Big Interview: Glen Cornelius – part One.

Glen Cornelius

We sit down with Glen Cornelius, Managing Director of Harrison Grierson, and a passionate member of the Diversity Agenda, to discover the secrets from an award nominated leader.

In part one of this two-part interview, we discuss how Harrison Grierson have changed their recruitment process, how policies such as flexible working can be successful, and what it means to Glen to receive a personal nomination in the upcoming Diversity Works Diversity Awards.

How does diversity and inclusion affect Harrison Grierson?

It adds value to the bottom line when you get that mix of different ideas coming through — the creativity and innovation that it brings.

Currently, our staff is about 34% female, which is pretty good for an engineering practice. Over the last two years our intake of grads has been 50/50, male and female, which is exceptionally high. In terms of cultural diversity, we’ve got around 30 different ethnicities, which is a good mix.

Have you always had those kinds of numbers? Or have you seen them increase over the last few years?

When I took over as Managing Director seven years ago, our upper management was very white and male. Now, the majority of our directors are female. That change alone has rippled through the organisation. Our senior leadership changed and we’re seeing that reflected in our graduate pool. Seeing that you don’t have to be a white male to become a director in our business attracts people to come into the organisation.

it was a light bulb moment. I looked around the table and there were a lot of very similar looking people saying the same things and doing the same things

How did you begin your journey to becoming more diverse and inclusive, and was there a ‘we have to change’ moment?

When I became a director, I was much younger than most of my fellow directors – it was a light bulb moment. I looked around the table and there were similar looking people who were saying and doing the same things. What I’ve seen from looking outside of the engineering space, is that diversity and inclusion bring different things.

When I took over as Managing Director, I knew that we needed to do things differently if we wanted to survive and thrive in the future.

Our first step was taking on our first independent director, Margaret Devlin, who happened to be a woman. With her, we looked at our diversity mix across the business and at how we can bring a different line of thinking into our approach to diversity and inclusion.

Did you start by literally reviewing every employee and working out where you currently were as a base line, and then progressing from that?

We weren’t that granular in terms of how we approached diversity. We started from the point of view that diversity’s good for business and we just accepted that’s where we needed to start from.

As an engineering firm, diversity and inclusion isn’t often spoken about, so our first step was trying to start that discussion.

We began with roadshows. Then we formed the ‘Diversity @ Harrison Grierson’ group, where a mix of people from around our organisation came together and focussed on how to encourage and promote diversity.

During that transition period, did you have to overcome people who felt it wasn’t necessary or just weren’t as on board as you needed them to be?

Yes, in the first year to 18 months after we’d established the diversity group [which initially focussed on gender diversity], we had a lot of pushback from our males saying, “Why are we creating a special group for women?” and “Why can’t we have a males group?”. And so we addressed that by discussing the benefits of diversity and how it brings a difference of thinking within the organisation which will help us in the future.

How does Harrison Grierson approach diversity and inclusion within recruitment?

We looked at all of our policies, and how we could eliminate gender bias and discrimination. We looked at the wording, because how you say things matters. If you’re saying one thing and then all of your policies refer to ‘him’ and are stereotypical then it doesn’t play into what we’re trying to achieve.

We also looked at the wording we had in our recruitment ads and ran them through gender filters. Then we looked at our overall recruitment process. We introduced a policy where if we had two people on a recruitment panel, we tried to have a man and a woman, to take some of the biases out of the decision-making process.

Do you carry out specific diversity and inclusion training with your staff?

We’ve focused on recruitment and so our recruitment managers have gone through an unconscious bias training process, to make people aware of the unconscious biases which we all drag into our decision-making process.

Everyone has unconscious biases. If people are aware of what those are, they can take that into account when making decisions. Then they’ll hopefully get a better outcome.

How do you make sure everything you do as a business is inclusive?

Through a learning process. Sometimes we do things which aren’t right, and we need to learn from it.

We run employee surveys and have an ‘Ask Your Team’ process where we ask about how well we’re doing things from cultural, leadership and business process perspectives.

We have social clubs and events which we try to run in hours that suit everyone. We’ve moved away from holding breakfast meetings and boozy lunches because those don’t suit everyone and can put people off. We’re looking at what works for all of our workforce and all of our people.

Some businesses say flexible working sounds great but how can somebody on a flexible working agreement also run a major project?

We’ve gone down the flexible work path over the last few years. Last year, we got rid of core hours in our work policy. We did have some initial comments like, ‘how’s that going to work?’ But, what we see is that if we’re providing people the opportunity to work flexibly, they give back in spades. They put the extra effort in and make sure they’re there for their clients when they need to be. If we are flexible in our approach, then often our people are flexible in their approach as well.

“If we are flexible in our approach, then often our people are flexible in their approach as well.”

Do you think your staff are happier since you brought these flexible changes in?

Our staff are definitely happier. We’ve seen it in our recent ‘Ask Your Team’ survey, our huge accolades around flexible working and the benefits staff see from that. Last year we moved our largest office into complete flexible working arrangements. We’re in a new agile space where everyone can work flexibly, everyone’s got a laptop, and can work from wherever they need to be. Our feedback shows that staff are engaged and happy and ready to put in that extra effort.

You’ve personally been named a finalist in the Diversity Works Awards under the Walk the Talk category which celebrates leaders who exemplify excellence in promoting and managing a diverse workforce. What does that mean to you to be noticed and nominated in that way?

It’s a huge accolade of what I’ve been doing over the last seven years in terms of trying to change Harrison Grierson and who we are as an organisation. Harrison Grierson’s been around for 135 years and with that comes a lot of baggage and ways of doing things, but over the last seven years we’ve changed significantly as an organisation. And so this acknowledgment means a huge amount to me in terms of the work that we’ve put in to see that change through.

And how important is it that it’s the leaders that set the standard when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

Leadership is critical to everything we do as an organisation, and leadership is critical to ensuring you get a diverse and inclusive culture within your organisation, so it’s a must have.

We hope you enjoyed Part One, and look out for Part Two which will be released soon…

We really appreciate Glen and other industry leaders taking the time to talk to us.

If you have any great initiatives that you think would help others on their diversity and inclusion journey get in touch.   

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