Equity, diversity and inclusion in the highways industry – what does it mean to you?

EDI

What does equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) mean to you? asks Rachel Billington Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM. Is it a more diverse workforce? Is it flexible working? Getting students interested in STEM? A bid requirement? Or is it something that’s for the human resources department to deal with?

rachel billington
Rachel Billington is Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM.

From my perspective, it’s not one of the above, it’s all of the above and so much more. Yes, it means recruiting a more diverse workforce, it means rounder educational opportunities and it means there are some legal obligations around it too as part of the Equality Act 2010. And any of us involved in bids know ED&I is nowadays routinely mandated in procurement.

But the responsibility for a workforce where everyone has fair opportunity, which is diverse and where people feel included, is also down to every single one of us. In an organisation where ED&I truly works, the principles are integrated both at a corporate and personal level.

Many people think ED&I is about celebrating difference and events, and this is really important, but there is more to it if you want to really bring about cultural change. This means at a corporate level ensuring a robust and effective strategy, with supporting governance, to encourage ED&I. This not only locks-in good practice, it sets a precedent about the values of that company, which can cascade down from management to staff. But how well does industry do this?

When we’re thinking about ourselves and our impact on ED&I, it involves taking a step back and thinking about what we do and how our own biases can impact others. Whether that’s an off-the-cuff comment or a decision about staffing.

On a personal level, the issue can sometimes include behaviours we’re not aware of. At AECOM I recently held a webinar on microaggressions and the negative impact on the way they make people feel in the workplace. Have you ever been in a situation where the only woman in a meeting is automatically asked to take notes or a person from a different ethnicity being asked where they’re really from? Some of these microaggressions don’t come from malice, but how can we deal with these situations better? How can we raise awareness?

I believe a good place to start is to become comfortable in having difficult discussions. One way we have done this at AECOM is by launching our employee resource groups, or ERGs. By sharing experiences, ideas and opinions, we can better understand why ED&I is important to the industry, but also understand what challenges the industry and our people face when dealing with the issues which arise from this.

It’s not a new issue, so we need to take stock and ask ourselves whether we’ve made tangible progress and what has worked well. And how well are we engaging leaders and holding them to account for delivering meaningful change in industry?

Rachel Billington is Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I), Europe at AECOM. She is convening a panel at Highways UK on 3 November to explore these issues further and will be joined by Ron Calderwood-Duncan – Head of EDI & Engagement at National Highways, Jyoti Sehdev – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Costain, and Rory Poole, Roads Sector Leader, UK & Ireland at AECOM.

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