HRD Summit 2020: ‘Stop setting diversity targets’

The construction industry is often seen as lacking diversity.

HR professionals need to stop setting diversity targets and instead think about what cultural indicators they want to see across their organisations, the head of HR at a major construction firm has advised.

Dawn Moore, group people director at J Murphy & Sons and former director of HR at Morgan Sindall, said setting targets around different diversity indicators will not necessarily change behaviours and may not be successful in helping to attract more underrepresented groups into jobs.

“Measuring the impact [of a D&I strategy] depends on what strategy you have – is it just about hitting a target or is it trying to change what you’re doing and develop a fundamentally different culture?” she asked delegates at this week’s HRD Summit in Birmingham.

“If you just set targets, will you drive the right behaviours? You may actually achieve a particular percentage but not have the right line management behaviours in place.”

Moore said she is often asked what the “hard” business benefits of an effective D&I strategy are, but these can be difficult to quantify as its success are often based around the “feel” of the organisation.

She advised HR departments to look at other areas of business development or targets the company is trying to hit, such as delivering on a particular project, and how diversity initiatives can be linked to these goals.

She said: “When we talk about hard measures and soft measures, you might ask how they translate into actual things?

is it just about hitting a target or is it trying to change what you’re doing and develop a fundamentally different culture?” – Dawn Moore, J Murphy & Sons

“In my last business we tried something innovative and targeted people who had a career break. It was the first programme that was offered with fully flexible working and something we knew was an issue in construction and a barrier for many.

“We didn’t specifically think of this as a D&I programme, just as doing something differently, but we had 200 applications with a really interesting gender split and many applications from non-white British people – totally unheard of in construction.”

Moore said that for leadership teams and employees to take diversity seriously, it “can’t just be an HR initiative”. J Murphy & Sons holds employee focus groups to get a sense of what staff feel needs to be improved in this area.

“One of the small suggestions that came from one of our employee focus groups was just to have a little logo on our careers that showed we were committed to having a chat about flexible working. There was a 38% increase in the number of applications as a result of that small change, based on us listening and acting on that employee feedback about why people didn’t want to apply for a job with us,” she said.

“This goes back to us asking employees about the culture, not setting a target on what we want to see at the time.”

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