Diversity: a solution, not a problem

Diversity: a solution, not a problem

5th July 2019

Diversity in the workforce is an issue receiving increasing amounts of attention – and for good reason: it could provide the solution to the skills shortage.

At a basic level, companies that are more diverse tend to be more innovative, more profitable and safer, said Mark Lomas, head of equality, diversity and inclusion at HS2, in his speech at the Made in the Midlands Expo, held at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on June 20. He noted that in the gaming industry, games produced by diverse teams sell the most.

Diversity is a key priority for HS2 and as it is such a long-term project – its final phase is not anticipated to be open before 2033 – it can also enable long-term change. HS2 has already delivered more apprentices than Crossrail, for instance, Lomas said.

But change is something that is needed in the railway industry; almost a quarter of the current workforce will be of retirement age by 2028, so that is a lot of people to replace, Lomas said. Therefore, the industry has to reach out and recruit from diverse and previously under-represented groups. “Diversity isn’t a problem, it is a solution to a problem – that of the skills shortage,” Lomas said.

For instance, currently only one in eight of the people in engineering professions are women. If this is to change, then the railway industry must reach out and encourage more women to consider it as a profession.

He added that it isn’t that people don’t want to work in the sector, but recruitment hasn’t been good, and the industry has done a terrible job of explaining the careers on offer.

For example, railways aren’t seen as a “cool” career choice and many people don’t understand that technology, engineering and design – among others – are fundamental parts of HS2 as well, he said.

Some also don’t realise how much you can earn from a career in this industry. When talking to groups of students, when you tell them how much project managers can make – upwards of £60,000 – then you get their attention, Lomas said.

Diverse workforces can help businesses to think about issues in ways they may not otherwise do. For example, with the accessibility of trains for people who use wheelchairs. Many trains have a large step to get onto/off a train, as well as a large gap between train and platform – both of which can be barriers for people who use wheelchairs. With a more diverse workforce, these issues may be thought about more.

The recruitment process is key to increasing diversity in a business. One method of helping to diversify the workforce is blind auditioning, Lomas said. This is a process whereby anything that can identify an applicant – such as gender, race and age – is stripped out of the application, which can help to overcome any bias – unconscious or otherwise. When this process has been used to hire musicians in orchestras it has been shown to increase the number of women hired. This is something that HS2 is using, as CVs don’t work as a means of finding the right employee, Lomas said.

To increase diversity also requires businesses such as HS2 to reach out to communities and provide materials in formats they can engage with, Lomas added. For instance, providing brochures and applications that have been translated into other languages or into easy read – a format used by people with learning disabilities.

Lomas said HS2 is winning awards for its diversity policies and helping companies in its supply chain to do so as well.

Diversity is something that increasing numbers of businesses are placing greater emphasis on for companies that are tendering for projects, Lomas added. Far from being something done to be politically correct, effective and demonstrable diversity policies can make the difference between winning a tender and not.

Lomas concluded with a quote from Mark Thurston, HS2’s CEO. “Equality, diversity and inclusion is critical to our success. We need to attract new people to the industry to ensure we have access to the widest possible talent pool. To do that we need to draw skills from all parts of society. It is important that HS2 as a company represents the many and varied communities that it will impact.”

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