Paul Williams Powers Gender Balance Through Flexible Working

With WSP for more than a decade, Paul Williams is our Director of Power. In leading a team that is helping clients transition towards a more diversified energy future, Mr Williams believes that the key to greater equality in the workplace begins with flexible working.

In a recent interview with Mr Williams, we discussed the need to bridge the gender gap and create a more inclusive workforce. With the power sector undergoing transformational change driven by technological, political and socio-economic factors, the need to attract and retain diverse talent is high on his agenda.

 

“Gender balance is a very topical issue,” says Mr Williams. “As the debate gains momentum, it is easy to lose perspective about what this means to an individual – quite simply, it’s about respect and being valued equally.

 

“In the workplace or at home, I think flexibility is critical to addressing equality. While there’s a clear relationship between the two, one of the biggest obstacles we need to overcome are the negative mindsets and outdated perceptions that still exist.

 

“Working flexibly so you can balance work and family life is just as beneficial for men as it is for women. This is not just about working mothers and fathers; it is also about those who care for elderly parents and loved ones with a disability or a mental illness.

 

“My point is that we need to rethink the 9-5, five-days-a-week in the office work model, as that’s not inclusive of the diverse society we now live in. We need to shift our focus from face time to productivity. Let’s stop looking at jobs in terms of set boundaries and instead look at the outcomes.

 

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the power team to make flexible working arrangements the norm. We have empowered our people to be accountable for their actions. Each staff member is responsible for delivering on their commitments – particularly dates agreed to with clients – whether it’s at work, home, on the bus, or out of hours and agreed with the project team.

 

“The take-away here is that working flexibly is a win-win for our people and the firm. As societal norms shift, demands for a better work-life balance are growing. Working flexibly can help boost employee engagement, retention, productivity, creativity and overall performance.

 

“To successfully advocate for flexible working, we need to demonstrate the success of these practices across the business. More importantly, we need to ensure that it’s offered equally to both men and women, and seen as accessible.”

 

Balancing the Scales

The power sector provides an interesting case study with respect to gender balance. While it has traditionally been regarded as male-dominated, the growth in renewables is opening up opportunities for a more equitable playing field.

 

“As we transition from fossil-fuel dominated systems to more diverse sources of energy, diversity in the workforce is increasing, and this trend is only going to continue,” says Mr Williams.

“That’s good news for us because research has shown that diversity enhances innovation and creativity. And, the more gender-balanced our sector is, the more we benefit, particularly in terms of encouraging positive change and empowering communities to engage in more sustainable energy practices.

 

“As a firm, we are trying to balance the scales – both within our business and in terms of resourcing our projects. To us, gender equality is a business issue, not a women’s issue per se. And, we treat it as one of the slices of the diversity pie that includes age, culture, background, experiences, personality and difference of thought.

 

“Certainly, engaging with a diverse range of people in our business makes us more competitive. For example, two out of four market-facing leaders in our power business are female. Putting the numbers to one side, what this brings to the table is a balanced approach to the decision-making process. That means we have healthy debates and can be confident that the direction we are heading in, is well-thought-out.”

 

Championing Change

 Shifting the corporate demographic takes time and requires a multi-dimensional approach.

 

“Involving men and women as active and equal partners to be change agents is key to getting the foundation right for improving gender equality,” explains Mr Williams.

 

“One of the ways we are trying to do this is by having female role models in senior positions and getting them involved in the recruitment process as part of a mixed-gender panel. This has been well-received by candidates who can see first-hand the diversity in the firm and the potential for career advancement while having the opportunity to talk freely about flexible working practices.

 

“As the leader of the power team, I am also the primary role model for gender balance. I am passionate about advancing the issue and am verbal with my team about how to put that in action – everything from having gender-balanced shortlists to treating everyone with respect. Each time the story is told, the case for balance gets stronger and the more people are committed to it.

 

“At the end of the day, gender balance is about creating a flexible, open and nurturing environment where all people thrive irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman. It’s about being human-centred, pure and simple.”

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