There is a clear link between diversity and business success, according to the CEO of engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Aurecon, Giam Swiegers, who said the company has implemented a broad suite of initiatives aimed at ‘turning the dial’ on diversity and inclusion to drive business outcomes.
As the pace of change accelerates, disrupting ‘business as usual’ across the engineering, property and construction sectors, Swiegers said the successful firms will be those able to harness the creativity of a cross-disciplinary and cross-culturally diverse workforce in order to deliver a competitive advantage.
“Smart businesses in the energy, property and infrastructure sectors understand our world is changing and with it the need to change work practices,” he said.
“For Aurecon, this has meant using diversity and inclusion to drive a future ready strategy.
“This involves focusing our workforce on quickly adapting and using smart technology or ‘infratech’, exploring new ways of delivering mega projects, better managing the life cycle of existing major assets and of course upskilling our leadership and our talent across the globe as we prepare for a very different future.”
Harnessing the ideas of a cross-cultural, cross-gender, cross-disciplinary workforce will see smart businesses thrive in the months and years ahead, said Swiegers.
This focus on embracing diversity across cultures as well as borders, and promoting collaboration across disciplines, is delivering award-winning innovation and design for Aurecon, he noted.
“Smart businesses in the energy, property and infrastructure sectors understand our world is changing and with it the need to change work practices”
In Australia and New Zealand, Aurecon’s focus is on a number of diversity pillars, particularly gender, LGBTI, mental health and indigenous engagement, and the company has implemented a broad suite of initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion.
“Aurecon is committed to becoming a more innovative organisation that provides unique solutions to its clients’ challenges,” he said.
“This can only be achieved in a work environment where everyone feels respected, has a sense of value and is willing to contribute.
“The diversity of thought which results from inclusive leadership is a direct driver of award-winning innovation.
“You won’t get innovation without diversity of thought, and diversity of thought happens when difference is embraced.”
In recognition of this, Aurecon won the 2016 Australian Human Resources Institute Inclusive Workplace Award, Engineers Australia’s Sir William Hudson Award for its revolutionary Brisbane Flood Recovery Ferry Terminals and the Consult Australia Awards for Excellence for 5 Martin Place, Sydney.
“Both projects include groundbreaking innovations and can be linked to an enhanced focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration, diversity of ideas and inclusive work practices,” said Swiegers.
The Ferry Terminals team included engineers ranging in age, and a significant number of leadership roles were filled by young professionals, with the support and mentorship of senior leaders.
The project leadership team was also diverse both from a gender and engineering discipline perspective.
“You won’t get innovation without diversity of thought, and diversity of thought happens when difference is embraced”
“The objectives of the project – improving flood resilience, achieving disabled access compliance and delivering a modern and elegant design that eliminates the traditional array of guide piles – did not always drive the design in the same direction,” said Rachel Fowler, project leader for Aurecon.
“Integrating these competing design objectives required deep collaboration and the depth of this collaboration between stakeholders was at the core of the project’s many innovations,”
Similarly, 5 Martin Place was delivered by a multinational team from across Hong Kong, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia.
The team also comprised females in the roles of materials scientist, mechanical drafter, hydraulics drafter, structural engineers and senior fire designer.
“For Aurecon, being future ready means being innovative,” said Liam Hayes, chief people officer at Aurecon.
“It requires having a deep understanding of clients through working and thinking like designers; and focusing on needs our clients may themselves not yet have identified.
“Innovation and designing to innovate thrive in inclusive cultures where leaders support diverse teams.”
Aurecon has a suite of programmes which are monitored and adapted to achieve set diversity and inclusion outcomes, according to Hayes, who explained that in its Australian business diversity and inclusion has five key focuses on gender equality, indigenous employment, LGBTI inclusion, cultural inclusion and inclusive leadership.
“Innovation and designing to innovate thrive in inclusive cultures where leaders support diverse teams”
Inclusive leadership is particularly important, and Hayes said a company won’t ever reach its diversity and inclusion goals unless it practices inclusive leadership.
It is leadership who set the diversity and inclusion tone in an organisation, said Hayes, who pointed to Diversity Council Australia research which sheds light on the need for inclusive leadership and what it takes to build more inclusive leaders.
“Importantly – inclusive leadership isn’t built overnight,” he said.
“Leaders have a responsibility to develop and improve their inclusive leadership capabilities by honing a mindset that focuses on diversity and inclusion, while at the same time balancing client needs and expectations.”
Aurecon is rolling out line manager inclusive leadership training which will support managers to lead inclusively, getting the best from everyone within their teams regardless of difference, he explained.
As part of Aurecon’s leadership and succession practices, Aurecon leaders are also assessed on their ability to create and lead diverse and inclusive teams.
“It’s easy to pay lip service to collaboration when those around the proverbial boardroom table all conform to our homogeneous version of what a team member ‘should’ look like,” he said
“Aurecon understands that changing this will require managers to get comfortable with ‘different’ in all its shapes and forms,” said Hayes.
“Aurecon is fortunate enough to have a CEO and leadership team who recognises, highlights and champions the value of diversity and inclusion.
“When leaders support diversity and inclusion programmes, they gain traction and momentum so much faster.”
“Importantly – inclusive leadership isn’t built overnight”
Aurecon also launched a “Mind Matters” programme in mid-2015, which focuses on two key aims: providing mental health awareness education to all staff and educating line managers to identify and directly support mental health issues in others.
At the heart of the programme is the integration of mental health first aid officers into the business, said Hayes, who explained that research into leading practice for mental health revealed that on-the-ground support would have the most significant and positive impact for line managers and their staff.
HR plays an important part in driving diversity and inclusion, according to Hayes, who stated that “diversity doesn’t just happen”.
“It takes focus, commitment and ongoing measurement,” he said.
“A strong HR team to partner with the business and drive this forward is key.
“The HR team at Aurecon (our ‘people’ team) has played a key role in working with business leaders and line managers to make diversity a reality through a strong diversity focus across all talent practices, including recruitment, reward, recognition and development.
In addition, the team has championed with business leaders the implementation of an all positions flexible platform and high potential female advancement programme.
Measured both through specific initiative targets as well as an employee consultation survey, Hayes said HR’s support has helped ‘turn the dial’ on diversity and ensured Aurecon embraces the attributes and language needed in order to lead inclusively.
“HR teams can’t own this, it is a partnership with business leaders and leaders must know they are being assessed on their ability to create and lead diverse and inclusive teams,” he said.