Diversity and inclusion are about practical steps, says FIDIC CEO

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In February 2022, the international engineering business federation FIDIC launched a new policy and programme for diversity and inclusion. Six months on, we talk with FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE (NO) about how it is going and why this is so important. 

IG: Firstly, what spurred the renewed focus on diversity this year?

NO: “The past two years have changed the world in ways that no one could have predicted before the pandemic. In response, FIDIC has expanded, deployed remote working and built a programme of new industry learning opportunities and webinars. The global consultancy and engineering industry has also adopted new technologies, new best practices and found new ways of addressing challenges.

“All of that makes this a crucial time for diversity and inclusion to be at the fore-front of our strategic thinking if we are to have a sustainable industry. New ways of working affect different groups in different ways and we need to reflect on that because the world’s challenges are best addressed when we draw on all available talents.”  

IG: In that case, how do you set about enhancing FIDIC’s own diversity?  

NO: “FIDIC is blessed with a highly diverse team – spanning geography, gender, race, culture, disability and age. But the changed world has made our organisation larger, busier and more diverse and inclusive than ever before. That means we need to work twice as hard to deliver our value proposition to our members, ensure that no one is left behind and no voice goes unheard because of who they are.

“There is a moral imperative to diversity. It is important that all of us recognise that humankind is on a journey towards a more equal and inclusive society.” Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE

“With that in mind, we started at the very top. We have made commitments in our corporate plans 2020-2024 to ensure our board accounts for regional, cultural and gender balance and we formed a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council to advise the FIDIC Board and promote step-change improvements both within FIDIC and the industry. That council reports directly into the board and has two leaders – chaired by Dr Michele Kruger, a very talented, energetic professional from South Africa.

“We have looked at our wider activities too. FIDIC runs global expert committees and groups on behalf of our industry covering issues like risk and liability, contracts development, business practice, membership, international financial institutions, integrity management, sustainable development and digital transformation. We refreshed these committees in 2020 to improve their diversity and have now set about monitoring the extent of engagement by different groups to ensure diversity of membership results in diversity of engagement.”  

IG: And is something similar underway across the wider industry?  

NO: “Engineering around the world has an historic misalignment on gender but that is gradually changing. The growing number of disciplines in the consultancy and engineering sector, and the repositioning of the industry towards attracting people interested in solving global problems, has brought more women into the profession.

“I am pleased to note the appointment of more female leaders in our sector such as Lara Poloni as group president of AECOM, Dervilla Mitchell CBE as vice chair of Arup Group, Cathy Travers as managing director at Mott MacDonald, Louise Adams as COO at Aurecon Group, Malani Padayachee-Saman as CEO of MPAMOT in South Africa, Susan Reisbord as CEO Cardno (USA) and many more are coming through the system. Further progress is still needed though, to ensure women and black ethnic minority people are equally able to rise to the very top of industry. Doing nothing is not a choice.

“What we need now is a greater light shone on the subject and identification of practical solutions.” Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE

“I also feel FIDIC has to lead by example on this and we have made good progress. Women now make up:  

  • Three of our nine board members,  
  • One of FIDIC’s two vice presidents,  
  • Half of the CEO’s direct reports within the secretariat HQ 
  • 40% of our FIDIC credentialing management board,  
  • 30% of our FIDIC credentialing certification board,  
  • 33% of the FIDIC newly formed Global Leadership Forum Advisory Board and, 
  • A third of candidates for our proposed FIDIC Academy team.

 “None of this can become an excuse for complacency, however. We need to keep pushing, so this year we have:  

  • Held our first diversity and inclusion webinar for the industry  
  • Published a shortened version of our diversity and inclusion policy  
  • Published interviews with diverse industry leaders about practical solutions, and 
  • Commenced marketing of our policy for the industry.

 “And I’m pleased to say we have more actions being prepared.”  

IG: Amid all that activity, we perhaps take for granted that diversity is important. But are there people in our industry who still need convincing?

NO: “The short answer to that is yes. But the number is shrinking and I think it is shrinking for two reasons.

“There is a moral imperative to diversity. It is important that all of us recognise that humankind is on a journey towards a more equal and inclusive society. All people deserve the dignity and recognition that comes from being who they are.

“There is a practical imperative too. Diverse inputs improve the diversity of outputs. If we want to arrive at the right decisions and right outcomes around the world, we need all experiences and insights to inform the big decisions. The insights of our female board members are often a little different to male members and we are committing to increase their numbers at the very top.

“What we need now is a greater light shone on the subject and identification of practical solutions.” 

IG: So, what are the next steps to help achieve that?  

NO: “We have a planned programme of activity through to the autumn. We are finalising our KPI document and have engaged our Global Leadership Forum members to support diversity and inclusion campaigns. Our suite of contracts already has diversity clauses that we are looking to enhance and we are finalising diversity training materials.

“We will be rolling out new FIDIC diversity and inclusion training to ensure our people are aware of the challenges and how to meet them. We will also be rolling out the findings of our research work on the subject and we are developing case studies to help the industry understand in practical terms what success looks like.

“Most importantly, we must reflect the fact there isn’t any single solution or approach that can resolve all diversity and inclusion challenges. We really need to do more to fully understand the state of play. To help with that, we will roll out a survey on diversity and inclusion to gather insights and information that will help inform additional work beyond the autumn and into 2023.”