27 August 2021

Signatory in the Spotlight: Atkins – Making the nuclear industry more inclusive

In the fourth of our Signatory in the Spotlight articles we link to a podcast to learn more about the activities and ED&I progress being made by Atkins.

Women in Nuclear UK has developed an Industry Charter to drive activities to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I), and gender balance. Over 60 organisations have signed up and Atkins has revised their pledge. Listen to the  Inside Atkins Podcast, where Pascale Mama (External Communications Assistant at Atkins) talks to Rosie Matin, Jan Shimell, Jo Bandle and Chris Ball, from Atkins’ Nuclear & Power business, about ED&I actions and progress.

The Atkins pledge:

  • We’re committed to building a culture of curiosity, care and courage that promotes inclusivity and enables diversity which will focus on creating psychologically safe workplaces where people feel they can be open, and challenge and freely discuss ED&I.
  • Everyone will be encouraged to challenge all forms of bias, increase understanding, discussion and engagement through education and training.
  • We’ll promote mentoring in the industry and charity sector to support progression of diverse talent.
  • We are committed to empowering our staff, challenging ourselves to have diverse leaders and representation at every level.
  • We’ll use the strengths-based approach to achieve true inclusive ED&I and are committed to addressing all imbalances across our workforce.

Building in ED&I Objectives and Moments into daily work life

Through a combination of leadership, sponsorship, and our employee networks, it does feel at Atkins that the whole ED&I agenda is being owned by everybody. This year all staff have been asked to include one ED&I-related performance objective. ED&I Moments are included at the start of meetings and we need to go through this phase of being a learning culture, seeking to understand, then growing the culture to succeed and include everybody in the conversation. These Moments create a great opportunity to enter into conversation, particularly topics that people might shy away from. We must create a psychologically safe environment to have those conversations and encourage everybody to be active participants.

Recognising strengths in recruitment processes

In our recruitment processes, we’ve been putting a lot of focus into strengths profiling and helping people identify their own strengths to get the most out of the job and develop as best they can. The recruitment terminology uses strengths-based language and support for people so they can match themselves better against new job requisitions. Our public job descriptions have been updated to make sure that they’re gender neutral; by decoding words whether they are ‘male’ or ‘female’ (and wouldn’t necessarily realise), we can learn to change our terminology, and reach a greater range of people.

The strengths-based approach has also been applied in terms of promotions for higher positions. We’ve put in place reviews as an extra step to look any sort of unconscious bias. In the last 10 years we’ve seen the introduction of specific programmes such as Women’s Development Programme in partnership with Skills4, with over 1000 women participating. Another is the Returners Programme to help people transition back into the workplace after taking a career break.

Another recruitment tactic is producing material for school presentations and career fairs, bringing in ED&I, values, flexibility, and culture as an organisation. We encourage female role models to present these, not just in terms of getting women in engineering, but attracting a diverse mix of people.

There is also evidence that women are very much attracted to the sustainability angle. The nuclear industry has a very important role to play in the climate change challenge. We have found recruitment adverts focusing on Net Zero, and how we can all play a part in creating our future, actually have been a positive step, instead of the traditional mechanical/civil engineering adverts.

Let’s not blindly chase targets, but find the root cause

From a headline level, we’ve seen an increase in the percentage of females from 18 to 22 in a few years in the Nuclear & Power business. While we’re headed in the right direction, we need to move faster, through pushing at all levels from junior levels all the way to the most senior levels. At the moment, there’s a gap that needs addressing, namely percentage drops in the mid-senior grades.

It’s really important to set targets but we shouldn’t blindly chase them. Targets act as a temperature test; but we must look at the root cause of issues and challenges, and how to fix them. Many of us are engineers and scientists who like data, but culture isn’t reliant on numbers; it relies on creating a psychologically safe environment and how it really feels to be a woman in nuclear. This isn’t done by positive discrimination but by enabling the women to be the best versions of themselves, which is why we have to be very careful about using metrics, data and setting targets.

Whatever phraseology we use, it’s been a combination of logic and emotion. Targets and root causes are only half the story. The reality is that, at the moment, 22% of our people intuitively know what it feels like to be a woman, with 78% intuitively not knowing. If we want to increase logic and feeling, how do we recreate that sense in the 78%? We think it’s about every man in our business taking time out to reflect: how did that meeting and conversation go, were enough people participating, how would we do that differently?

Another piece is thinking about the proxy by example, whereby we see environments through other people’s eyes by association and listening to them. Recent examples of needing to listen include Meghan Markle and the media, women’s safety, the death of Sarah Everard and women feeling so much pain associated with these events. While we all try to step back, often we can’t help but carry that pain and weight to work, and we have to create a culture where we feel safe even when we’re vulnerable, to share and have open conversations.

Changing working relationships post-pandemic

One thing we’re hugely proud and supportive of is the flexible working policy and how this was championed even more when we moved to working from home permanently last year. This has altered the dynamics of working relationships, with the lead teams taking Open Hour calls for those who needed support. As these were happening at everyone’s home, we’ve found a willingness to open up, and certainly, as we go back into offices, the last thing we want is for these conversations and familiarity to stop, because they’ve been vital for relationships. Working from home has helped break down hierarchy, from hearing the dog barking, to juggling childcare, home-schooling or staff living and working on their own needing to hear another voice.

Lockdowns have made us look at encouraging equality both in work and outside interests. Men and women’s careers are of equal importance and working from home means we have acknowledged home lives even more.

Challenges, solutions – what about the delta in between?

We’re proud of our internal culture with a focus on building relationships, and making sure our employees feel safe and recognized, but we do need to shift that onto our external presence through recruitment opportunities, external speakers, thought leadership and elevating new expertise. Within our external communications activities, we have set active ED&I targets so that our thought leaders, speakers, and authors are from a wide and diverse range of staff to get their voices heard.

 Atkins supports Women in Nuclear on a global scale, actively engaging WiN both in the UK and abroad – with impending participation at the Global WiN Conference 2021. Our aim is to have a more influential voice in these key organisations and get more staff engaged and make a positive difference.

 If you would like to find out more about strengths-based recruitment, the book The Strengths-Based Organization: How to boost inclusivity, wellbeing and performance by Emily Hutchinson and Caroline Brown is available. Caroline is one of the team at Atkins and Emily also undertakes part-time work for Atkins.


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