Three ways to advance gender equality

3/7/2019 3:12 PM CET

This marks my 29th year working in construction, most of those years for Skanska. Like many industries, traditionally mostly men have worked in construction, and that remains true. But over my career there’s been great progress – both at Skanska and across our industry – in providing more opportunities for women while also helping unlock higher performance in companies.

Kirsi Mettälä, Executive Vice President at Skanska and author of this article

I joined Skanska as an executive assistant and – through much hard work and also much support – I am now one of six managers overseeing the company, and one of two women at this level, together with my fellow Executive Vice President Caroline Fellenius-Omnell. My role involves leading Skanska’s efforts to help our 38,000-person business become more diverse and inclusive, including leveraging all the possibilities this provides.

Positive progress

During the past five years, the percentage of women who are part of Skanska’s four most senior levels rose from 13 to 22 percent. Also, based on our latest employee survey results our workplace culture has become more inclusive. In the last five years, positive responses to diversity and inclusion questions improved, scoring above the multi-industry benchmark.

As fostering inclusive work environments is one of Skanska’s key focus areas this year, I’ll share some insights on our progress and how we work with advancing gender equality. And also, I’ll share some thoughts on what has helped my career.

1. Attracting and recruiting from larger groups

One key reason for the low proportion of women in construction is that we – and our industry – have historically done a poor job inviting them to join us. But to have the best people, and to better reflect society, we need to think bigger and broaden our approaches. This includes building an employer brand that is attractive to a larger talent pool, especially women. It also includes educating recruiters and line managers to better manage unconscious biases in the recruitment process.

In Sweden, we have launched a carpenter apprenticeship program for women

Also, we have set targets for recruiting women in some key parts of our business. In Sweden, for example, by 2020 at least 40 percent of junior civil engineers being recruited from university should be women. Skanska Sweden has already been at that level for several years.

Supporting women in becoming carpenters

To help us reach and even go beyond our targets, we’re launching new programs that have the dual benefit of also providing women with new opportunities. For instance, Skanska Sweden was not satisfied with women comprising only 1.8 percent of site workers. So this spring it is launching a carpenter apprenticeship program for women. The program provides paid vocational training for three years, leading to professional certification as a carpenter and then regular employment with Skanska. I am looking forward to following their progress!

2. Using scorecards to drive performance

Being a company full of engineers, measuring is something we are used to and like doing. We study diversity and inclusion performance of the overall company as well as of our business units. On a unit level, Skanska Sweden and Skanska Finland have been particularly successful in using measurements to drive change.

These two units have developed and activated diversity and inclusion scorecards to measure progress and drive change within their regions. The scorecards focus on gender mix, actions to increase ethnic diversity and employee survey results focusing on workplace inclusion. The measurements are activated in workshops with the regional management teams, with the aim of increasing knowledge and building relevant action plans to secure progress.

3. Better integrating work with life

Enabling employees to combine work and other life commitments is another important aspect to promoting gender equality. Historically, flexible working has been perceived as a need only for women. However, with changing gender relations and overall work-life patterns, an increasing number of employees of all genders appreciate and expect flexible working arrangements.


For Skanska, this also connects with our safety culture: flexible working and work-life balance are key aspects to a caring culture that promotes health and well-being among all employees. Humbly, we acknowledge this is a challenge for us and for the construction industry, especially as our work is centered on projects located on many, many individual sites.

Flexible working hours

We have different initiatives moving us toward greater flexibility and work-life balance for all employees. For example, on one of our major projects in the UK a flexible working arrangement is being piloted. The champion of this effort – a working father with a joint venture partner – has been externally acknowledged for his efforts in translating project aspirations into real actions and changes in ways of working.

In the US, we are launching a flexible working policy along with a workshop toolkit that provides a structure for teams – especially those on projects – to find creative ways to adopt flexible work arrangements. The workshop, which is available to all Skanska employees, increases knowledge, shifts mindsets and supports participants to develop solutions that consider both employee and project needs.

Looking ahead, with confidence

When looking back at my career in construction, I am proud of the progress that has been achieved. It is fantastic seeing women leading major projects, and men showing support for gender equality by participating in events organized by women’s networks. But I also see much work left to do.

There are many things we as an employer can do to offer more inclusive working environments and tools to promote diversity. Unfortunately, those are not enough if we women are not confident enough to believe our own strengths and stop being so ruthless to ourselves. I have met and interviewed many talented women who are overcritical of their own skills, experience and role between work and private life – unnecessarily so every time.

I have had courage to do the work I am passionate about and enjoy. So say “yes” when new challenges are offered to you, and don’t think about all the competencies and attributes you don’t have – you have the ones that count and will make the difference. And dare to step out of your comfort zone and ask others for help and support. If you are satisfied with your work – where we spend most of our time daily – that will reflect to your private life too. I have managed to achieve a challenging management position while having a happy and balanced private life too.

However, the burden is not just on women – men also have an important role to play in achieving gender equality. Women and men need to jointly drive the work ahead of us.

For all genders, maybe this needed change starts with raising your hand. Or having a conversation. Or showing interest. Even small actions will collectively make an enormous difference.

I can’t wait to see what we achieve together.

What do you think is essential to achieving gender equality and more inclusive workplaces? Please share your thoughts in the comment section on LinkedIn – I’d love to hear your views.

Kirsi Mettälä