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“Building a culture that is open to fresh perspectives and change, and one that embraces people who ask questions, challenge ideas, and show an innate curiosity, is key”

The benefits of diversity in the workforce – challenging the norm – By Yemi Penn

As a firm advocate of disruption and diversity, Yemi Penn believes that the construction sector needs to adapt its work and communication styles, by primarily acknowledging the breadth of talent that women bring to the industry.

Gender-specific roles are no longer the norm: women and men are challenging the status quo and breaking down barriers. Men want to be equal partners and hands-on with their children, and women want a career that allows them to have flexibility, growth and further opportunities within their chosen profession.

There is a shift in how women are contributing to economic growth and building business. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, the world’s fastest-growing online store, attributes the success of his company to women and the diverse skill-sets they bring to the company. He recently stated that companies need to “hire as many women as possible”, referring to how diversity has been the key to Alibaba’s success.

I am working with clients to help the construction and engineering sectors wake up to the benefits of having a more diverse workforce. They should not shy away from encouraging this change, as it could make a fundamental difference to a healthy profit margin.

Authentic diversification

This process can be initiated by identifying the following factors:

  • • What working flexibly looks like and how it could transfer into your business culture
  • 
• The needs of the people in your organisation
  • • How people work effectively as individuals
  • • Opportunities for diversity of leadership
  • 
• Opportunities to overcome any hierarchical structures.

These measures will allow organisations to start to diversify authentically. Introducing job sharing, open communications and flexibility will in turn allow for improved work conditions, higher productivity and an increased workflow, while also importantly allowing employees, teams and projects to work more autonomously and efficiently.

As a director of three companies, I find that through effective communication I can proactively empower my teams because they understand my objectives, while knowing that their voices are also being heard.

Different skill-sets

When it comes to gender roles in our industry, I am not a fan of stereotypes or of having one entity represent a whole demographic. However, it would be naive and negligent to ignore the fact that men and women provide different skill-sets and talents to any job or project.

To keep the industry performing at its peak and with the potential for continuous growth, there is an economic need for all people to contribute. Many women are often praised for their high levels of emotional intelligence, good communication, leadership and management skills. Being able to tap into these firm yet ‘softer’ approaches can effectively change the dynamic of a team and enhance collaborative partnerships within the supply chain.

The debate around more women in construction isn’t to out-turn the wonderful work a lot of men have done for centuries, but I encourage my clients within the sector to start the conversation around the strengths that each individual has to offer, and although the offering may be different, it is of high value.

What’s next?

Knowing how to implement changes to your organisation, become a disruptive leader and offer flexible, diverse working conditions, championing both men and women, can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed. The following points address a few steps to start the process.

The challenge of always challenging

In the end, successful disruption requires not only a desire to challenge the status quo, but a clear vision, comprehensive research, planning, backing and endless perseverance. Allow the vision of the company and everything it embodies to lead and make positive changes. This vision should incorporate diversity – start implementing it.

Foster a culture formed on disruption

It’s important to consider how you can maintain the disruptive spirit of your business, even years down the road. Building a culture that is open to fresh perspectives and change, and one that embraces people who ask questions, challenge ideas, and show an innate curiosity, is key. Foster a culture that doesn’t just follow your competitors, but makes your company the forward-thinking business in the industry. Making these changes and enforcing flexibility to suit both men and women creates a culture that is committed to working smarter, not harder.

A strong, diverse team

You need people who are willing to challenge each other, from different backgrounds, with different strengths, yet collectively possess a unifying charge to create and produce change.

Diversity in people is what this industry needs, including diversity in leadership whereby fresh ideas will continue to drive businesses forward.

Yemi Penn is the managing director of Penny Consulting and W Squared Coaching, through which she mentors and implements strategies for corporate executives and their teams, through facilitation and workshops, to create real impact, disruption and diversity in their workplaces


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