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Workplace inclusivity starts with small but concrete steps: Expert

Warren Frey
Workplace inclusivity starts with small but concrete steps: Expert

An engineer and consultant is levelling the playing field for women in the industry by creating concrete steps towards more inclusive workplaces.

Sophie Warwick is the co-founder of The Thoughtful Co., a consulting firm that supports women in compensation negotiations and advises employers on gender equity. She also participated at the recent LEAP Women in Construction conference in Vancouver at a panel titled Sisterhood at Work about the many challenges women face in the construction industry.

Warwick also holds a master’s degree in structural and earthquake engineering and co-founded Women in Consulting Engineering (WCE) Vancouver. She said she found it difficult early in her career to connect with other women in the field.

Sophie Warwick
Sophie Warwick

“I met so many incredible women doing amazing things in their careers and sometimes not negotiating at key points, putting their hands up for opportunities and sometimes leaving the firm or the industry entirely,” Warwick said. “At the same time, I met many incredible sponsor companies who were passionate about recruiting and retaining those same individuals, so there was good alignment. They were just seeking additional support.”

Warwick said due to the male-dominated nature of the construction and engineering industries, many women feel they don’t fit in.

“There’s a tendency to feel ‘I don’t belong here’ or that (women) need to prove their worth a little bit harder before they can put their hand up for an opportunity, a promotion or negotiate compensation,” she said. “When I think of the employer side, seeking opportunities to build more inclusive workplaces, I think a great first step is hearing from your people and where their challenges are.”

Warwick added while there can be common hurdles to overcome, “it can be quite nuanced and specific, tied to how their promotional structure works or their business operations or company culture.”

From the employer side, she said, when leadership hovers around three per cent female representation, “it can be daunting and employers don’t know where to start.

“But it can be simple first steps like having a mentorship program, having formal mentorship with equitable access to mentors and sponsors using their influence to elevate the careers of others,” Warwick said.

She also pointed to similarity bias, where individuals unconsciously lean towards others like them as capable while dissimilar people are assumed to have baseline competence.

“There is that tendency in a male-dominated industry to have junior employees who identify as men get more access to sponsorship and mentorship because we all fall into that similarity bias, so introducing formal structures can really help combat those (biases). Employee resource groups are a fantastic way to build inclusive workplaces and create a line of communication to hear from folks in those roles and what challenges they’re facing and how they can feel more included,” she said.

Warwick said using concrete metrics such as performance scorecards helps those in decision-making roles to understand the value of their employees.

“It’s really helpful to introduce opportunities for objectivity in decision-making. So often when we think of hiring or promotion it’s tied to thinking someone is a great fit or a good person,” she said.

“We all believe ourselves to be objective but there’s a lot of biases going into making those decisions, so having a clear scorecard of ‘we’ve all got together and agreed these key items are what bring someone to the next level and what’s important to our company’ and introducing equity diversity and inclusion (EDI) assessments into that is fantastic. Indicating someone’s EDI engagement within the company can be really powerful.”

Interviews from the recent LEAP conference are available in Episode 338 of The Construction Record Podcast.

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