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Mott MacDonald: how to attract diverse talent into your organisation

Rullion is delighted to be one of the founders of the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers Initiative, which recognises organisations that demonstrate best practice across all strands of diversity - age, disability, gender, LGBT+, race, faith and religion.

We talked to Richard Chapman-Harris, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the award-winning Mott MacDonald, one of the companies on the list.

Mott MacDonald is a global, employee owned, management, engineering and development consultancy, with over 16,000 employees operating in more than 150 countries.

“The work we do is in itself, very diverse,” says Richard, who joined the company two and a half years ago. “Our ethos and mission statement is ‘Opening more opportunities through connected thinking’ and this applies to both the work and the culture. More diverse teams bring more big ideas and those big ideas lead to more opportunities.”

Richard first joined Mott MacDonald as a consultant to help design its UK Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy. He is now delivering that strategy, and rolling it out on a global level. “We’ve created an effective blueprint which is being adapted to great success,” he affirms.

This involves a complex employee network, with involvement at all levels. Called The Mott MacDonald Advance Employee Network, it utilises speciality EDI expertise which, Richard advises, is key to success. “Companies sometimes assign the EDI strategy to a volunteer or HR professional. With all due respect to volunteers and HR professionals, it is a complex role and therefore does need to be given to specialists - or staff that have been trained accordingly, as they will need to work with colleagues at all levels.”

Richard is a clear example of this, as Mott MacDonald has invested in a strong centralised resource for EDI. “My role sees me report to the HR Director, but I also have direct lines to the MD and Global MD, which is essential in a business of our size. The fact that I have access to the senior leaders shows how seriously Mott MacDonald takes this.”

The company has won numerous awards for its inclusive culture, in which 91% of employees feel the business accepts individual differences.

“EDI is on the agenda at all board meetings,” says Richard. “Our EDI team across the UK is currently divided by geography and headcount, although this may change. Each region has an EDI Champion, who is managed by the EDI Advisor. We also have advancing groups, looking more specifically at gender, race, disability, LGBT+, gender and parents and carers. The passion of colleagues across the business and at all levels is tangible.”

This level of engagement throughout the business is vital, advises Richard. While the right leadership will give the support and investment, the grassroots of the company needs to be involved, and then the two parties need to be connected by conduits who can almost act as a union: listening, guiding, reporting and being the mediator.
“It has to be led from the top,” he says. “Board members and CEOs must recognise that happy, comfortable employees perform better. So it is a human issue but also a business one, that cannot be ignored.”

So what prevents other companies from being so proactive about EDI? “Fear,” says Richard.

“People are comfortable talking about how a desk, chair or screen, impacts on an individual’s ability to work - it’s physical health. But mental health, and how a company recognises people’s differences, is more difficult for some people to discuss; they are almost afraid of saying the wrong thing and causing offence.”

Thankfully, there is an increasing amount of support out there for businesses that don’t quite know where to begin. “Start by asking yourselves and your employees: ‘What could we be doing differently? What are others doing differently?’ ” Richard suggests. “Look around. Just start the conversation. You will find others to steer and provide guidance.”

For example, Mott MacDonald has held a series of collaborative events to drive awareness of EDI and help with its progress across all industries. Peer learning forums with clients and competitors have focused on how companies can engage and progress. “There is nothing confidential about EDI,” says Richard. “While our strategy is undoubtedly a competitive advantage, we don’t hold our cards close to our chest, as we are keen to see this as the norm across all organisations and all industries.

For those industries that are still behind, much of the problem is about the brand and communication of that industry, says Richard.

“Look at STEM industries as a whole, for example,” he says. “40% of engineering graduates in SE Asia were women last year. The UK is woefully short of that figure. We might like to think that we are forward looking but we clearly need to need to look at how we socialise gender in The West. Girls are still disengaging from some subjects, so there needs to be better communication and brand management from the STEM industries. Role models can have a huge impact here. A diverse workforce will serve to strengthen the diversity of a company by encouraging others to join: nobody wants to be in the minority.”

So how does a company attract diversity in talent? Richard advises that you have to start by measuring. “Start with a baseline - but be aware how valid your data is,” he says. “Lots of companies will have data on gender and ethnic makeup, but sexual orientation and disability are more difficult to track. Any data is better than none, however. You can then assess whether there are certain characteristic groups that are under-represented. An EDI Recruitment Group can formulate a working group model that has teams on social media and coming in on work experience. Assess the candidates and track the process. There may be certain demographic groups that are turning a company down. Why? Ask them.”

And so it comes back to communication again. “This is such a central part of a good EDI strategy,” agrees Richard. “Communication with applicants, colleagues and managers needs to be ongoing. There’s no point in surveying your employees all the time, it’s just not efficient. Regardless of a company size though, all businesses should be speaking to their staff through employee engagement surveys and focus groups, to get qualitative feedback that can then be used to set targets and more quantifiable results.” Richard does recommend being quite specific in these focus groups and questionnaires: “Don’t just ask about diversity as a whole,” he advises. “Drill down and ask about race, gender, LGBT+ - everything. This way you will get a clearer picture. People could dial in from any background so you want to get as much specific feedback as possible.

“We then set targets in grade bands,” Richard says. “Rather than specifying xx more female board members for example, we would aim for an increase of a percentage band. Targets have to be set; business is all about numbers; placing targets helps to focus people’s minds. But they have to be realistic targets.

“I’m really proud of our organisation for its commitment to EDI across the workplace,” says Richard.

“We have created global EDI Champions and provided toolkits and webinars for all our staff. We work closely with business in the Community’s Race at Work campaign, Stonewall, WISE and the Business Disability Forum. We have collaborated with sector peers, held our second Inclusion Week, rolled out career development workshops and marched at London Pride.

“We are still quite early in the journey, and there is a lot still to do.
But we are committed to supporting all employees throughout their careers with us - whether we are attracting and recruiting top talent, retaining and engaging the best people or developing and progressing leaders who represent our business and the diversity of clients and communities we work with.”