How HS2 is working to be an inclusive employer with Maria Grazia Zedda

 Intro from FWC:

Hi everyone - thank you once again for tuning in for our next Concast. Today Mamta will be chatting with our next amazing guest-Maria Grazia Zedda  Maria is a the Workforce EDI (Equality Diversity and Inclusion) Senior Manager with HS2.
Maria reflects on her career journey and highlights  that  HS2 is the one employer who allowed her to bring the best of her skills and abilities with the flexibility that she needed.
 
She will also share how HS2 is working to be an inclusive employer and what still needs to be done to achieve a sustainable and better working place for all?


….Music in between…

Mamta
I will introduce you and then I will hand over to the first question if that's okay. Hey everyone and welcome to the future of work in construction Concast. I'm delighted to introduce our next guest Maria Grazia Zedda. To give you some background on Maria, Maria is a workforce EDI equality diversity and inclusion senior manager with HS2 who is responsible for the inclusion of some 2000 employees with regards to their protected characteristics and is one of the UK’s top 100 disabled influencers of 2019. 
 
Maria thanks ever so much for joining me today for a chat, I think you are incredible from our chats previously. I can't wait to hear more about you.  I guess my first question to you is, tell us about yourself?
 
Maria
Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate that.  As you said, I am a senior manager for quality, diversity and inclusion.  My role is to really support the workforce function and I am very passionate about diversity and inclusion. It started out because of personal experience. I am a woman, I'm a mum, I am also identify as a disabled person. I studied the social model of disability, because of the multiple equality hats I wear. I am really deeply personally motivated to really try to make a difference.  I've always been working in the rail industry, I've supported people with disabilities and inclusion, specifically designing an e-learning on disability and inclusion with a consultancy firm I used to have. We had that for about 10 years and our most visible clients at the time was the House of Commons and they adopted that. They adopted our e-learning and that was for me a great source of pride.  I worked in the rail industry generally supporting employers with training their staff, training in inclusive customer service, looking at the equipment, but also even looking at the built-in environment. For example, I audited the train station on the east coast for virgin trains when they were running that line. I'm really deeply invested in everything for EDI, as an individual as well as a professional. So I just came to the role of EDI manager. I used to buy brand auditioning.  Which is something that I'm really proud of because I am no conventional candidate. Therefore, for me it was a great sense of pride of being offered the role on the basis of my ability only. It was only at the short listing stage that the hiring manager was able to really know anything about me and this kind of this way of recruiting is a fantastic way of increasing diversity in any industry. Now, I am in construction engineering by high speed 2,  I'm  really kind of utilising as much responsible, as well as many other initiatives to improve our recruitment, so this is me!
 
 
Mamta
That's amazing. When I've spoken to you, you are not only an inspiration of breaking barriers and glass ceilings,  you've done so much work. I think that, you must have come across barriers with finding your employment and setting up your own business, so tell me more about those barriers you faced? 
 
 
Maria
As you can probably tell, the moment I open my mouth people can recognize that I'm not British and therefore, you know, that the bias is really something that I I worry about. It’s something that happened to me personally actually, when I was a much younger I was on a in a training ship at the BBC. Basically I was helping with a production of public transition as a production secretary and even though I am deaf, they give me amplified telephone. I was answering the phones. Basically I was answering the phone with my voice. There were some people who actually complained to my boss at the time because I didn't have a BBC voice, or a BBC accent. My boss was actually fantastic at the time, he really supported me and he told me not to pay attention. I felt very conscious about that because it really showed me the kind of bias that people have around you.  Your origins, your provenance, your accent, whether you are fulfilling a certain career trajectory that they assume you should have. Actually people can do all sort of work in life and it doesn't necessarily mean that it's inferior.
 
 
That first bump was a powerful wake-up call. Obviously around disability sometimes it’s not their issues directly because we have a really good system for providing reasonable adjustments for disabled people, or people who have a protected characteristics. Such as, flexible working, or if you're a mother and you have care responsibilities.  Not just if your a mother, any parent or you have care responsibilities.  You can look at how to make sure that you work to the best of your abilities. So the barriers I have encountered are not directly coming from my employer, but often they come from external collaborators. 
Sometimes, being asked to participate in a conference,  or part of a panel and the media they use is inaccessible and that really brings it to life and that in a way. Although sometimes it's painful at first, it kind of really helped me reconnect to why my role is needed. I feel motivated to do even more, so let's see.
 
 
Mamta
I think,  it's interesting, because I also worked for  the BBC, gosh  maybe 15 years ago.  I remember actually that one of the designers was deaf and so they provided a signer who was with him all the time, he would be at meetings. That’s when I really realised then that the BBC was quite supportive of diversity, disability and inclusion, but it is how people react to it in your teams as well. It's not just what they provide, it's people being educated about what is making you feel comfortable as well. 
 
 
Maria
Absolutely, it's really important. This is where I think we need to see a shift a bit. As employers, we do need to do something about it. This is something that I'm really learning from other civil rights movements, so I'm very inspired by, the feminist movement, the civil right movement and black lives matter.  They are talking about equity now more than equality and what these mean. For example, for disability we have been learning to identify barriers because. by identifying barriers we can do something about them. Disabled people need to be brave and to be confident and courageous. To actually voice the need and the point of equity. 
 
What if we have an inclusive world and accessible world, at an accessible workplace where people didn't need to ask, so that's what I mean about equity. For example, in the case of disability, you should have the ability that people understand widely, but it could be something that is very private and you don't want to share it. It should be only you that can access the workplace in a way. You shouldn’t be forced to give explanations and so that for me is very important.  I hope that we will move gradually towards that mind-set, hopefully soon.
 
 
Mamta
Yes absolutely, actually, I agree.  I was doing some work with Harper Collins which is a book publishing company.  They haven't heard of equity and it was very much in the United States where people were talking about equity in a joke. I thank you so much for highlighting that as well, I appreciate that.
 
Maria 
Absolutely, it’s a very strong message that we're hearing from.  So many diversity and equality leaders,  it's important and it's an important message to hear.  As always, we put the onus on the person to voice what's wrong and actually not what we need.  If we have truly inclusive, equitable workplaces, we shouldn't have to ask.
 
Mamta
Absolutely. So your career has been really inspirational, really amazing.  What led you to work at HS2?
 
 
Maria
I was very interested in the opportunity to work in such a such a massive, meaningful project because it is so facilitating, it's the biggest infrastructure project in Europe. It will create, thousands and thousands of jobs. I think that the opportunity to do something influential, that will influence the world industry, is the rail engineering and construction industry as a whole. I think what was very attractive to me was the opportunity to be able to influence and also I knew that the existing EDI team was a stellar, ground-breaking team.  I thought that if I had a chance to join them, it would be an incredible career move for me and an opportunity to learn so much and to make a difference. 
 
 
 
Mamta
 
 
That’s brilliant, I think it sounds like they're doing an amazing work and hiring you. That's where they can make change and get things visible and moving. I think you’re probably the face of this change as well, across the industry, not just with HS2. 
 
 
Maria
That’s very nice of you, thank you. I think my fellow EDI colleague disagree.  I think that they’ve already made massive innovation and changing this space. You have to have specific EDI managers dedicated to specific areas of the business; it's really ground-breaking to begin with. There is an equivalent of me to design on health and safety, there's an equivalent of me for the impact of the communities along the way, there is an equivalent for working with the supply chain and they are inclusive. There's four of us and I think that's the ground-breaking thing and this was of setting out the work comes from Mark Lomas -the person who is the head of  EDI , HS2. He came up with all these ground breaking ideas about how to tackle and how to really make a difference in each of these complex areas. I think all of us really participate and make a difference equally in our respective areas and I am very blessed and happy to have been given the opportunity to influence things around the work force. I am particularly interested in in people, human beings and in emotion and emotional intelligence and I'm interested in self-development, so the role really spoke to me.  I'm extremely lucky.
 
Mamta
That sounds like an amazing role. How is HS2 working to be an inclusive employer? What kind of things are you doing at the moment? 
 
Maria
There's so many things that we're doing. It is a real privilege to work with so many stakeholders.  First of all one of the things that we do, it sounds very cynical and it sounds very self-promoting we win many awards and we also have really powerful accreditation that we've achieved called clear a short. We are the first to the first organisation to achieve, clear short platinum, out of 450 global and national organisations.  For us the meaning of that is, not that we had a system, or won awards, just to have a nice awards cabinet in the office, but really it was about is really highlighting our efforts. When we win awards, when we gain accreditation, we are sending a strong message to say, we want to do more, we are committed, we want to make ourselves more attractive to a diverse workplace.  So, the drive to the woods is really important to us because it’s not just self-promotion.  It’s because we get an opportunity to contrast maybe less positive scrutiny around. To really highlight the fact of everything that we're doing to actually demonstrate that we are on a journey and we are willing to learn, we want to get better, we want to be more inclusive. For us that mean a lot, so there is a lot of particles in to this. We also work very closely with our recruiters who help us, especially those who are specialising in more and diverse populations, the software for example. We get help and we get support from ethnic minorities led recruiters such as black professionals in construction, event field.  

We've gotten some support from Even Break, they specialise fantastic jobs over hiring disabled applicants and so on.  We have a collaboration with working mums for example. That is also a key part of our work and we really try to improve our recruitment campaign and the face of equipment out there because we have so much work to do really.  Other things that we do, we have a comprehensive system to establish any reasonable adjustment that I needed both through the application stage and also when we hire people. Brand auditioning also as part of the recruitment process, as i mentioned that came to our programme as well. Internally we believe if people are directing talent then word of mouth is strength and our reputation will be enhanced. 
 
We also have leadership programs that has EDI throughout it.  We also have a management discovery program with EDI,  embedded throughout so we teach modules about having frank conversations, having good conversations with your line manager, slash who you report to so that you can find out more about your circumstances of your employees and be a really inclusive employer.  In addition to the line management training, we also have amazing EDI networks such as the gender balance network the BAME network, the together network,  that are a network of disabled employees. We also have our LGBT Network on board and we have an apprentice network. We have the professional development networks and the veteran’s network as well. So that really helps, they are the driving force of the culture within HS2 to really strive to become an inclusive employer. 
 

Another program that I took up personally myself is the reverse mentoring. That is a fantastic program that helps contribute to the diversity of tools within HS2 because basically it involves senior leaders. All of the senior leaders are paired up with us, as reverse mentors. Juniors are selected for their ability to give constructive feedback, but also who come from a completely different walk of life.

Even though our senior leadership team might not be very diverse, per se, they get the constant feedback. Education comes from the clear engaging with someone who is very different from you. So, I think that overall these are some of the things that we try to do to, to really change the culture. We know that with employees if they're not happy, they will leave. So we really need to make sure we have a finger on the polls and listen to them and make sure that they stay with us.
 
Mamta
I think it's amazing all the things that HS2 are doing and obviously you’re very busy implementing these things.  It is very good for other employers or other people from different industries to see what you're doing and also look at these for inspiration.  I think with all the coaching or best mentoring programs that you have, there is so much you are doing to help your employees. How many employees do HS2 have by the way? 
 
 
Maria
We are now coming up to almost 2000 and we have core employees and then we have employees attribute limited employees as well.  We often have a lot of say contracts that we have people seconded to us, so the mixer is there. Yeah 2000 employees and we have the most to hire also. If people are interested in checking out HS2 and our roads, please come and visit our page our career stage just Google app HS2 careers and the roles are there and there's so many roles. The roles are varied and as we particularly want to encourage those sections of the population that are maybe less represented in the industry, so we would like more women, more ethnic minorities, more disabled applicants to check us out. Some of the roles, when you think about construction, you might think about cranes and PPE. The roles are very varied, you could apply as an apprentice, you could apply as an architect, you could apply as a project manager, you could apply as an engineer, etcetera. There are so many roles and obviously we also have project management and there is an admin side to it, so the roles are varied. I picked this opportunity to encourage the listeners out there and to check out vacancies. 
 
 
Mamta
Brilliant thank you for that, that's awesome. I encourage everyone to have a look at those because a thousand roles is a lot of roles. 
 
Maria
Yeah, I am really excited. i am also determined to make the most of it. I want to make a sign of it at college. We are the first to achieve a very ambitious target for diversity. I I really hope that all of our efforts combined will help us get that message across.
 
Mamta
All these amazing things that you guys are doing. What still needs to be done to achieve a sustainable and better working place going forward do you think? I guess the work's never done, so is there anything more that can be done?
 
Maria
There’ s always more that can be done. This really is one of the reasons why I was so happy to be associated with and work with you guys because I really believe in the need to change the face of construction. Its so important and we really need to showcase all of the incredible roles that are available today and how industry is making sure that they are accessible to everyone. 

For me the diversity element of that is so important and we still have some way to go. You know, when we think about construction and engineering, we generally don’t associate women, LGBT colleagues, or disabled people, so we  have further to go because that should be something natural. I hope its understandable enough and people get it as a representation of what needs to be done. 
 
 
We really need to make the construction industry more accessible to all and I think by doing so the industry is also safer and more inclusive and more profitable. We have to think about the future as well. So many of the people that currently work in the industry, over the next 10 years they will retire. So, if we don't encourage people to consider constructional engineering as a career, we will never be able to make the shortfall. There is still a lot of work to be done for sure. 
 
 
Mamta
I think that that's probably across so many industries as well. It’s kind of like learning from different people and learning what other people are doing. I think it's the start of the changes that is the most important thing because you want to keep the momentum going and seeing that happening right, which I think you guys are doing so well. 
 
So how does how does the industry be more inclusive and unlock potential people with disabilities? For example, what would you like to see as part of this change? 
 
 
Maria
I think that for me, I really believe that being inclusive to disabled people, really is being inclusive to everyone. So if you start looking at an accessible website, that's the first go-to. If you don't have an accessible working website, people just won't go. You're excluding not just disabled people, but a huge number of other populations without really realising it. That is something that really you really need to look at. 

Then you really need to try to have the finger on the polls, consult with the local communities, and really try to understand with some market research what you can do to reach out to the population more effectively. This is what we are currently working on and then trying to remove bias from the recruitment process as much as possible. 
 

By using brand rotation and also having a an EDI checked recruitment system, whereby you really try to identify great candidates by ability alone without being influenced by what a person’s gender, background, where they are educated. I think that's what really needs to happen. 

Many people from the population that are traditionally not seen as part of construction or engineering, they may have a part to play that isn’t the traditional one. This is especially important, that we remove those assumptions about how people come to construction and actually open our mind to the fact that people might come to construction but not through a defined route. That is really important to understand. 
 
 
 
 
Mamta
All very valid points there. I hope everyone's listening to and understands how to include everyone in this. 
 
I had one last question for you and that is if you had an uncomfortable question to ask your industry, what would it be? 
 
Maria
My uncomfortable question and its a question for ourselves as well. Its going back to the question of equity. What are you doing to be an equitable employer? In addition to being an inclusive employer. Are you making sure that people can approach you without having to ask for those barriers to be removed?  Are you identifying those barriers yourself and eliminating them before people have to ask? That will be my question. 
 
Mamta
Yeah, that’s a great question to ask. When I've been speaking to other people through the industry, it's very similar.  People want to know the same answers right as well, so I think that's super important. 

What I wanted to say was, Maria you are an inspiration and you're incredible to talk to and you are amazing and what you're doing.  I wish you the best of luck going forwards because you’ve resolved issues in the world and I think in anything if anyone is listening please do get in touch with Maria. Let us know if interested in jobs, let us know if you're interested in diversity, equity and inclusion and what they're doing as well. 

We'd really love to open up this conversation to everyone. So Maria, thank you so much. Thank you. 
 
Maria
Thank you so much for having me. I hope that all the people out there who are listening, who feel that they are not able to put a foot in the door, that they think that,  I am a foreign with a strong accent, I have a disability, I am a mom. I am a woman and I still managed to find this fantastic career in construction. So if I can, so can they.
 
Mamta
I love that, amazing advice and thank you so much.