Time to ask, ‘who’s not in the room?’

3/8/2022 10:07 AM CET

Skanska has much to be proud of on International Women’s Day, thanks to the efforts of our female pioneers in what has been a male dominated industry. But real, meaningful change for women in the workplace requires all of us to examine how things could be better, writes President and CEO Anders Danielsson.

Group CEO Anders Danielsson makes the #breakthebias hand gesture with Carolina Creamer, Field Engineer at the Penn II project in New York to mark IWD 2022.

A lot has changed over the past 30 years. When I first began working in the construction sector in the early 1990s, I remember how uncommon it was to see even a single female colleague on some building sites. Skanska was then, as it is now, a future-facing company, but even in some of our offices, women were something of a rarity back then, particularly in senior positions. It was a pattern repeated across the entire industry.

Today however, when I visit sites and offices worldwide, I’m heartened by the progress that has been made. Thanks to the hard work of female trailblazers and role models, women are representing in a wide range of roles across all areas of our industry.

At Skanska, gender equality has become not just something we just aspire to, but a concept firmly rooted in our Values through the phrase ‘Be better together'. We recognize that diverse perspectives and an inclusive culture are needed to drive innovation and find solutions to modern challenges. This need is also acknowledged in our business strategy which has teams shaped by exceptional people – of all genders, ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds – as one of its key strategic pillars.

And yet despite these advances much remains to be done – both at Skanska and across our sector.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is ‘Break the bias’ – a reference to the type of prejudice that continues to deny women across the world equal access to opportunities. It’s a call for each and every one of us to consider how we might be contributing – perhaps unconsciously – to the ongoing exclusion of women in the workplace.

IWD is also a sharp reminder that as long as the lived experience of women within our business and industry remains different to that of their male colleagues in terms of opportunities and treatment, we still have work to do.

When I look at the most recent figures for gender diversity within our company, I see a number of positive developments. For example, the overall percentage of women in our workforce climbed to 18.8 percent in 2021, up from 12.9 percent in 2014. That’s a rise of 45 percent in seven years. Meanwhile, the percentage of women working in senior positions (levels 3-6) has grown more than 50 percent since 2014, rising to 24.3 percent.

But in other areas, the figures are less inspiring. While the numbers are growing, women make up just four percent of team members at the frontline operational level and hold a humble 14 percent of senior operational positions. As a company, we are actively working to increase the proportion of women in these kinds of roles and create an inclusive culture where everyone can perform at their best.

As individuals working in construction and development, we all have roles to play in bringing about change.

While we all like to think of ourselves as being fair and open-minded, research has shown everyone has unconscious biases. It is a part of being human. However, by taking time to question and understand these internal prejudices, we can stop their impacts on our decision-making processes. In their place, we can build inclusive habits that allow for talented people to be recognized, regardless of their gender, or for that matter any diverse characteristics.

That’s why I ask you all, to take some time today to think about whether you are actively opening the way for greater gender equality within your business. You may want to consider who’s not in the room when important decisions are being made. Ask yourself whether you stand up for colleagues when they are absent from meetings, giving them credit for their work. Do you invite all colleagues in meetings to speak and to contribute?

As an exercise, try making note of who gets interrupted in your meetings today. Who is doing the interrupting and who was interrupted? Does that need to change? And what can you do to bring about this change?

Please join me in celebrating International Women’s Day. Let’s work to bring about real change across the wider industry. Think about the questions above and know that by ensuring that women receive the same experience and opportunity as men in their work, we are shaping a more equitable future.

- Anders Danielsson