:

International Women’s Day.

The full list of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2013.

The Women on Boards report.

The National Equality Standard overview.

The Imperial Business Partners overview.

Gas innovation in full flow