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Award-winning diversity & inclusion: what it looks like in practice

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Design, engineering and project management consultancy Atkins, which was acquired by SNC-Lavalin in July 2017, won the Diversity and Inclusion Award at the Oil and Gas UK Annual Awards ceremony in November 2017. We spoke to Katy Barnes, an Associate Director with the company, to find out more about how Diversity and Inclusion is approached at Atkins and why Katy believes it is so important. Katy has also kindly agreed to answer any further questions you would like to put to her.

Please email these to by 20th July 2018. We will publish her answers by 20th August 2018.

Q: Atkins beat off stiff competition to recently win the Oil and Gas UK Annual Diversity and Inclusion Award; can you tell us a bit about how Diversity and Inclusion is approached at the company and the impact you believe this approach has had?

Although Atkins has been focussing on diversity for many years, our Energy (UK & Europe) business has taken an organisational development approach to translate the way we look at diversity (in its widest sense) through an inclusiveness viewpoint. Using the principles of positive psychology, we’ve trialled a strengths-based approach to recruitment, team workshops, promotion panels and leadership development. Through these experimental interventions, we’ve found that diversity naturally comes as a by-product of inclusivity, resulting in better business performance as well as creating a culture that enables people to be at their best and to feel fulfilled and engaged.

Q: What lessons do you think other companies can learn from Atkins approach and experience?

We are all realistic, I think, that we have a way still to go, but some solid steps have been made by Atkins in the right direction, and importantly we have a role to play in leading the industry into a more enlightened and sustainable future.

I’m going to follow with a few specifics on this from a personal angle, which is around how Atkins is part of my ‘support toolkit’ for managing a part time leadership role (yes I did say part time and leadership role in one sentence!) and a young family.

At Atkins, flexible working arrangements including part-time working are available and encouraged. It helps the employee if they have had a change in personal circumstances and need more flexibility and can also play a vital role in our company's performance. It provides benefits to Atkins by helping us to retain valued employees, manage workloads and increase productivity through greater motivation.

Furthermore, there is a flexible holiday scheme which allows any employee, full or part time, to buy additional weeks of holiday. Most employers give somewhere in the order of four to six weeks of annual leave and yet if we have young dependents at school, they have more than twelve weeks’ annual leave! This results in a gap in ‘childcare’ to be addressed in households where both parents work. Flexible holiday schemes can be an important element of the solution and in my view this should be accessible industry wide.

My final point here is a very specific one, but one that I think sets the tone of the organisation. On return from maternity leave there is a ‘Return to Work Programme’ which involves off site days with a skilled facilitator and people at a similar point in life, providing both a tool kit for dealing with the changes, particularly around effective time management, and a support network. With shared parental leave now being in play this will be an exciting extra dimension to embrace in organisations going forward too.

Q: Why do you personally think Diversity and Inclusion is so important?

I believe that we all intuitively know that diversity in the work place is imperative. There are also now many business analyst studies and evidence to indicate companies in the top quartile for diversity are more likely to yield financial returns above their industry median. We therefore need to focus on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for them to achieve their full potential and maximise their contribution to the business success. We need to ensure that everyone feels included and support networks and initiatives are in place to retain and attract.

It is far more interesting and fun to work with a diverse workforce as diversity brings diverse opinion and thoughts to the business, which if harnessed constructively can help yield business success. Taking this point to an extreme, can you imagine what it would be like to work with a workforce which were all clones of yourself, your manager or your CEO, sharing the same viewpoint on everything with no one to promote constructive challenge….. So, here’s to diverse teams, and to us all continuing to grow, learn, and share as we move along on our inclusiveness journeys.


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