Changing the culture in construction

Construction Teams looking at papers on a table


How do you change an industry’s culture? The construction industry tends to be seen as male dominated with a traditional work culture – something that might put a lot of women off applying or staying.

Dawn Moore, Director of Human Resources at Morgan Sindall, believes passionately that there is a strong business case for change. She says many in the industry have failed to grasp the importance of diversity and inclusion initiatives to help address future skills shortages. “I believe if we keep recruiting the same people from the same pool we will probably do okay, but we will never be exceptional,” she says. “If we get the right mix of people with a traditional construction background, who at the moment are often men, and combine them with a more diverse group of people, I think we will have something more innovative than our competitors and hence see greater business success.”

“There’s a real opportunity for the industry,” she says.

Dawn has been at Morgan Sindall for two and a half years. Her desire to make an impact and create a more family friendly culture was driven by her personal experience of becoming a mum yet still being career-minded and how this sometimes challenges traditional thinking within the corporate environment.  It also informed her view of the kind of support needed to enable working parents to feel properly supported by their company, continue working and still achieve their full potential.

The drive and desire to champion others has led Dawn to push for a raft of changes, from giving line managers the tools they need to help mums back to work after maternity leave and providing informal mentors who have been there and done it to instituting wider-ranging cultural change.

Financial support

Dawn, who has two children, started by focusing on the support working parents were receiving financially. At the time Morgan Sindall only enhanced the first week of paternity leave and the first six weeks of maternity leave. Following a discussion with the managing directors in the business this was significantly increased, particularly maternity pay. “People should not have to worry about finances when they are on maternity or paternity leave,” says Dawn.

She went about building a case for change through a benchmarking exercise which was carried out with help from some other employees within the business, looking at what other sectors and the company’s competitors were offering and getting feedback from employees, including several dads who said they could not afford to take the two weeks’ paternity leave off.

From a wellbeing perspective, Dawn cited the case of a new dad who she found falling asleep at his desk after taking just three days’ paternity leave, “You have to ask how effective a person can be in their job in that situation – I wanted to ensure that our company did whatever it could to help them enjoy what is a very special time,” she says.

It was also important from the perspective of the company’s reputation as a family friendly employer, which Dawn knew from experience was a key recruitment issue. That initial work on financial support for new parents opened up a bigger discussion about equality, diversity and inclusion and what strategies were needed to attract and retain employees, the majority of whom will have families at some stage in their working lives. That extends from childcare vouchers to flexible working and the use of technology to cut down travel time.

Flexible working

With regard to flexible working, Dawn established a system for questioning all new vacancies to see if they needed to be done on traditional hours and based in the office. “We look at every new vacancy, discussing with the line manager whether we could offer more flexibility and whether different jobs could be done in different ways,” says Dawn, adding that the discussions also recognised that some types of jobs can’t be as flexible as others.

She collaborated with HR business partners in all areas of the business to make sure they grasped the case for change. The partners worked closely with line managers to challenge established norms and to encourage them to be proactive about looking at the kind of skills they need for their jobs and to consider new talent pools, for instance, by advertising roles on and working with external partners who are specialists in diversity and inclusion and can bring a fresh perspective. The company has also looked at how they write job adverts in more inclusive language, says Dawn.

She adds that the company started with new roles, but aims to look at all roles in the medium term. “There are 3,600 people in Morgan Sindall’s Construction and Infrastructure division and a lot of their roles already have some flexibility within them,” she says, adding that this is part of a wider equality, diversity and inclusion strategy which she is working on with senior leaders and a range of employees across the business.


There are 11 different business units under the company’s construction and infrastructure banner. Dawn says they have different customers and challenges and that some are therefore able to be more flexible than others. Creating consistency is a challenge, but what is important is the commitment they have all shown to the principles of more family friendly working. She believes that sharing case studies across business units can create a momentum for change and is working with the managing directors of each business unit to run behaviour-based Diversity and Inclusion workshops with their senior teams which encourage conversations about issues around work culture. “It’s not about the law but about understanding things like unconscious bias and how they affect gender and other diversity issues from recruitment onwards,” says Dawn.

Senior management is also backing a shift towards a more outputs-based model of evaluating success. “You can change all the policies, but if the culture and behaviour doesn’t change with them there won’t be the shift we need,” says Dawn.  She adds that the managing directors at Morgan Sindall have all been very supportive of the changes proposed as they can see the benefits they will bring.

Although she herself works full time and travels regularly, Dawn is keen to champion change and to be the kind of supportive manager she would like all staff to benefit from. “I understand the challenges many working families face and balancing that with the desire for continued career development and progression,” says Dawn.  “Just because I have a family does not mean I do not want to continue to progress my career.  I want to be a role model. We are on a good journey and things are changing but it will take time.”

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