RSK Group plc

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Our view: Women in leadership

Women in leadership

In her recent article, Engineering has moved on, it's time women took advantage, published in the online The Guardian, RSK co-founder and director Sue Sljivic is quick to highlight RSK’s refreshingly positive approach to women in the workplace:

Today [at RSK], the proportion of female staff is a third: roughly the same as it was when I joined 23 years ago. That percentage is the same for those classified as senior and above, and 25% at board level. We took the decision early on to send female engineers to the Middle East, and a woman runs our operations in Saudi Arabia, working from home as she raises a family.

Such acceptance of women cannot be taken for granted, however. The article begins by addressing Sue’s challenging start in the male-dominated construction industry with a previous company. “I was pretty much the only woman on construction sites in my first job as a landscape architect on what was the largest onshore oil field in Western Europe,” she says. Sue then describes the walls of site huts as adorned with “bikini-clad girls” and recalls that she “would regularly turn up to meetings with 20 or so people, all of them men, and be expected to take minutes and pour the tea. I used to laugh it off, but it took me a while to find the confidence to say no.”

Given that just a few years later Sue became co-founder of RSK, such an anecdote is almost laughable. As Sue acknowledges in the article, the industry’s attitude towards women has rapidly changed since her career began over 25 years ago. Her answer to the reason behind this, however, is perhaps given more in hope than belief: “hopefully because the industry has grown up and recognised the need for more technical specialists whatever their gender, but also because HR [human resources] departments would not tolerate it.”

Despite recognising that, across the business world in general, there is still progress to be made towards total equality, Sue acknowledges RSK’s individual stance to be more positive: “RSK group chairman, Dr Alan Ryder, has always been inclusive and flexible, which buys loyalty,” she says. This depiction of RSK is supported by the success stories of other female leaders across RSK.

RSK has not only welcomed women into directorial positions, such as Ruth Allen, who joined RSK in 2007 having already become the first female national chair of the Pipeline Industries Guild, but has also helped many female employees progress their careers while balancing other aspects of their lives, such as having a family.

HR director Zoe Brunswick is one example of successful juggling of career and family. Zoe joined RSK six years ago as a senior HR assistant and has since become both the company’s HR director and a mother. Since starting at RSK, Zoe has introduced the RSK graduate scheme, progressed the online induction programme to help integrate new starters and introduced an absence management policy, which has reduced working time lost to absence to under 2% a year. In 2010, Zoe’s efforts earned her Personnel Today’s ‘Rising Star’ award. RSK’s support, including allowing Zoe flexibility in her working hours when she returned from maternity leave to full-time working, has ensured that both her career and her family life have been able to progress simultaneously.

Sarah Mogford, managing director of environment, health and safety, is another of RSK’s high-flying females. Sarah is responsible for a team of 25 and has been involved in many high-profile projects and managing clients and operations in Europe and North America. She has also managed and deployed several international compliance audit programmes during her 15 years with RSK. Sarah has particular expertise in due diligence auditing: an area where she has been responsible for the management and negotiation of the environmental component of mergers and acquisitions. She continues to provide technical leadership in this area. Sarah has two children and successfully manages her career alongside her family by working part-time.

And Zoe and Sarah’s experiences are not unusual within RSK. Directors Claire Knighton (Envirolab), Jan Swan (Environment and AETC) and Abigail Draper (finance) all also balance their senior roles with motherhood and most have made use of the flexible working hours that RSK can offer.

“I am proud of RSK's track record in recruiting and retaining women,” Sue sums up. “RSK’s positive attitude to women in the workplace must continue, and other businesses must adopt the same level of inclusion to ensure that the UK matches other countries in employing women in science, technology and engineering roles.”

As Sue points out in her article: “Universities are welcoming more women into science and engineering courses, but that does not translate into the workplace. In the UK, three-quarters of women on science, technology and engineering courses do not go into occupations in their chosen fields of study. The UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe – a paltry 8.7% compared to 30% in Latvia.”

It is time that the UK did some catching up.

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