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Finance and construction making strides in workplace diversity

AIB and Cairn Homes among companies aiming to improve opportunities for women

Diversity is recognised as being good for the workplace, good for culture and ultimately good for the bottom line of companies – but sometimes it can take time to make the change. Two very different sectors that are good examples of traditionally male-dominated industries are finance and banking and construction. Historically, it has proven difficult to balance the workforce until more recent, dedicated efforts have begun to make a difference.

In fact, the speed of recent change can be seen in that AIB was the first publicly listed company in Ireland to achieve both a gender-balanced board and executive committee.

The success of AIB's gender-balance efforts was recognised at the launch of the 2021 European Diversity Index. The index rated AIB number one in Ireland and 11th in Europe among 668 publicly-listed companies across the European Union, ranking them on diversity of board members, women in leadership functions and women at executive level.

Geraldine Casey, chief people officer with AIB sees this change as coming from the top so that it sets the tone and signals that an organisation is serious about making the most of its inclusive culture.

But as Casey explains; “This attention to diversity in leadership needs to be matched by active efforts to recruit and retain frontline employees that bring new perspectives, innovation and an understanding of the communities they serve.”

Cairn Homes is an Irish housebuilder and developer focusing on the Greater Dublin Area and other major urban areas of Ireland. The company is listed on Euronext Dublin and is a constituent member of the Iseq 20 with a market capitalisation of €972 million as of February 20th, 2020.

While Cairn Homes has been working to create a better balance over the past 15 years, it has really come to fruition in the last couple of years according to Maura Winston, chief people officer.

“Aside from anything else, we are building homes. And I think it’s safe to say we are making real strides in challenging those perceptions from a cultural and management perspective. Diversity benefits our customers and business – but it also enhances the homes we build.”

Cairn Homes also recognises the importance of leading with diversity and in 2021, it added two female board members while it enjoys strong female representation at leadership team level.

Winston argues that there are three roles for leaders to build that culture internally.

“First, they need to be vocal in their support for diversity and inclusion. Secondly, they need to live the vision and deliver it with their team every day.

“And finally, they need to ensure the policies are in place,” says Winston. “Otherwise, it is incredibly difficult for employees to believe in inclusivity in their organisation.”

AIB has similar values in ensuring that a clear inclusion and diversity agenda is articulated at every level of an organisation in a meaningful way.

Casey outlines the process. “We use every opportunity to confirm our diversity agenda. Recently, when we launched an internal campaign promoting universal inclusion, the chairman of the board, another board member and the CEO all took time out to speak about the importance of this policy.

“In addition, we coupled this with briefings and workshops with mid-level leaders to ensure the message carried across the organisation.”

Both companies are aware that growing diversity organically is not easy and needs support.

While AIB recognises that gender quotas can help in certain cases, it focuses on building a truly inclusive culture that relies on training and masterclasses to provide support.

Winston agrees; “In Cairn, we have found it important to work with sector experts to help us in this journey. They have the skills, expertise, and qualifications to ensure that companies do build thorough policies and make that move. We recently achieved our Irish Centre for Diversity Bronze certification and are targeting Silver by the end of the year.

“We also delivered, unconscious bias and inclusive interviewing masterclasses for over 60 people managers in August and September on the value of diverse voices in teams including female representation. This session was incredibly beneficial to our team and will have a lasting positive impact for the business,” says Winston.

Casey also cites education as a key tool in this process. She says: “Education is central to ensuring inclusion and diversity through the organisation. Our experience is that employees want to play their part to improve inclusion and diversity, but they may lack knowledge or have genuine concerns about the right terminology and behaviour to be inclusive. At AIB, we have committed to major education initiatives to ensure every employee has the information and skills they need.”

From Cairn’s perspective, Winston points to investment needed in educating primary and secondary school students to showcase the opportunities in a career in construction: “At a primary and secondary school level, education will help us build a more diverse talent pool across all areas. This year at Cairn we will roll out our first TY programme focusing on women in Stem, we will continue to seek ways to open our TY programmes to typically diverse groups within our industry.”

AIB is currently working with partners to focus on three areas in particular: gender equality, disability and marginalised youth. In each case, its aim is to enable people to build their skills and find employment, make AIB’s skills and expertise available to those who can benefit from it most and play a leadership role in driving change that not only benefits those at risk of disadvantage but also helps enhance our talent pipeline.

Winston concludes: “My one comment would be that this conversation continues, that as a sector construction can become a shining light as to how equality, diversity and inclusion can benefit our employees, our homeowners, and our business.”