Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – moving from strategy to implementation – Rachel Billington, AECOM

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Policy

Empowering people to interpret corporate ED&I strategies within their own workplace context is critical for successful implementation, says AECOM’s Head of ED&I, Europe & India, Rachel Billington.

At this year’s Highways UK conference, I asked panellists why inclusion is important to them. It’s a question that is important to me because I believe it doesn’t just draw out a personal response, I believe the question is an important step as organisations move from ED&I strategy to implementation.

For many firms in the Highways sector, the business case for ED&I is clear: simply put the talent pool is bigger, the skills and solutions people bring to the job are more diverse, and ultimately a better solution is delivered for the client.

This business case has resulted in the industry successfully developing ED&I strategies and at AECOM we’ve made significant headway on our strategy over the past year. This includes our pride in gaining our first Clear Assured accreditation and our new network of employee resource groups is already making a positive impact throughout the business. We’ve been shortlisted at the European Diversity Awards for Company of the Year and Outstanding Employee Network of the Year for our Ethnic Diversity Network ERG.   But now the challenge for us, and for the highways industry more widely, is to ensure that strategies don’t just sit on a file on a website, but that they are implemented across the sector in a meaningful way.

From the 18 months I’ve been at AECOM one learning point is clear: implementation in any company is a task that requires thought and effort day in and day out. It is a significant change for any company as ED&I becomes a part of business operations, in the same way that health and safety or finance are. Our implementation plan has included engaging and developing the top 250 leaders so that implementation starts at the top and is cascaded down.

Importantly, we encourage people to translate the ED&I into something that’s meaningful for them so that the implementation of ED&I works in a variety of workplaces, whether that’s in an office or on site. For us, implementation is inclusion led not initiative led. We continue to celebrate diversity through the different days, weeks and months which support our communities, but what happens on a day-to-day basis and the lived experiences of our employees really matters.

As an industry, I believe it is so important that the highways sector is honest about its people when driving ED&I, so it is critical that we engage everyone – including white men whose allyship can help people’s voices be heard and tackle the causes of discrimination. Being an active listener and thinking about every day actions can have a hugely positive impact. And it’s here we come full circle to my original point: to successfully implement ED&I strategies, we must empower people to reflect on what the strategy means to them and enable them to interpret it in their own context.

Part of broadening ED&I out from the passionate few to everyone is to make it meaningful. ED&I has a robust legal foundation, but it isn’t about forcing people to act in a certain way or making people scared about doing or saying the wrong thing. It is about embedding a fundamental understanding of what it means to be inclusive throughout the company, underpinned by a strategy at a corporate which facilitates this change. Once that understanding is in place, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the behaviours follow.

Of course, change doesn’t happen in isolation, for there to be meaningful change the sector needs to collaborate, to learn from each other and share best practice. So, what will you be doing to empower your people and organisation?