Rail Industry Focus

17.07.17

HS2: the catalyst for diversity

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 17

RTM’s Josh Mines reports on how HS2 Ltd expects its supply chain to remove barriers to inclusion to build capacity and widen access.

Efforts to diversify the rail industry are being slowly, if not in some places rather reluctantly, moved forward. It seems for many, diversity is still seen as a necessary evil, a side effect of an increasingly politically correct society. And often when organisations do make it their mission to take a proactive, positive approach to creating an inclusive workforce, they are still asked the question, ‘why not just employ whoever is the best fit for the job?’ 

Clearly, for those who appreciate the benefits of embracing diversity the answer to that is very clear. Diversity yields better results, and also gives opportunities to underrepresented demographics of people who may otherwise not have been given a chance. Those people who are not represented are therefore brought into the fold and the industry benefits from the addition of their differing views and insights. 

Despite the scepticism of some in the industry, there are still large organisations who are taking it upon themselves to lead the way for diversity. At this year’s edition of Railtex, suppliers were told by HS2 Ltd that as part of their bid to build a diverse workforce, contracts would not be let to companies who were not making a concerted effort to their diversity and inclusion record. 

This message was sent by Mark Lomas, head of equality, diversity and inclusion at HS2 Ltd (pictured), who explained to exhibitors and industry leaders about the organisation’s commitment to diversifying its workforce, as well as the workforces of its wider supply chain. 

During his speech, Lomas emphasised why diversity was important to allow the industry to change and adapt going forward.

“HS2 is a long-term programme that enables us to make long-term change. If we look critically at the rail sector, it has been one of the worst at adapting to change – it’s 20 years behind and we need to hurry up and fix it,” he said. “And HS2 is going to be one of the catalysts that moves the industry forward at a very fast pace.” 

‘Blind auditioning’ improves diversity of applicants 

Lomas also explained how HS2 had made efforts to improve the equality, diversity and inclusion, or EDI, of the company’s recruitment process. 

By using blind auditioning, which means employers know nothing about the job seeker’s ethnicity, gender, age, or educational background when they review their application, HS2 was able to improve the number of women, BME and disabled applicants getting through to the next round of interviews. 

Lomas added that this applied to companies in HS2’s supply chain, explaining that it would be close to impossible for them to win a contract with the company without demonstrating how they were making efforts to improve EDI in their organisation. 

“Here’s a clear message to those hard-edged business people,” he stated. “You cannot win a contract with HS2 without improving your performance in this area. It’s just not possible.” 

Improvement for companies, Lomas explained, included them showing they had websites that were accessible for visually impaired people, using blind auditioning and making sure that 100% of people in their company had training in EDI relative to their role. 

“We also expect you to tell us how much money you are spending with diverse suppliers and SMEs, and Tier 1 organisations will have to achieve an externally accredited EDI standard, which will make our supply chain a world-first,” Lomas continued. “We expect our supply chain to remove barriers to inclusion to capacity-build and widen access, and we will help anyone that is trying to change and innovate.” 

The point is that a lack of diversity isn’t necessarily something suppliers are punished for – but an organisation who pushes for a more inclusive workforce should certainly be rewarded. A totally diverse rail industry won’t be delivered overnight, but as Lomas argued, with long-term projects like HS2 on the horizon, now is the time to ensure that the staff who build the high-speed railway are made up of a mixture of genders, ethnicities and inclusive of people with disabilities. 

Once that first step has been taken, then the path towards a greater range of people sitting on boards will soon follow. This will not just mean that these projects benefit from a number of different perspectives, but it will also drive better results for everybody. That’s why it’s vital for leading organisations, like HS2, to take the reins for driving diversity, and why their supply chains should also be pushed to do the same.

Image - © Rob Finney/Railtex

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