Achieving gender parity requires commitment from leadership

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work in leadership roles for large, global companies across sectors spanning oil and gas, mining and, most recently, engineering and industrial technology.

These are all traditionally male-dominated sectors, with the engineering sector specifically often singled out as being less diverse than most.

We know that diversity of thinking and of talent is a driver of stronger performance, and that engineering companies – like Smiths – are so focused on unlocking and accelerating growth.

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That is important in itself, but to me it is equally important to improve diversity and inclusion because it is the right thing to do.

It is therefore clear that change needs to happen to encourage future engineers, apprentices, and talented people from diverse backgrounds to enter the engineering profession.

As we build a more diverse Smiths, I draw on my previous experience and land on an important point I am absolutely convinced about: gender balance is not dependent on the industry, it is primarily dependent on the leadership commitment and consistency that the company displays.

The good news is, there is both a clear imperative to improve diversity in this sector and, increasingly, the roadmaps to do so. At Smiths, we are evolving our company culture to ensure we live and breathe this commitment.

For example, in 2022 we introduced new leadership behaviours that act as a north star for all our employees to help us make Smiths a great place to work and to be impactful on the world around us.

One key behaviour is to lead inclusively and empower, recognising we welcome all types of diversity at Smiths. These are not just words.

We have integrated these behaviours into our talent approach and reward programs to ensure our employees live our values.

We developed a set of KPIs that our leadership team uses to regularly gauge performance and progress across the business. Five of the key priorities relate to people and culture, with one of them relating to gender balance.

In this way, we can gauge how our teams are performing with non-financial indicators that hold our leaders to account.

We also put a significant emphasis on our diverse talent pipeline.

Over the last year, we have established clear processes to build a diverse pipeline, with a focus on our leadership and technical community. We have a long way to go to achieve parity, but we are making progress.

We recruit more women, their attrition is lower and their engagement is higher.

There are other initiatives we have been championing to improve diversity.

We recently introduced CEO roundtables that focus specifically on the development of our people, on succession planning for the critical roles, with a spotlight on diversity.

We go in-depth in those conversations and make sure that we come out with specific actions.

We’ve already appointed a number of women in visible leadership roles. Our most senior leaders make the real difference by mentoring, sponsoring and supporting women.

There is clearly still much work to be done and we are not resting on our laurels. But as the points above demonstrate, once leadership commitment is secured, it is possible to make real progress.

Vera Kirikova is chief people officer at Smiths Group