Women and innovation
Our sector is currently staring down the barrel of two significant challenges: sustainability and digitalization. Tackling these to bring about organizational change requires radical thinking. This is only possible with a diversity of perspectives.
Business challenges are solved by widening the lens that we turn on problems. For example: my role is to define the digital transformation which will keep Kingspan at the forefront of innovation. I’m not a technologist, data scientist or information architect, but digitalization is a change like any other. I am using my non-technological perspective to ask questions: could teams be structured differently? Could problems be tackled from new angles? This is how we will do business faster, more easily, using new technologies and new ways of working.
This is also the very reason to champion women in a sector which has traditionally been seen as male-dominated. The only way that companies learn to adapt is by mothballing older practices. Without this, Kingspan certainly wouldn’t have grown to be the ambitious global business that it is today. Without this, we will not be able to ask the difficult questions that are needed to play our part in safeguarding our planet.
So how can we embed a strong ambition for diversity into our organization?
Construction is still seen as a non-traditional career choice for women. We reach out to schools, universities and other sectors, to show that it is a viable option. By making it accessible, we can support them to take that initial leap of faith. Graduates on Kingspan’s development programme are now over one third female, an increase of over 40% over the last five years, and we have more than doubled the number of female executives participating in both our Hi Potential Leaders programme – known as PEAK – and our Advanced Senior Executive partnership with INSEAD business school. There is more to do, but we are moving in the right direction.
Across the industry, we can also lead from the top in tangible ways, like making sure there is time for family life, and acceptance of commitments beyond the workplace. I am proud of establishing and leading a global team, and I’m proof that companies and individuals find ways to make it work. If we encourage women to show up as their authentic selves, then the business reaps the rewards of their energy, creativity and perspective.
Women in leadership positions have impact and influence which resounds through every level of an organization. This is why we don’t just want more women within our teams: we want women to succeed at the top, multiplying the effects of change and diversity, and bringing us the ambitious ideas on sustainability that will help our organization to thrive.
I have experienced constant encouragement and positivity in my own career, enabling me to lead teams in different countries and different divisions. Today I try to bring this same spirit of encouragement to my own teams, because it’s the best way to deliver business objectives. I constantly see how coaching people, and empowering them to contribute, is the best way to remove the roadblocks to success. Making people of all genders feel valued in the workplace is the way to give them confidence in their own ability to make radical, transformational change.
This means making a conscious effort to recruit people who talk, think and behave differently to their managers. To truly commit to diversity, business leaders have to be prepared for ideas that they consider surprising, unusual or even ridiculous, and give serious consideration to these contributions. They have to learn to experiment. Growth comes from innovative ideas. It comes from discussion.
Sustainability in the digital future
Ultimately, diversity is about conversation. Today our industry is figuring out how it enters the next horizon of growth – digitalization – while confronting the opportunities and changes that come with a true commitment to sustainability. As with all business challenges, these can only be achieved through fundamental shifts in the way we do things.
By championing a diversity of perspectives within our sector, we empower women to see themselves as part of the change and bring their best ideas to the table. Today International Women’s Day is leading the calls for “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, and Kingspan recognizes that this is not just talk: we see a direct, causal link from one to the other. Empowerment is how the next big ideas for sustainability will come about.