Inclusion can mean different things to different people. For some, it means not being left out whilst to others, its absence results in discrimination, inequality and intolerance. By Balfour Beatty’s AyoOluwa Ogunbambi-Alao.
In the workplace, inclusion must mean that everyone is able to be themselves and perform to the best of their ability. This is especially important as there are many gender, ethnicity and socio-economic stereotypes that are commonplace. We know that such pigeon holing can feed into assumptions about an individual’s job performance. Although we cannot expect these judgements to disappear overnight, I believe we are in a time where practical solutions can make the difference.
Embedding an inclusive culture into the workplace cannot be done just through the introduction of policies or procedures; there is a real need to change the system and culture which at one point accepted these negative perceptions of people. It’s about removing barriers, promoting collaboration, inspiring change and encouraging others to do the same.
There are barriers remaining in the industry, but we can work together to make a difference. Already I have seen a change; since I joined Balfour Beatty two years ago, diversity and inclusion has gained increasing importance within the business and the industry as a whole. It’s encouraging to see, but there is always more that can be done.
I am proud to work for a business which is increasing its commitment to equal opportunities, having launched its employee led Affinity Networks in 2016. The four networks – LGBT+, Multi-Cultural, Ability and Gender Equality – provide a platform for underrepresented employee groups to bring their unique perspective to the development of the company’s working culture. This supports the creation of a fair and inclusive workplace.
This year, Balfour Beatty launched their inaugural Inspiring Women conference which saw my female peers lift the lid on the barriers they have faced in a traditionally male-dominated industry. With a focus on sharing experiences and a goal of implementing tangible actions to instil inclusive practices, the conference brought together senior leaders and interns alike.
This sort of collaboration and problem solving is key to a diverse and inclusive future but also to business success. Through establishing role models who can promote inclusivity, we are steering the industry towards the inclusive culture we need.
I believe we are building an increasingly diverse workforce and inclusive culture which nurtures people of all genders and backgrounds; Balfour Beatty recognises that there are positive effects, such as wellbeing and talent retention, which result from a culture that encourages people to be themselves Additionally, this provides industry wide benefits as diversity and inclusion goes some way to future proof the industry whilst ensuring creative, innovative solutions for customers.
Through my role as the Multi-Cultural Affinity Network co-chair, I promote diversity and inclusion internally through presentations and workshops at projects and events across Balfour Beatty. I encourage people to question their default thought processes and behaviours and to be open to realising potential unconscious biases. Balfour Beatty realises the importance of acknowledging individual experience and I know I am valued for this as well as the work I do on the job.
In order to share these individual experiences, Balfour Beatty has launched a Reverse Mentoring programme which sees employees share insights into what it’s like to be part of underrepresented groups in the workforce. Understanding that change must be led from the top, our executive committee have been teamed up with employees in order to build their awareness and understanding of challenges and opportunities within our business.
By doing this, employees can highlight where action needs to be taken, directly to those who are able to make decisions and implement change across the business. It’s also about listening and being open-minded, understanding the significance of learning from others and acknowledging other’s experiences.
With practical, solution-driven programmes such as these, it is possible to drive change in the industry as a whole. Besides what Balfour Beatty does internally, we have also worked with our vast supply chain to share best practice at industry forums. Collaborating with stakeholders across the sector on initiatives such as the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect programme, we have developed a range of resources to improve equality, diversity and inclusion practice at all tiers of the supply chain.
Working together with our valuable supply chain partners, from SMEs to social enterprises, in itself creates a culture of inclusion and open-mindedness to share experiences and opinions.
Balfour Beatty believes that a business which reflects the society it serves will be better placed to continue to deliver for its stakeholders for years to come. Opening doors and minds to allow for more diversity within the industry and instilling a culture of inclusivity will only have a positive effect on what can be achieved.
A truly inclusive workplace culture is well within our grasps. Like the work that we do, our people should be diverse, and this will always be something to celebrate.
AyoOluwa Ogunbambi-Alao is a project engineer at Balfour Beatty and Multi-Cultural Affinity Network Group co-chair