The Met, culture and construction

Sarah Sidey is a director of Randstad’s construction division

In the recent interim review into misconduct in the Metropolitan Police, author Baroness Casey identified the need for urgent reform from within the organisation. In a letter to Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, she wrote that the public “need to have confidence that the Met can effectively police itself” and “provide a positive career experience for people of all backgrounds”. If Baroness Casey had to describe the Met’s culture in a word, it would be “toxic” – and I think it would be fair to say many of us have experienced similar work environments throughout our own careers.

“According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report, only 21 per cent of people are engaged at work”

I began my career in construction in 2003, when women in hard hats on a building site were few and far between. Construction is on a transformational journey, and I am incredibly proud to work in an industry that’s always moving forward and evolving. Personal protective equipment designed for female construction workers is now commonplace. Agile working is allowing more women to enter the sector. The number of women in construction management roles increased by 9 per cent in the UK between 2018 and 2020, and is rising, with 62 per cent of female construction workers telling us in 2022 that they had been managed by a woman. So much has been achieved in the past two decades, but there is still work to be done.

So, how do leaders in our industry go about radically transforming the culture and how do we provide a positive experience for people of all backgrounds? Like the Met commissioner, leaders in the construction industry have to look inwards.

Better leadership is only the start

Good leadership is vital to creating a good culture – after all, who wants to work for a company or individual they don’t respect? But cultural transformation isn’t just up to leaders. Clients, contractors, consultancies, suppliers and industry bodies all have a vital part to play. By working together to showcase how critical workforce diversity is in our industry, and how much value is added by it, we can attract and retain more diverse talent to the sector. This begins with embracing our differences and collectively improving the perception of a career in construction.

As an industry, we are naturally curious – we ask challenging questions and we continuously find ways to improve the world around us by building beautiful spaces where people feel safe, secure and free to be their best, authentic selves.

This ethos should be mirrored in our attitude to workplace policy, too, as we strive to create a culture that empowers all people. Providing accessible learning opportunities is vital to upskilling your workforce and ensuring that your leadership team is diverse. Our gender-equality survey found 49 per cent of female employees in construction were unaware of any initiatives offered by their company to transition female employees into senior or leadership positions.

Ensuring that learning is relevant, visible and actively encouraged as part of your company culture is key. At Randstad we have worked with networking groups such as Building Equality and the National Association for Women in Construction. They have given so much support and peer-to-peer learning opportunities to our industry.

Sharing ideas and concerns

Engaging hearts and minds is critical to a positive workplace culture and is crucial for productivity, retention and a happy, healthy workforce. Many organisations admit they struggle to get this right, especially in the new hybrid workplace. According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report, only 21 per cent of people are engaged at work. Organisations can improve this by leading with compassion, actively listening to their employees and communicating organisational goals effectively.

The key to transforming the culture and delivering maximum performance is to build a team of people who will support their leader, but who will bring diverse views and constructively challenge both the leader and each other. Healthy debate, facilitated well, will deliver new insights and innovation.

As employees and organisations embark on their journey of cultural change, we need to make sure they are supported. Trust and understanding must be cultivated, giving people permission to make mistakes, ask questions and learn. People need to be assured that their leader will build a psychologically safe environment, where they can share ideas or concerns and give feedback without fear of negative consequences. That said, negative or inappropriate behaviour needs to be called out and a failure to do this means teams won’t be able to thrive and reach their full potential.

Divided and toxic cultures cannot be fixed overnight. However, if leaders role-model the values and behaviours they want their teams to embrace, and invest the time to understand and break down the barriers to these changes, they will be off to a very good start.

Leave a comment