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What it’s like working at… Willmott Dixon

Willmott Dixon consistently places in the top five of the Sunday Times Top 100 companies to work for. Chief people officer Rick Lee, who was made an OBE this year for services to business and equality, tells CM why
Apprentice India Cormack on site in Barking
Apprentice India Cormack on site in Barking

What are your USPs as an employer?

We care about our people. We want them to start and end their careers with us. Our purpose as a business is for our people to live well and work well. We like to have that independently verified: Rick Willmott was voted people-focused CEO of the Year by HR magazine; we came top among UK contractors in the 2020 FT Diversity Leaders list, for the second year running, and have recently been placed in the Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women, for the third consecutive year. Other important benchmarks include being awarded a Platinum Investors in People standard and having a Best Companies three-star accreditation for extraordinary levels of people engagement.

How do you develop staff?

We hold one-to-one meetings regularly to discuss development. Our learning team has converted courses online and added new courses on technical issues and leadership topics which can be accessed anywhere, at any time.

We also have a personal learning fund. People who have reached five years’ service receive £750 to spend on vocational or non-vocational learning. Past examples include people learning to sky dive, to play the piano, to learn ballet or calligraphy.

How important are professional qualifications, such as CIOB membership, for your staff?

Membership of the CIOB is not only beneficial for networking and keeping skills fresh but it demonstrates a high level of confidence in the competence of our people. And that assurance is independently assessed: in our research, 80% of our customers rate our people nine out of 10 or higher, and they highly value the professionalism of our people.

How are you trying to boost diversity?

In the construction industry as a whole only 13% are women but at Willmott Dixon that figure is 27%. We have an ambitious diversity target to have a 50:50 male/female workforce by 2030.

“The industry can’t be sustained for the future if it doesn’t represent all of society. Our people want to work for a company that takes a leadership position on the key issues”

Rick Lee

We have launched a Women’s Leadership Development programme, developed by Cambridge University, as part of our aspiration to achieve gender parity. It’s aimed at nurturing a new generation of women leaders for our company over the next five to 15 years. The good thing about the programme is that it’s open to our supply chain too.

We have rolled out flexible working across the company and we have introduced a home working allowance this year.

We aim to create an inclusive culture. Our conscious inclusion campaign is called ‘If in doubt call it out’. We empower people on site and the office to call out any inappropriate or insensitive behaviour. We have demonstrated how best to do that sensitively in different circumstances.

We are getting our men to act as agents of change too.

The Financial Times diversity leadership list scored by its readers voted us the highest performing construction company in the UK for two years running.

We are also working with the CIOB on a diversity and inclusion (D&I) report. We want to be proactive, to push the agenda across the whole industry. The industry can’t be sustained for the future if it doesn’t represent all of society. Our people want to work for a company that takes a leadership position on the key issues.

How do you look after staff wellbeing?

We have a number of benefits. We launched Thrive, an NHS -approved app to support people’s wellbeing. We offer free health checks and employees have access to a ‘virtual GP’ 24/7.

We have 300 mental health first aiders and we also introduced wellbeing time: one hour in the middle of the day which is blocked-out time, when no meetings are allowed to be booked.

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