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2022 / 2023 Edition

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Creating an Inclusive Environment for All

First published in the May 2022 issue of Quarry Management

James Roberts, HR director at Aggregate Industries, discusses the business’ ED&I journey and shares the best practice it is adopting to help build an inclusive and diverse place to work

When it comes to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) across the construction sector, the time to act is now. Whilst the topic of workplace ED&I is not new, it is still an area that many businesses – in construction and beyond – need to be doing much more to embrace. And whilst it has been a key focus for Aggregate Industries for some years now, and we have implemented several industry-leading initiatives, we are committed to going much further than just policy.

At the start of 2021 we set about developing a clear approach to building an inclusive and diverse place to work that would allow us to leverage everyone’s differences, giving us access to a broader set of skills and new talent to help us strengthen the links with our stakeholders and the communities in which we operate. To help us achieve this, we listened, learnt, and then developed and launched a five-point ED&I strategy designed to promote a positive, inclusive culture, adopting a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, and committing to creating more opportunities to attract, shortlist, and hire diverse talent to ensure that the journey will take us to exactly where we want to be by 2025.

Five stepping stones to ED&I

Our five-point strategy was agreed and endorsed by our executive committee, overseen by our chief executive officer; and our ED&I steering committee, which we established in 2020, is now responsible for embedding the strategy in our organization. It monitors and evaluates progress based on our objectives, and membership includes leaders of each Affinity Group alongside EDI lead and executive committee sponsors for each strategic pillar.

The first pillar in the plan – and the heartbeat of our ED&I strategy – involved the development of an Affinity Network to bring together employees with similar backgrounds or interests. To date, we have five Affinity Groups up and running, increasing visibility, and giving a voice to LGBTQ+, female, BAME, colleagues with disabilities, and, most recently, age equality. Each group is already having a powerful influence in the workplace. In the last year alone, our Affinity Groups have seen us sign up to the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme, in support of those with unseen disabilities. We have also committed to the Construction News Inspiring Women in Construction pledge, designed to help firms promote gender equality and make the sector more welcoming for women, and we ran a successful Wear it with Pride business-wide campaign for Pride Month.

We have also implemented regular external 360 assessments with our 1,300 colleagues on FREDIE (Fairness, Respect, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement) in partnership with the National Centre for Diversity. These surveys provide an objective and critical assessment on our culture and ways of working. They offer us real insights and help us identify where we need to focus our attention for change. As a result, over the last year, we have launched reverse mentoring, introduced training on unconscious bias and protected characteristics, created team toolkits for local ED&I commitments, run inclusion audits at every site, and introduced female-specific PPE.

We are also ensuring we take a 100% zero-tolerance approach. By this we mean refusing to accept or tolerate inappropriate conduct, behaviour or actions of any individuals linked to discrimination, bullying or other harassment. Our schemes, such as Safe Space to Talk, are allowing our colleagues to raise concerns where needed, and our ongoing training, including Respect at Work e-learning and the introduction of a specific Sexual Harassment Policy, is helping to raise awareness and eliminate cases where our zero-tolerance approach might need to be applied. We take this approach because it is the right approach – and I have personally had that reinforced to me through conversations with some of our Affinity Group leads. Ultimately, as a sector, we must do more to adopt zero tolerance, lead from the front, and have no excuses for allowing discrimination to take place within our industry.

Moreover, we are also measuring success to maintain focus, devise relevant action plans, track progress, and have full accountability. The data help us to identify the key areas we need to improve on to make our workplace more equal, diverse, and inclusive and feed key themes into our other strategic pillars to drive actions. A big area of focus for us is in ensuring we achieve our committed diversity targets.

Our final pillar focuses on strengthening the representation of female talent in our organization, as well as creating promotion opportunities. We are striving to make sure that talented women in the business have the same opportunities to progress as men, as well as addressing gender imbalance in senior positions. For the first time, we have welcomed two female executive committee members to the board. We have also launched a female leadership programme and we are actively hiring not just experienced women in construction, but also graduates and women early in their careers too.

Making strides on the ED&I journey

Thanks to the concerted efforts of everyone across our organization, we are making huge strides and have recently been accredited with the Investors in Diversity Award by the National Centre for Diversity in recognition of our progress to date; something I am very proud of.

However, it continues to be a journey – and I use the word ‘journey’ because there is still much further to go. We will continue to build on the success of our existing Affinity Network, and we are also adding new training on bullying, harassment, and what constitutes workplace banter. The long-term aim is that our ED&I strategy will make us an attractive workplace for the best people, no matter what their background – and in doing so we can unlock the huge amount of benefits a diverse, inclusive environment brings.

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