Halma’s DEI – taking risks to get results

February 10th, 2022

Halma’s DEI – taking risks to get results

How do you achieve a diverse and inclusive culture across a portfolio of small firms? For global engineering and technology group Halma, progress is driven by empowering individual companies to set their own action plans within a common strategic framework – and the bravery to let people air their feelings on the issues. In this article, we continue our DEI spotlight series by reviewing the steps public and private firms are now taking to improve their diversity.

Building a truly diverse and inclusive workforce is a long haul. Many UK firms are now throwing their efforts into talent management as the key transformational tool. But the need to build diversity into the entire employee lifecycle – recruitment, engagement and advancement – helps to explain why results have been slow to appear in listed-company statistics.

Halma is bucking that trend. The global engineering and technology group – has achieved an even gender split on its PLC board; its executive committee, the next level down, is 60% female. Its achievements earned the group a high ranking in the 2020 European Women on Boards gender equality awards, where it was placed eighth out of 668 companies.

Halma’s progress has given it the confidence to set an ambitious target for the boards of its approximately 50 operating companies. By March 2024, each must aim for a gender balance of 40 to 60%. Meanwhile, the group is focusing efforts on ethnic diversity too.

Employee input

Halma’s progress hasn’t been achieved overnight. It’s been working on change since 2014. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) targets are now placed at the centre of its sustainability framework and of the group’s stated purpose to “grow a safer, cleaner, healthier future for everyone, every day.”

Cindy Davies, one of the group’s talent and culture directors, says DEI is “tightly woven” into the operation of the business, to a degree she hasn’t witnessed in her previous roles in other organisations.

What may set Halma apart is the level of leadership and employee involvement in its DEI decision-making. Target-setting is informed by wide internal discussion. “Our ambition is based on wide stakeholder input from across the business. We asked ourselves, are we being ambitions enough? Are we being realistic about what we can achieve?”

Davies believes that where some businesses go wrong is focusing on diversity at the expense of inclusion. She subscribes to a quote attributed to US inclusion champion Vernā Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

“If you have an organisation with a diverse workforce, that’s great. But their presence is really only half the equation, if their voices aren’t being heard and if their perspectives aren’t included in your business strategy,” Davies says.

Building an inclusive mindset

Halma is a firm believer that shifting employee mindsets towards inclusion is a fundamental step of its DEI journey. In pursuit of this goal, it has introduced resources to educate employees on the differences of others, highlight bias and spark conversation. Following cultural flashpoints such as the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, Halma launched a peer-to-peer online learning programme available to each one of its companies. More than two-thirds of employees signed onto the programme. Recognising the limits of online learning and the benefits of dialogue and real-life experiences, Halma has more recently offered an inclusive leadership programme for all its executive leaders across the portfolio of companies.

“It was uncomfortable, I think, for a lot of people,” Davies admits. “But it was trying to elevate the real conversations to be had.” She says the exercise brought “very positive” feedback through pulse checks and anecdotal feedback, but it also offered opportunities for improvement and continuous learning.

That initiative illustrates Halma’s grassroots perspective on DEI. Striving to avoid imposing one-size solutions, the group strives to take a more individualised approach, enabling people to bring their ‘best selves’ to work.

Perhaps the most striking illustration of this to date is the offering of 14 weeks’ paid parental leave. The policy applies to parents of either sex and to same-sex partners, adoption or surrogacy – reflecting Halma’s recognition of the variety of modern-day family structures.

For fathers, in particular, the policy’s generosity marks a huge leap from the current UK statutory allowance of one- or two-weeks’ leave. In cases where married couples work in the same company, both qualify for 14 weeks’ paid parental leave. Davies accepts that can be difficult for small companies to cover. However, local leaders embraced it because they saw the policy’s potential to attract talent. “It’s surpassed our expectations in terms of positive impact,” she says.

Autonomous efforts

An individualised approach is a tall order in a group of 7,500 people. It’s made potentially trickier by an autonomous culture. Top-down mandates are not Halma’s style. Each of its approximately 50 companies is responsible for assessing its current position on DEI, and setting its own ambitions alongside the universal board gender diversity target.

“Each company will decide what they are going to do differently – whether it’s the way they recruit, select, on-board, pay or train talent – to get to their objectives,” Davies explains. “The role we play at the centre is to facilitate knowledge-sharing on best practices both within and outside of the group.

There are limits to autonomy. In particular, Halma needs to be able to monitor DEI progress, a task currently constrained by a lack of cross-group data. That’s now being addressed with the roll-out of a common HR platform. But Halma’s overall philosophy won’t change, says Davies.

“Our approach here has always been first and foremost around mindsets,” she says. “If you can win buy-in emotionally, then you’ve got something to work with.”


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