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Meet Philip Hoare, President of Atkins

Posted by 4MAT Administrator
Posting date:10/1/2020 4:04 PM

Celebrating ED&I: our journey, our future.

This National Inclusion Week, #InsideAtkins Podcast introduces you to Philip Hoare, President of Atkins, and asks him the hard questions about ED&I.


Hello, I'm Smitha Sanjeev! Welcome to #InsideAtkins, the podcast where we track down exceptional people from inside Atkins, Faithful and Gould, and SNC-Lavalin.

It's National Inclusion Week here in the UK. And I'm excited to introduce you to a very special guest: Philip Hoare, President of Atkins, who is also the executive sponsor for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion for the United Kingdom and Europe.

A proud Civil Engineer, Philip has held several senior positions; he previously led the transportation division and operations across Europe. Today he's responsible for Atkins' infrastructure engineering and design services worldwide and is a member of the Executive Committee of SNC-Lavalin.

Philip is also passionate about the EU skills agenda, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, and a strong advocate of STEM and early career development. He is an Executive Committee sponsor for our region and has also sponsored our Women's Professional and LGBT+ Networks.

Philip joined Atkins way back in 1997 when we were just starting on our ED&I journey. Twenty-three years later, he's helping staff and leadership co-create a bold new ED&I Strategy. The vision is to make a lasting difference to our organization and inspire others in the industry. Today I'm going to find out what that means for all of us here at Atkins.

Philip, welcome, and thank you for making time to talk to us.

PHILIP: Hello Smitha, it's really great to be here. Thank you for having me.

SMITHA: I've just been on board for three years, so it's hard to imagine Atkins any different. From an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – or ED&I – perspective, what's changed at Atkins in the last 10 years?

PHILIP: There have been a lot of great changes in the last decade:

The first thing I'd say is that at Atkins, and our parent company SNC-Lavalin, we just have more of general awareness. Even if it doesn't directly change something that's happening in the organizations, it's fundamentally about respecting, understanding and valuing different people and views.

Our people are much more conscious of the whole ED&I agenda. They are increasingly aware of the benefits of having the most diverse and inclusive team possible. There's lots of external research and data that suggest that the more diverse the team, the better it performs. And I think people have experienced that over the last few years.

As an organization, we've taken a number of specific actions as well. For example, our UK business is recognized as being a Disability Confident Committed employer. And we've also enabled staff to form interest groups which include Armed Forces, Women's Professional, Parenting, Disability and LGBT+ Networks. It's about encouraging and supporting all of our people as they move through their careers and the company. And again, encouraging communities to talk about their experiences – how they feel things can improve within the organization.

We've also done a lot of targeting around Gender & BAME diversity in our Early Careers intake and, of course, across the whole organization.

We've changed the ways we recruit people and advertise roles. We've realized job descriptions have traditionally been biased towards white males. So we're changing the language we use to be more inclusive. We've also trained our recruiters to look at Returners and Service Leavers' CV's with more open minds – looking for their potential rather than which of our boxes they tick. And if you visit our website, you'll see it has ReciteMe accessibility tools that will remove online barriers to searching for career opportunities.

Our Executive Committee is strong on taking leadership responsibility to drive change for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. My colleagues are all involved in sponsoring different activities at ExCom level. And I sponsor the ED&I perspective from the UK and Europe.

SMITHA: It makes me proud to think Atkins has been pressing for change for so long. This National Inclusion Week, the theme is 'Each One, Reach One' – what is your best tip for making the industry a better place?

PHILIP: I think that "Each One, Reach One" is a really good tagline because we all have an individual responsibility to make a difference. Whichever role we play in an organization, we can always support each other.

And I think that mentoring plays a massive part in that. Putting yourself out there as a role model, agreeing to give up the time to mentor one or more individuals. Supporting them through their challenges and creating opportunities or helping them create opportunities for themselves.

The key thing is to make time for others and recognize that we can all support those around us.

SMITHA: That's already got me thinking about how I can make a difference. How are you, as an individual, championing Inclusion?

PHILIP: As a leader of Atkins, I know people observe my actions and behaviours, which sets a tone for the organization. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I'm deeply passionate about Inclusion. Absolutely everybody has the right to come to work, be valued for what they do, and feel part of a team, community, network and have their voice heard.

At the smallest of meetings or biggest events, I try to ensure that we create an environment that's comfortable for people to share and be themselves.

You can make a difference by getting involved. It's not about being a leader and leading everything. It's about being bold and supporting where it's appropriate to support. I sponsored our LGBT+ group in the UK, which was a valuable insight for me.

I just didn't have a sense of what it was like to join our business as an apprentice while going through gender reassignment.

I spoke to a female employee who previously hadn't felt able to be who she was. When anyone asked, "how are you and your husband?" She hadn't felt comfortable enough to say; actually, her partner was another woman.

This is why the changes we're making are super important.

When it comes to my own team, I’m driving to get as much diversity into the senior level as I can. And look at the changes that we've made in the operational leadership team of EDPM. You can see a very significant difference in how we're representative. In 12 months, we've gone from all white males to a real mix of diversity – of backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, locations – and that will continue. I feel that my team leading this business is stronger than ever due to some of those changes. And I believe it's absolutely the right thing for our company's leadership to be representative of the people that work with us.

SMITHA: So that gets me thinking "So you have a diverse team, so what?" It's a question that pops up a lot. Can you maybe share a recent example of how having someone from a diverse background actually helped shape a team's decision for the better?

PHILIP: Yes, of course. I see this every day. When I’m working with my team, gathering different points of view on any topic is important, and it's been key over the last few months. Dealing with both the COVID-19 situation and the impact that has on different communities globally. Having that diverse thought in my team has really helped us manage through the situation in a positive way. I’m super proud of how we, as an organization have managed through this situation always with the health, wellbeing and care of our staff at the forefront of what we’re going to do.

It becomes particularly important when we’re looking at our strategy for the future. During 2020 we’ve been looking at our new five-year plan and what the future of work will be like. Just having different people from different backgrounds and parts of the world engaging in that discussion has led to a plan for the future that is so much stronger and all-encompassing that we would have otherwise produced. It’s been great having such a strong leadership team with such diverse views.

SMITHA: It's great to hear about the positive impact of diversity in action! Why do you think organizations fail at getting Inclusion right?

PHILIP: Frankly, it's because it's quite hard. There are always competing agendas around what businesses are trying to do and trying to achieve. We don't necessarily understand our unconscious biases. We don't think enough about how we correct them.

Under pressure, behaviours aren't always where we'd like them to be. That's another challenge. This is all about a journey that we're on, improving the level of unconscious bias-understanding, making sure that we celebrate great behaviour, challenge poor behaviour. These are all really important.

So, organizations need to invest in training and development. Getting people to recognize their own biases and, therefore, how to deal with them.

Another area where companies struggle is that people don't always feel able to speak out. There was a recent conversation in the office, where a group of employees were talking about a foreign country. It was clear that one person was being derogatory about that country even though someone else in the group was from there and was becoming visibly upset. There was no recognition of that person's feelings, and the conversation continued. The person being impacted eventually walked away from the group.

Someone felt that was a poor example and raised it directly with me. I followed up on what had happened and took some action, which we may not have otherwise done. If you don't feel you're in a culture where you can speak up, you can have a real problem from an inclusion perspective.

SMITHA:
As you've said, it's hard, and all organizations struggle to get it right. What have you found the most challenging at Atkins?

PHILIP: We've done some brilliant work across our organization along our journey. But I often wonder if we push ourselves hard enough. And perhaps some of the unconscious bias we've been talking about actually holds us back from being bolder in terms of the things we could do.

My challenge has been whether or not to set targets or quotas. There's a really interesting book called "Why Women Need Quotas." Although it focuses on gender diversity, it's interesting for all forms of diversity.

I've resisted putting targets in place because there's been a sentiment that has said that's a wrong thing to do. And I feel that that has potentially held us back from not making more progress. I see other big firms talking about their journeys using the mantra, "what gets measured, gets done." If you're not setting these goals, you'll make slower progress.

It's an emotive subject, but the real question is about pace: How do we drive change more quickly? As a leader, it's a constant question, and you want to do the best you can.

To anyone who's listening to this podcast, it would be great to get your views on whether you think quotas are useful, meaningful, or damaging.

SMITHA: We'd love to hear from you, so please reach out via any of our social media channels and tell us what you think. Philip, on an organizational level, how are you hoping Atkins will be able to encourage and lead when it comes to ED&I?

PHILIP: The first one is being visible in terms of what we're doing and why we're doing it. Encouraging people from our organization to get involved in external groups and have a profile as part of them. I think we've done relatively well in creating the organizational framework to make that possible.

We also have our leaders in the UK and Europe taking roles sponsoring ED&I with different levels of responsibility and action. We're making sure that we invest money into our People Plan. For example, we've just hired Sendra Sylvester as our ED&I specialist.

It's also important to understand and learn from other organizations outside our own. What are they doing? And what's their advice to us? We know we don't know everything, so making sure we're in the right places and groups where we can pick up and understand what others are doing. That should help us accelerate our journey too. It underpins the whole spirit of inclusivity and collaboration.

SMITHA: While everything you've said is very encouraging, some people believe we don't have an ED&I problem or need any more inclusion. What would you say to them?

PHILIP: Everyone's entitled to their own view. It's not one I agree with. If you look across our organization and listen to people's stories about when they haven't felt included or engaged. You'll find everyone in the organization probably has a story like that. So until we're beginning to eradicate those stories, it means we haven't created the most inclusive environment we can.

It also plays out in our statistics. If you look at the number of women and BAME employees in our organization, it's just not representative of our population. How can we say that we've done all we can do or completed all we should? We can't!

We are making some really positive steps, and we have amazing people doing amazing things, but there's still a long way for us to go as an organization and a sector.

This is a broader industry challenge that we need to work on together. We just don't encourage as many women and people from the BAME community into our industry.

SMITHA: Who wouldn't want a future that is better and more promising for everyone! What are some of the measurable ways that we've been championing 'Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion?'

PHILIP: In our last Vox survey, our employees responded positively to the statement: "SNC-Lavalin truly values the diversity and inclusion of its employees." 71% agreed this was the case!

We're working hard at providing more opportunities for candidates. I've been overwhelmed with the Early Careers intake this year.

We have seen two of our divisions reach just shy of a 50% female intake and another division reaching 45%. This has been our best ever year for on-boarding female talent. Our overall female intake this year has been 38%, against only 18% of women leaving engineering colleges.

Also, within Infrastructure this year, 34% of the Early Careers intake was from the BAME community. I'm proud of our teams' phenomenal achievements, and our figures show that we're actively championing female and BAME employees.

We now need to focus on how we support this Early Careers cohort to accelerate their careers. And of course, make sure our existing employees enjoy equal opportunities to accelerate their careers too.

SMITHA: Phillip, we're really pleased to be partnering with Clear Company to co-create the next strategy. Why do you think co-creating this is so important?

PHILIP: Co-creation is an essential part of inclusivity. It's knowing that we don't have all the answers ourselves and valuing other's views, opinions and actions. Working with Clear Company will bring new thinking, ideas from other industries, and companies that will improve our strategy's quality.

Our new plan needs to be bold and ambitious. It can only be that way if we listen to our employees and leaders to truly understand their lived experiences. Whether you're an employee or a people manager, what's your true experience day-to-day. Are we inclusive? If not, why not and how does it feel to work in our region? That will be the value from co-creation – it will look beyond the polices and the processes we have and be based on our region's real-life experience.

SMITHA:
And this October, you have Atkins' internal ED&I event in your diary. Can you give us a sneak preview of what we have planned?

PHILIP: My team has a great lineup of activities for October. The idea is to share knowledge and perspectives around ED&I and just bring everyone together.

In our recent UK Workplace Survey, employees said the one thing they missed most about working in the office was off-chance social interactions. To fill this gap, we've come up with Chat Roulette, which gives everyone in our offices all over the world a chance for a random catch-up at a time that suits them.

We'll be running a workshop for line managers, called Be Inclusive. It covers good and bad practice when hosting virtual meetings and opportunities for questions and discussion.

The staff networks are also putting together some useful webinars. So far we've confirmed two – 'A spotlight on hidden conditions and neurodiversity' hosted by ENABLE and Neurodiversity networks, and ParentNet's 'Hello Career.'

Some other events include, Unconscious Bias Training for all managers, Employee Network to ExCom panel discussions. We'll be nominating and training new ED&I Ambassadors. And sharing employee videos every day about what Inclusion means to us. We're also refreshing our global ED&I and updating our bank of Integrity Moments.

SMITHA: That sounds awesome! And for those listening, we'll be sharing those stories as they happen across our social media channels.

Philip, I have a couple more questions , but this time they are straight from our employees at Atkins. This one is from a new employee who works in our Aerospace, Defense, Security & Technology division:

"Hi Philip, I feel our industry lacks diversity in technical roles in Cyber. It's all about thinking outside the box, so it's essential to have diversity to prevent 'groupthink.' So my questions are: What can we do as an industry to improve diversity in technical roles within Cyber? How can we promote more role models?"

PHILIP:
We have a moral obligation across every technical discipline to do all that we can to encourage diversity. From the very early point of education to how we encourage people into our organization.

We have over 600 STEM ambassadors working with local primary and secondary schools to share what a great career engineering can be. And every year I go into school to talk to the children.

When my daughter was in Year Two, I went into her class. And each time I asked a question, every child put up their hands. When she got to Year five, I went in again to do a presentation about our London Olympics project. This time when I asked questions, the only girl who put her hand up was my daughter. Something had happened in three years that had made girls switch off to engineering. It's a huge job to continue to look at things like that in education, and it's something we have to work on as an industry.

I think we also have to accept people from a wider educational background. At a recent Graduate Development Programme dinner, I was at a table of talented young people with a 50-50 gender diversity split. But actually, all twelve of the people knew each other well, had been at red-brick unis, and came from the same social demographic background. Even though they were male and female – and a really great bunch of people – I just wonder at the level of diversity we really had in terms of thinking. So we ought to be more flexible about the people we bring into our industry and think about how we train and develop people in our own organization. I want to encourage and promote that.

I've touched on Role Models already. They're essential because we learn so much from people sharing their stories. There are so many very successful, brilliant women and BAME professionals out there. Find those role models in Cyber, they'll be there, and then share their stories as widely as you can.

SMITHA, Staff question 2: Exciting vision for our recruitment and HR teams. Here's a question from one of our new Apprentices:

"How does the leadership team break down cultural barriers when they don't know anyone different from them?"

PHILIP: This is one of the reasons I value reverse mentoring. And I have two reverse mentors. When choosing someone to work with me, I specifically think of someone from an environment that I'm not so familiar with. Both of my Reverse Mentors give me a really different insight into what it's like to work in our organization. That has a real impact on my actions and behaviours. The key thing is to make time for others and be open to learning from people at every career level.

SMITHA: Here’s our last employee question:

"What is the communication & coordination plan for sharing ED&I practices across UK & Europe, ensuring we don't reinvent the wheel every time, in every office?"

PHILIP:
We've got a brilliant network led by Vicky Jones & David Jenkins in the UK. The way they share our strategy and individual plans is by cascading it through business organizations.

Our regional business network has representation from all the divisions, including communications experts. The networks are also well connected, collaborating globally and meeting weekly to share ideas. So we're not just looking at it from the lens of the UK and Europe.

I'm proud of the really good culture we have around learning from each other that gives us consistency.

SMITHA: That's good to know. Finally, in these uncertain times, please can you provide some encouragement to any listeners out there who fear facing career barriers just because of who they are.

PHILIP:
As we said at the beginning, this is an ED&I journey, this will always be the case, and there will always be things we can do and improve upon. Any employee facing a career barrier in any way, shape, or form – feel brave enough to speak out. I really do believe we are a listening organization. We want your voice to be heard. To feel you're facing this just because of who you are is just completely unacceptable, this needs to be addressed. I want Atkins to be the best place for everyone to work and feel comfortable to thrive. Please don't feel afraid to speak out.

SMITHA: Thank you for that.

You've been Inside Atkins with me, Smitha Sanjeev. My guest today has been Philip Hoare, President of Atkins. This episode sums up what I love most about Atkins: how accessible our leaders are.

So, from one of the most junior members of the London office to Atkins's most senior one, Philip, I've enjoyed having you on the show!

PHILIP: Thank you. It's been great talking to you, Smitha, and a really great opportunity to talk about something that is important to us.

SMITHA: To hear new episodes as soon as they go live, please subscribe to Inside Atkins on Spotify.

See you next time!
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