Keynote speech by Mark Reynolds delivered at the Inspiring Change Conference on 27 June 2023.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today – on a subject that is close to my heart.
We’re all here today because we recognise that our industry needs to change.
And we know we can’t take the easy route and say “the demographics are difficult in construction – it’s hard for people to invest in change”.
We’re here because we take collective ownership of the problem, but’s leadership and accountability that will make a difference.
Failing to address this and embed the right culture will mean we all lose.
We all lose when brilliant and talent people can’t find a home in our industry and take their talents elsewhere.
We all lose when people who have worked in construction for years, find that their employer can’t offer them the flexibility or understanding they need to take the career forward.
We all lose when actions exclude talent and poor behaviours mean that people’s personal and career ambitions are restricted, and they are not able to flourish.
We all lose when we dismiss diversity of thinking, different cultures and fresh ideas.
We all lose when young people look at construction, and assume it isn’t a place for them.
And those losses cost us dearly.
We’ve certainly made progress, particularly in the past few years, but we are not yet at a tipping point.
For seismic change to happen we must make it every person’s responsibility who works in construction to help address culture of fairness, inclusion and respect.
Sometimes there is a perception that this is a problem primarily to be solved on site.
But it’s everywhere – from the board room to the site cabin, from the office to the canteen, from clients to the person who sparkle cleans the fantastic facilities we build.
People are surrounded every day by behaviours and culture that excludes them – intentionally or unintentionally.
At Mace, we have some fantastic volunteer network groups.
Over the past five years, they’ve transformed our organisation, from one that was behind the curve on inclusion, diversity and equality.
To one that I believe is transforming us to become a place where everyone can be themselves at work.
They’ve also made a tremendous impact on me personally – helping me to reflect on my own behaviour, how I communicate and importantly how I evolve.
As a leader, I know it’s my responsibility to learn and to understand the challenges faced by the people who work at Mace and the wider industry.
But I still get it wrong.
Recently, I joined a panel event for Mace’s International Women’s Day celebrations.
And, I’ll be honest, I slipped up.
I encouraged women to push back on colleagues and leaders that didn’t meet the right expectations.
But in doing so, I now realise I put the responsibility on them to fix problems not of their making.
I spoke about working mothers being ‘superwomen’.
But I did so without reflecting on the fact that it’s a characterisation that can make people feel like it’s their responsibility to fix everything.
I failed, in the moment to recognise it’s not a level playing field and it’s my role, and my company’s responsibility to provide them with the flexibility to not have to feel like a super-hero every day of the week.
Although I was acting with the best of intent, in both cases, I realise now that I didn’t understand enough about other people’s experiences.
And it took a conversation with Charlotte Leigh, the chair of our fantastic Women at Mace network group, to help me understand what I had got wrong.
So what did I learn?
I learnt that as a leader, we have to keep searching for the perspectives of our people and avoid assuming we understand the challenges that others face.
I learnt that fixing the culture isn’t something you ‘do’ once, or it’s special project, or done in a workshop – it’s something that takes constant review, checking and maintenance.
And I learnt that even with the best will in the world, people get things wrong, and that’s a greater opportunity for change.
So what are the solutions?
We all know there is no one size fits all answer.
Every organisation is different, every culture is different.
As leaders, though, everyone needs to be prepared to be humble and listen to others first.
And be prepared to do the hard yards to drive genuine cultural change.
As the CLC, we’ve put together a plan under our wider strategy that aims to make our industry more inclusive, diverse and fair.
It’s hard to build a solution that fits every organisation and context in our industry, but there are five elements that I believe are applicable everywhere.
We need to support people to get trained on these issues – so they can help themselves, rather than rely on marginalized groups to help them.
We’re targeting the delivery of fairness, inclusion and respect training to 6,000 employers.
We need to make our industry attractive to everyone, by promoting our industry as place where people can be themselves and have rewarding careers.
We’re looking to delivery 28,000 taster sessions to school kids around the UK.
We need to do the basics well, like providing appropriate welfare facilities that respect multi faith religions and PPE that fits.
We need to offer greater flexibility in working pattens, the report published by Timewise outlined plans for flexible working in our sector.
And – and some of you may have heard me say this before – we can’t fix what we don’t measure.
We need to make sure we’re properly tracking diversity, inclusion and fairness outcomes across the sector.
We’re pushing for more than a million responses to our industry EDI measurement survey by 2025.
These are just the first steps – they’re far from enough – but they’ll make a real and tangible difference.
Because our ambition must go beyond ‘good enough’.
We can be true leaders.
We can create an industry where inclusion, fairness and respect is a given – for those who work in it, and those who join us.
We know that change isn’t going to be easy – and some people will feel uncomfortable as the world changes around them.
We should be kind to those people – but our expectations should be as high for them as they are for everyone else.
This conference and these awards do make a difference, not only to Inspire Change but to Lead Change. I’m encouraged by the progress we have made.
But our goal over the next 3-5 years, is to reach that tipping point, so that we win on every front, and we create a culture that enables everyone working in this fantastic industry to realise their personal and professional ambitions.
Together we can do this, but we must be persistent, bold, and brave.
If you’re interested in inclusive leadership, please see our FIR Programme resources, including:
- The Key to Inclusive Leadership (supplychainschool.co.uk)
- 6 Examples Of Inclusive Leadership (supplychainschool.co.uk)
- How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation (supplychainschool.co.uk)
- The Leadership Shadow (supplychainschool.co.uk)
- Inclusive Leadership & Business Impact (supplychainschool.co.uk)
Find out more about participating in our annual Diversity Survey to understand your organisation’s your supply chain’s diversity performance and benchmark your performance against the sector.