Achieving Gender Equality

Achieve Gender Equality Advancing the roles of both genders through discovery, discussion, education, leadership and adapting our values to allow women and men equal opportunity to a career, parenting, financial security and personal enrichment.

Australian Chair of Arup UKMEA outlines 2014 gender strategies

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Robert Care is a globally experienced, male CEO of senior ranking so he might be one of those people referred to by critics as ‘male, pale and stale’. He is indeed male, Caucasian and could be referred to as ‘middle aged’, but he is very definitely focused on achieving gender equality in his workplace as this quote from him, reported in Stepping Up, indicates “We have had (gender) discrimination for over 200 years in Australia so a little bias the other way is okay”.

Robert is a Director of Arup Group, an engineering based professional services firm (comprising designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists). After seven years as the CEO of the Australasian practise he moved to London to become the Chair/CEO of Arup UKMEA where he has been for the past 3 years.

With 40 years in the construction industry you might expect to meet a traditional thinker. Far from it; Robert’s approach to leading change to build diverse teams and redress the gender imbalance in his industry gives other professional services firm executives much to think about. He needs no converting when it comes to issues relating to workplace diversity.

I recently asked Robert how our progress in Australia compared to what he was seeing elsewhere and about this 2014 plans for continuing to build diversity at work. Below is his response to this question.

Robert Care contrasts gender progress in Australia with the UK, ME and Africa

‘Untested, I held a view that Australia still had some way to go to catch up with progress in the rest of the world. However, I was surprised to discover, from observations over the past 3 years in my latest role, that this expectation is both true and not true.  

On the one hand, my view, which is mostly confined to the design space, is that there is still a very long way to go. When I consider the question ‘what progress has been made in the last 20-30 years?’, I tend to think the answer is organisation dependent. Some companies have made great strides and others are struggling to get past the line ‘What’s the business case for diversity?’ Really - who are they kidding?  The leadership of these organisms (organisation is too inorganic for what really goes on) need to look more broadly and learn from those who are have moved beyond the analysis and are now deep into action.

My fellow directors and I are proud when our businesses receive awards for their achievements in diversity, specifically for gender equality and this happens regularly. However, despite the achievement and the recognition, we have not yet achieved the outcomes we seek! Frankly, I am embarrassed to accept these awards as we do have a long way to go, but as we are doing better than others, we hope to inspire them to follow.

Our plan for making a difference arises from the shared vision held by our enlightened leaders, men and women, of a more diverse Arup. Despite hundreds of years of incredible advantages received by men, it is interesting that we often find women seek to avoid ‘unfair’ advantages - they want to get there on merit. This is commendable and says something about the whole situation, if we choose to listen.

Here are some of the actions we are taking to build a more inclusive workplace in 2014:

-    Flexible working – making flexible work options ‘available to everyone’ as the default position; explaining the (obvious) distinction between flexible working and part-time for those who need it; highlighting that those who hold a portfolio of roles are working flexibly; assisting in managing the interface and handover essential to flexible work; providing access to the best resources in whatever quantities are available and possible.

-    Mentoring – recognising the value of mentoring, by men and women; putting formal programs in place (serendipity won’t lead to sustainable change); recognising the difference between mentoring and sponsorship which is often a vehicle for promoting in one’s own image; and using a form of ‘good’ sponsorship that supports diversity.

-    Transparency and Openness – ensure role descriptions are clear and non-gender specific; advertise positions and encourage one or more applicants from disadvantaged groups; ensuring that interview panels represent the diversity you seek to recruit.

-    Inclusive leadership – given the probability that unconscious bias exists we provide training on how to recognise and address it.  (While this is helpful to those with open minds, I have a sinking feeling that much of the discrimination we see is quite conscious and that creates a bigger challenge.)

-    Inclusive leadership – recognising the possibility or probability that unconscious bias exists, we are providing training on how to address it.  In fact I am less convinced about this unconscious bias piece – much of the discrimination appears to me to be quite conscious and deliberate.  If some men need this rationalisation to allow them to change behaviours then that is a small price to pay for the change.  

-    Language – looking for the many subtle ways that language pigeonholes people negatively and finding ways to alter the use of language to remove discrimination. In the UK it seems that cultural politeness is the driver: people tend to refer to ‘engineers (men) and ladies (not women)’ and they make no reference to the fact the women are also engineers. We need to be more careful to address our people as men and women who happen to be engineers. This subtle distinction can create a barrier.  This is also present in Australia and the super polite term ‘ladies’ jars to my ear.

-    Networks – creating and supporting internal and external networks of women and supportive men to help as mentors. For example, we have a well-established (600 strong) Arup Connect Women’s Group on LinkedIn; and the informal women’s group of Director/Principals who communicate and interact on the subject.

-    Not just Gender – of course the issue of diversity is not just gender. The issues of LBGT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transsexual), disability, age and other minority groups also need to be addressed.  

-    Monitoring, reporting and commitment to action – this has been placed firmly in the hands of the right boards of management (still largely men unfortunately), but we have the subject out in the open and we are consciously working on it.

To me it is amazing how two societies can be similar (with the same cultural heritage) and different at the same time: they can both be good and bad in different ways, and both are still challenged when it comes to handling gender at work.

We are moving in the right direction but the speed is glacial and very inconsistent with our society’s values. I am confident we will get there, but I worry about when, and how much waste and collateral damage there will be along the way.'

Robert Care
Chair Arup UKMEA

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