Big Interview: Glen Cornelius – part two.

Glen Cornelius

We continue our interview with Glen Cornelius, Managing Director of Harrison Grierson, and finalist in the Diversity Works Diversity Awards.

In the conclusion of our two-part interview, we focus on the threats to engineering if diversity and inclusion isn’t improved, how we can encourage the younger generation, and the importance of role models.

How important is diversity and inclusion to the whole engineering industry?

It’s hugely important. That’s why I’m happy to share a lot of how we do things with the rest of the industry, because if we don’t all improve then we’re going to be taken out by other businesses.

We need to be looking at everything that could disrupt the engineering industry, and part of that is within the diversity and inclusion space.

If we’re not changing from a diversity and inclusion perspective in terms of what we’re doing with our people, how we’re promoting and how we’re engaging with future generations, then we’re on a losing battle.

If we don’t have that as our focus, then the likes of Google are going to come in one day and say, “We can do what engineers are doing”. Google and other large tech companies have a diverse and inclusive culture, so it’s important engineering organisations are aware of what’s happening in the digital space.

So you see the losing of skilled candidates to the tech industry, through their embracing of diversity and inclusion, as a major threat to engineering?

Technology will have a huge potential impact on our engineering space. Digital change within our industry is rapidly changing how we do things.

A lot of my competitors and my counterparts may say it’s never going to happen, but you just have to look at what’s happened with Blockbuster and Kodak, they never saw what was coming.

For us as an industry, we need to be looking at, what is our Kodak, what is going to change us? It might be a slow creep, but it may change quicker than a lot of us think.

If we’re not changing from a diversity and inclusion perspective in terms of what we’re doing with our people, how we’re promoting and how we’re engaging with future generations, then we’re on a losing battle.

Why do you think 29% of women leave engineering within the first five years of their career?

It’s an interesting stat and I think some of it is still the ingrained male culture and fixed mindset. We see it a lot within our industry in the fixed ways that things are done. I think by having those mindsets we’re not being open to how things could be. So women, who are the minority in the engineering space, see that fixed mindset and get put off going forward and staying within those leadership roles.

If we can create an environment where people do see a growth mindset and do see there is opportunity for change, then that’s going to attract and retain people within an organisation, whether it’s female or people from other minority parts of our industry.

And that’s key for all of us to retain people who aren’t the majority and do have a different mindset. At the end of the day it comes down to that difference of thought, how we do things which then brings that creativity and innovation into our day-to-day life?

There’s the issue of girls dropping out of STEM subjects early on, which is having a flow-on effect down the stream for graduates.

So how do we get our younger generation, particularly young girls, more engaged in STEM, and ultimately, engineering?

We do need to get our girls and younger generation involved within those STEM subjects. I know we’ve been running Wonder Week [formally Week of Engineering] over the last few years, and I’ve championed that for Engineering New Zealand up in Auckland and that’s been critical to help engage the younger generation coming through.

The Wonder Project is also critical for getting females in our younger generation interested in STEM subjects. If we don’t have people going through and doing science and maths in their younger years, then we aren’t going to get them coming through to engineering within the universities.

It’s a huge industry-wide challenge which we all need to be working on. If we aren’t making sure our pipeline of graduates coming through is rich in terms of diversity, then we aren’t going to get a good outcome in terms of the people we have.

And how important are role models to the younger generation, particularly diverse role models in senior leadership, whether it’s sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity?

Having good role models is critical.

I know talking to our younger staff they see role models as one of the key things they’re looking for. They want to be seeing people who look and sound like them, in those leadership roles.

If we don’t have role models in senior positions then we don’t have the people they can look up to and want to be like, and it’s critical that we do. That’s why we’ve gone down the path of making sure we’ve got a diverse mix within our director group.

Have you changed your own feelings towards certain situations and how you approach them, especially as a leader?

I have. I’ve opened my eyes to having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. So saying, ‘what do we need to be doing differently and how do we achieve that?’ And doing that through a different lens, and often that is overlaid well if you put it through a diversity and inclusion lens — Making decisions based on not necessarily what’s right for me, but what’s right for the overall organisation.

If you look at our millennials we’re recruiting, they see diversity and inclusion as a part of who they are and what their future looks like.

What are your top tips to other businesses, on changes they could make, to help progress their business?

Take a look at your recruitment and figure out what you could do differently from a recruitment policy perspective. How are you conducting interviews? Do you have a diverse panel of interviewers?

Other areas can be looking at your senior leadership and how you bring in diversity of thought into that senior leadership. Do you do it by bringing in independent directors? Or can you bring in independent advisors, if not wanting to take on independent directors. This can help bring that diversity of thought into your senior leadership to help change some of the ingrained practices and unconscious biases which people have.

It’s a long road to actually getting change and it does need to be led from the top. If your senior management and CEO or managing director haven’t bought into it then you’ve got a massive battle on your hands.

What do you say to companies who are failing to focus on diversity and inclusion?

Get with the programme, it’s the way of the future.

If you look at our millennials we’re recruiting, they see diversity and inclusion as a part of who they are and what their future looks like. Out in social media at the moment diversity and inclusion is a core part of all discussions going on, and having a bigger purpose in life, having a diverse and inclusive culture is important for all business.

Any businesses who aren’t getting on board with having a diverse and inclusive culture really need to think about where they’re going, and what they’re going to be in the next few years. And they need to do something now.

And finally, why did you join the Diversity Agenda?

It was a no-brainer. We were already down the path in terms of diversity and inclusion as we’d already started up our diversity group within Harrison Grierson, so we saw it as the next step for an industry-wide perspective.

We’re on our journey at Harrison Grierson and we see the importance of making sure that our whole industry is taken along. At the end of the day Harrison Grierson has a purpose of shaping the world into a better place. We’re doing that one step at a time with our own business but for me, the Diversity Agenda is the next step in terms of shaping the whole industry into a better place.

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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