SSE: Making Inclusion and diversity a priority

Can you briefly talk about SSE and what your role is there?

SSE is one of the UK’s leading energy companies, our core purpose is to provide the energy people need in a reliable and sustainable way. We currently have 500 trainees progressing through their development programmes and we spend an average of £80,000 per person to develop their talent. In my role I lead the creation and delivery of our talent acquisition strategy for our annual intake of circa 100 Engineering Apprentices, Trainee Engineers and Graduates.

I’m responsible for project managing the delivery of our recruitment campaigns, ensuring we have the right quality and supply for our pipeline talent programmes. A key element of my role is to engage with key external stakeholders and manage relationships with universities, colleges, schools and professional bodies. I also support the Group strategy and key goals around Inclusion & Diversity and its implementation specifically within our pipeline talent recruitment campaigns. I am currently focusing on ensuring our recruitment processes and attraction strategy is inclusive, actively working to improve our channels of engagement to encourage diverse applications.

Can you tell us what you are doing to increase the diversity of applicants to your pipeline talent programmes?

Just 30% of SSE employees are women and that needs to change in the company and elsewhere if we are to have an economy and society that succeeds in the long term. Along with other employers in the energy sector, we are facing a significant skills shortage in the next five to ten years as 50% of the specialist and technical workforce in this industry are due to retire; it’s crucial we can fill that skills gap. We need to inspire the next generation of apprentices and graduates to take up the task of helping us keep the lights on.

Our partnerships with organisations such as Skills Development Scotland, Equate Scotland, Teach First, WISE & WES, who all share our goal of engaging more women in STEM, will help us get more women into SSE. We need more women to ensure we’re best equipped as a society to solve tomorrow’s problems because a diverse workforce is a productive workforce. The challenge is to recruit more females into a historically male-dominated industry but also ensuring the women we have working here reach their full potential. There’s an extensive and highly skilled pool of women out there who need to be given the opportunity and support.

We have placed gender diversity firmly at the heart of our Graduate and Apprentice recruitment drive this year and will continue to do so moving forward. We have taken the opportunity to showcase our female colleagues who have found success at SSE within our adverts, web pages, case studies, videos, leaflets and at careers events across the UK.

We’re working with Equate Scotland and Careerwise to offer additional support to female engineering students, including those considering a summer placement with SSE.

We’re also working with Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and My World of Work Live!, a set of STEM interactive exhibits and activities, to raise the profile of STEM careers and apprenticeships at SSE. We have joined forces to hold parents session in the North of Scotland to help young people, their parents, carers and teachers understand the breadth of opportunity STEM careers offer and the variety of pathways into STEM industries.

On top of the work with Skills Development Scotland we have begun a more targeted recruitment drive to bring more women and girls into the industry. SSE has sent its expert mentors into schools and sciences centres across the country to inspire the next generation to take up roles within the industry. Our female engineers spent three days at the Glasgow Science centre talking to young people and their families about the opportunities available in the energy industry. Our apprentices also celebrated apprentice week at the Science Centre by talking with groups from the Princes Trust about apprenticeship career pathways.

We have tried to be more creative with our use of social media, hosting a live Women In STEM Twitter Q & A with BigChoice, utilising Apprenticeship Week and International Women’s Day to push our work in this area. Overall we were delighted to see growth in the number of females applying to our programme, which in turn contributed to an increase in the number of female graduate hires from 17% in 2016/17 to 40% in 2017/18 across our engineering graduate programmes but we know the work is only just getting started. There is a lot more work to do but we’re up for the challenge.

How does your organisation tackle the barriers faced by women in a male-dominated industry?

Our focus across SSE is on developing an organisation where everyone feels included, regardless of their gender, race, religion or any other factor. Through our entry level apprenticeship and trainee programmes, we have particularly tried to ensure we promote female role models through our website, leaflets and blogs. It is important potential candidates can see the diversity existing across SSE, and can hear first hand from those who have built successful careers in our organisation.

As well as focussing internally, it is important to try and break down the barriers that exist across society, and we are honoured to help lead the way with some key initiatives. In June 2015 we announced a new four-year title sponsorship deal for the SSE Women’s FA Cup. SSE has a long and proud history of supporting sport in the UK and this partnership is about sending a clear message about removing barriers. The seven-figure deal includes our promise to invest in the women’s game. This includes significant funding to create a country-wide programme of girls-only football activity. Our aim is to help women and girls reach their full potential, and to date we have helped over 2,000 girls play football.

We are also proud to be involved in a number of initiatives to help encourage more women into STEM subjects at the grass roots level. We have entered into a partnership with Teach First to support initiatives that encourage girls and young women to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and maths and to attract more people with STEM backgrounds into schools serving low-income communities. This partnership will increase the wellbeing, resilience and core skills of female pupils from low-income communities, through a series of bespoke one-day workplace visits, whilst also improving their understanding of industry employment routes.

Can you tell us a bit more about the initiatives SSE run for women?

Across SSE we are proactively involved in encouraging more inclusion and diversity through our organisation. Whether it be upon joining SSE through a fair and transparent recruitment process; supporting ongoing development with robust coaching, learning and training opportunities; or encouraging progression through a number of focussed networking groups, mentoring programmes or work/life balance policies, we are committed to ensuring we are an inclusive employer.

SSE is involved in the production, distribution and supply of electricity and gas, as well as other energy-related services. Our organisation is massively diverse in terms of the opportunities and locations, with each division presenting different challenges to tackle when it comes to inclusion and diversity. Some of our initiatives are implemented company wide, such as the development and implementation of specific recruitment training for our Hiring Manager population. Or the implementation of the everywoman learning platform for our whole workforce, where we see 400 learning hours used per month on average.

Over the past 12 months we ran a Returning Parent Mentoring pilot. Eight mentees were identified from our management population and matched with mentors across the business from late 2015. Guidance was provided to both the Mentors and Mentees in advance of their initial conversations, and a website was developed to facilitate ongoing discussion between the group of mentors and mentees throughout the pilot.

Work life balance means something different to everyone but is equally important to us all. For SSE to attract and retain diverse talent at all levels of our business, it’s vital our people are able to balance their careers with commitments outside of work. We conducted a work-life balance survey and set up a focus group to obtain in-depth insight into the way our employees feel about our offering in these areas and what they think could be done to make it better. We have started the journey of improving our existing policies and initiatives, and developing some new ones to make sure our offering is relevant to everyone.

We ran a pilot Female Returner programme in conjunction with Equate Scotland. We recruited two females who had been out of work for an extended period of time into roles which are historically pre-dominantly male in our organisation. This was a great experience for SSE as we were able to leverage from some specialist females and use their knowledge to help us move forward key business projects, but also enabled the women to gently re-enter the employment market and learn more about SSE. Additionally we have developed a Senior Women’s Network through IMS, and have encouraged 3three of our senior females to be part of the everywomanClub, where senior-level women in organisations and entrepreneurs connect to shape business, and influence change for the advancement of all women in business.

In addition to the group-wide activities, SSE has developed steering groups led by each division’s Managing Director, focussed on more local activities. This has enabled us to gain real momentum on some key initiatives, and drive forward some tangible results to encourage inclusion at SSE.

What are your top tips for employers looking to take positive action?

1) Really celebrate and showcase your female role models.
2) It is important to also include men in your diversity and inclusion agenda.
3) Take advantage of the free advice and support that is available through organisations such as SDS and Equate Scotland.

Can you name some female role models at SSE?

I couldn’t possibly name just one. We have a number of inspiring female graduates on our engineering programme. Caroline Carslaw particularly stands out for me; she has really seen her career flourish at SSE, winning the Rising Star Award at the Utility Week Stars Award. Caroline is on the WES Young Members’ Board and is a true role model for young women considering engineering. She is also one of the fastest rising female rally drivers in Scotland, coming second in the her first Scottish Rally Championship. She really demonstrates that you can be a girl and be an engineer, rally driver – whatever you want to be!

Morna Grant is one of our female apprentices; I first met her about 18 months ago when she had not long joined the programme. She was quite shy and since then I have absolutely loved seeing her grow in confidence as she developed her soft skills during the course of her apprenticeship. Morna is passionate about encouraging young women to see the benefits of an apprenticeship and has been really keen to attend careers events at schools and college, recently speaking at our International Women’s Day event at the City of Glasgow College and also to a group of young people from the Princes Trust at the Glasgow Science Centre. I was over the moon to see her win an award at the Glasgow Kelvin College Summer Awards. The awards recognise apprentices who have demonstrated exceptional levels of perseverance and diligence towards their studies, and whose achievements will serve as an inspiration to other and future learners.

I really enjoy seeing our young female role models inspiring the next generation. Morna and Caroline are shining examples of the opportunities that are available for young people looking for a rewarding career in this industry but there are countless examples throughout SSE.

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