Inclusion strategies and challenges with Helen Townend

Mamta
 
Hi everyone and welcome to the Future of Work in Construction Concast. 
 
I'm delighted to introduce our next guest Helen Townend. 
 
To give you some background,  Helen is a technical director for diversity and inclusion at Amey and has over 25 years experience in the engineering sector working on infrastructure and mining projects in the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia. A chartered geologist, Helen has championed diversity and is an inclusive designer at Amey providing workplaces where we can share learn and develop. 
 
That sounds incredible to me, so inspiring. Thank you for joining me Helen, its lovely to met you.  I would love to hear more about your role, and what your main responsibilities are at Amey. 
 
Helen
 
So I work within the Amey consulting part of the business, most of the design has this, which is the core of the Amey  business. I am the inclusion lead and have set up the inclusion strategy for consulting. Part of the strategy is creating an inclusive culture and attracting and developing diversity. Actually, that doesn’t work if we haven’t got that culture in our business already.  Considering the diversity of our community, quite often the role fits in within HR. The reason that Amey 
had looked into the engineering people internally was that they evaluated that. 
 
I've been Amy for 12 years now and working within the engineering team as a geologist. They looked internally for an engineer or somebody who was interested in the DNI parts department, who knew the sector. We were looking to our service provision and that everything we designed treats people inclusively, so everybody can use it. We understand the whole community and make sure that they're really sustainable solutions for everything we do, and that they work for everybody, they work for every part of the community, we are not leaving anybody out.
 
So, that's how I got into it and and really, I only got into it because I was quite passionate about it and flexible working, not being a barrier to progression. I had some interesting conversations with the people who were looking at this role, not even considering it might have been me. its turned out that I know more about it then I realised and its been great. Ive been in that role for four and a half years. It's fascinating to be involved in something completely different. I still do engineering as well, but it's just very different. There's lots of people sides of things, which I didn't know about that and i have learned about.
 
Mamta
 
Its amazing that you can change your career around as well like that.  It doesn't matter where you are in your career, even in the company you are in you can make a change. I don’t think you realise you can do different things, and I think that before our mindset was more around one thing,  we're gonna retire, and that's it. You know.  Now it's all like, okay, what can I do,  how can i add value. I  think adding value is so important nowadays, especially the younger generation I think. 
 
Helen
 
Yet our teachers are still telling the younger generations that they need to make a decision.  At  GCSE’s or A levels,  they need to make a decision. I have had so many conversations. So, part of this role is outreach to schools to try and diversify our talents.  I've had so many conversations with six formers saying, but I need to make this decision, it needs to be right, because, what if I change my mind. I didn’t decide to be a geologist, i just went into engineering. So there is plenty of time  to change your mind,  to do whatever you feel you can be good at. 
 
Mamta
 
Sometimes you see it with children, they have skills they could develop into a career. Often people are very confused about what to do, and it shouldn't be fixed, like you said. When I had careers advice at school, it wasn’t the best I have to say. Its almost like people telling you are not good enough to do certain things,  rather than encouraging you to explore different worlds. Nowadays there are so many vocations that exist. I think it's so great to hear from a senior person that that's okay to change your mind. 
 
Helen
 
How are you meant to know, we don't know what the jobs of the future are. That’s  whats so interesting about  the future of construction. As a whole digital platform that's coming on it, there is roes that are coming out all the time.
 
Mamta
 
How much of your role is diversity, inclusion? Is it  50/50, or is it mainly?
 
Helen
 
It's mainly now, it was meant to be two-thirds, I guess, but it sort of takes over your life. I’ve got my engineering team in the background, saying can you do this and do that.  I am still involved with them which is great and i quite like having different things going on, which is great. But it is mainly D and I at the moment.
 
Mamta
 
Thats  amazing, that's incredible. You've obviously had a very diverse career leading up to this point.  How do you come to be in this career? And what kind of challenges have you faced as well as moving up the ladder and being different companies. 
 
 
Helen
 
I started, I did a degree in geology. My teachers were pushing me towards physics, rather than geography, and I always loved geography. I got to the end of that and thought now what.  I had no idea and I fixed on geology just because i was interested in this.
 
I was really lucky, I went to university to do geology and part of that was engineering. I went into engineering geology because I fancied building big stuff. It went from there, I started in a very geology based company.  I did quite a lot of mining as well as infrastructure and anything to do with foundations. As I've moved on, I worked on Kings Cross station and St Pancras Stations and at the time you were not allowed to visit ant of the sites on your own.  As a young engineer,  it was too dangerous. You look at the regeneration of King's Cross now and I had something to do with that. 
 
The fact that we regenerated the  whole area further projects and Stratford as well. There was nothing in Stratford, there wasn’t even a sandwich shop within walking distance. Property prices in Stratford in that time have just been astronomical. If you had a place in the mid-90s, it was worth nothing and now theres some of the highest prices pieces property in London. So the regeneration option from construction really is exciting, I think and it  enhances people's lives which is what its really all about. 
 
I did have challenges when I was a young engineer, some of the old school, not wanting to take my advice. As an engineer you are Instructing about what needs to be happening next. I think that was age rather than gender, or maybe a little bit of both, but not for long.  I've always found that these things often have an agenda.  For me, that's a demographic of our industry, but I've never actually had that as an issue because I was generally the person they were there to listen to because I was the number of solutions. 
 
The main challenge, then I guess was, when I decided to go part-time, which was my decision. People around me decided that it meant I didn't want to be promoted or, didn't have any career ambitions, and that was a challenge.  I spent a good 14 years treading water and finally managed to push through that. The next stage for me was a director. You were getting my brain and not how many hours I was in my chair for. They could ring me up anytime. Once I got past that, it was very different.
 
Mamta
 
Interesting isn’t it, just because you want to be flexible,  just because you want to work part-time it doesn't mean that you're not ambitious,  doesn't mean that you're not wanting to step up the ladder and do bigger things and achieve more as well. You can be productive for three days, you know, and then do five days. I don't obviously do it always. You can be productive in the time that you have. I think that attitude hopefully is changing,  but it also needs to change. I think that's what happens a lot in companies.
 
Helen
I think it's changing an awful lot this last year and flexible working was my bug bear and actually I've let it slide now because everybody's working flexibly. There has to be some good that has come out of it. It is changing but your still hearing, oh, she is on maternity leave so we don’t want to give her that next role. Your beginning to hear more, oh, he is taking paternity, not just for two weeks, but a bit of shared parenting which I think is key to gender diversity. Yet that makes that they are no longer, ambitious. It doesn’t actually mean that, it just means that in that particular moment, they are just interested in their baby. Thats not a bad thing is it.
 
 
Mamta
 
Not at all!  I mean look at places like Sweden and they have, shared paternity. You have it now here now.  But in Sweden men get 12 months off as well as women. I think it's a wonderful thing and we should mimic, what the Scandinavians are doing. When I was working in Stockholm and they were walking around with their  babies and It's very sweet. 
 
Did it deter you at all or hinder you  from becoming a leader in your industry? The part-time?
 
Helen
 
The part-time, no.  I think because I always came up with the solutions, you know. Its very specialised, what we do in grand engineering. In other parts of the business and our external clients, they would have an issue and want you to come and fix the issue. So providing you will coming up with a solution then it wasn't an issue. 
 
I think other people viewing me as a leader, has been quite and eye opener. It was quite a revelation when I first thought. Oh, okay, thats what people think, ill take that! 
 
 
Mamta
 
That's amazing isn’t it if the people around you view you in that way, that your progressing. 
 
What other implementations and and changes are you're gonna make so you become more appealing and inclusive to people from different backgrounds?
 
Helen
 
So the thing that we've done this year is trying to train and recruit new people in roles to pass on information around inclusivity to others. Its not just coming from me now, its coming from others and its started the conversation. Its really ignited and provided safer spaces for people to start talking about their own experiences.
 
I designed a privilege workshop, which we did for race equality week, a number of times  with different groups of people. There is a lot of  light bulbs moments, I’ve never  imagined that as a 40 year, old black man walking in to Morrisons,  I might be followed because I have a hoody on!  That's my that's my privilege and I don't see it. 
 
It's really made a difference has been for us this year and and it's what we're gonna do, keep it fresh,  keep it real.
 
Mamta
 
Thats amazing, through the good work you want to see it through but also see positive changes happening within the organisation. so I’m assuming that was a tough task with lots of departments. 
 
Helen
 
So our consulting arm is about 2000 people. Its an easy one really, we're engineers, we have our laptops, we can have teams calls. The group is 14,000 people  in all and we have a lot of strategic infrastructure,  cleaners, people, who work in schools, we are really varied. We pick up waste collections, we have  operaters on the road,  in highways and in rails, very varied. Its about trying to get that network of people through management, that haven't got a mobile or a laptop. Its about trying to get the offline community engaged as well.
 
Mamta
 
 
It sounds like its going to keep you busy as well, thats for sure. Who is your team that you work with or it is it volunteers as well you can roll out the stuff with?
 
Helen
 
That was the idea, there is 50 inclusion members and we're going to run another recruitment program this year's to try and increase the path change makers.  All of those groups  help one another which is good and support one another. We also have other groups, women, pride, multi cultural, diversity and we use the other networks. Our internal networks spread support and learning and have these sorts talks and keep conversations going. 
 
Mamta
 
Absolutely,  It's so it's so wonderful to keep the conversation going. If you keep momentum going then you are going to see the change eventually. Also celebrating what you are doing in Amey and being a representation of what is good in diversity and inclusion in the industry as well. How do you recruit  different people from different backgrounds? What is the process? 
 
 
Our recruitment teams have specialists and special areas that they go to. They've got various different people that they go to get out there and to get more diverse candidates. They would look at various  jump boards to look at  diversity and and they're working really hard at the moment looking for diverse people. What we do as well is go to schools and look at young people to try and introduce the idea of engineering at a younger age. If you get to A level and then decide I'm not doing physics, I'm not doing maths. Its either one of two things,  either they're not your favourite subjects, or  because you're not very good at them, or I've got other lots of lots of subjects that I'm good and I'm gonna do these ones. If you were considering a good a engineering pass because you want to make the world a better place and you want to design things that are sustainable and no carbon and all of this good stuff and you've actually stopped yourself and getting into that and type of career because of the A level choices. Which is why children need to know early enough, so they can make your right choices and choices that open up all sorts o f careers. Maths is good for any career, science is also great for any career. Data science is probably the top route that we're heading for in the future because scientists are needed by everybody and but they are needed  in the construction industry. 
 
 
 
Mamta
 
 
Absolutely. When I was working in tech, it was just tech for software companies but tech is everywhere now. It's integral for every company's be successful and find ways to ensure this is the case. Data science aspects of this are particularly important as well I think in all industries. If you are listening to this, its important that you know these options are open to you, which I think is really, really important. So, thank you for going through that with me. 
 
 
I have one last question for you and that is, if you had an uncomfortable question to ask the industry, what would it be? 
 
 
Helen
 
I think for the construction industry my uncomfortable question would be,  how are we going to tackle male suicide rates within the UK when in the construction industry there, three times three times higher than UK average.  It's  probably due to the bravado, the all male teams. The construction industry has an image of hard hats, boots, big strong burly guys and thats not really conducive to saying "I’m really not feeling quite right", "I can't talk to you about my mental health because I'll be called a girl", you know, or why is being a girl a bad thing but thats another conversation. We really need to eradicate that stigma of asking for help when you need it. We really need to be enabling employees to better understand the signs of stress or anxiety, depression and mental health issues of any sort.  If we can see them in ourselves or in others around us, we need to be able to highlight that. In Amey we have partnered with Making Mind to try and make sure that we've got real big push on mental health and the five steps to wellbeing. 
 
I think that's a huge part of inclusion as well. its all interlinked your wellbeing and inclusion.I think that's that's something that is unacceptable within the construction industry. That's something that's part of the industry that we need to change that imagery and change the fact that it's a big male industry because it doesn't need to be. We don’t need to lift anything anymore with manual handling so it doesn’t matter if your a big burly bloke,or you're a little petite  lady, that doesn't make any difference. You can still do all of the jobs that are around there and that's actually increased gender balance within break down some of those barriers and help with that. but to increase that gender balance, how do you do that. We share parenting, we think about parenting as two people, we make flexible working, its needs to be really flexible.  Flexible as in policies, that work that every individual at every level. So often you hear, oh, I can't let x do that because then everybody will want it. Well, they won't, you know, everybody wants something different. We're all individuals. So I think that's that's quite a big thing. 
 
 
The other thing to increase gender balance is thinking about long hours on sites that are a long way from home. That doesn't work for anybody, its not that it doesn’t work for women, it doesn’t work for anybody. How do we employee smart, employ local and think about having having sites staffed  by people who can still go home at night. because we are not very good at that. 
 
Mamta
 
There's a lot of questions to ask the industry and a lot of tough questions as well. I love that because it's important to raise these subjects up and when are  you ever asked  that question and get to answer that as well. All these points are so incredibly important and valid. Its Mental health awareness week this week. It doesn't matter if you're a leader or what industry you're in, your mental health needs to be good to ensure you are happy  and joyful and progressing your life. It doesn't matter what your role is it's just important, isn't it be able to look after  your mental health.  I think, especially with men, it's very difficult to talk about their issues with anxiety and stresses. Thank you for raising that and it's really wonderful. Really appreciate that. Hopefully if anyone is listening out there from different industries, lets tackle male suicide. 
 
Helen
 
Even if your just having a low day, reach out and have a conversation, it helps it does. 
 
Mamta
 
 
It does, absolutely,  always important to talk. 
 
Helen,  it was wonderful to speak to you, thank you so much for the insights. Your work is incredibly inspiring, and I hope that when people listen to this, they will be inspired by what you do and make the change and also join the industry as well.
 
There's a lot to do, I think, a lot of wealth of experience needed and required.  I think lots of young people will be inspired to come and join companies like Amey. Thank you and have a great day ahead and speak to you soon. 
 
Helen
 
Thanks a lot, take care.