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Atkins: Developing and retaining women

Category: Women, Gender Focus, Diversity & Inclusion, Atkins, organisation, board members, female candidate

The words gender focus in white on a red VERCIDA branded background

Move back to the year 2011 when the board members of WS Atkins plc made promises to promote diversity and inclusion (D&I) after the publication of the Lord Davies report28. This report clearly pointed fingers at the low percentage of female candidates, working in publicly quoted organisations, at the board level. The report was an eye-opener that helped Atkins to recognise the benefits of having diverse businesses related to creativity, team bonding & management, better client relationships and financial performance. The firm had instructed every regional centre to develop a suitable action plan that would help to improve diversity within the business. Within the boundaries of the United Kingdom, focus was initially given on eliminating gender biasness. The UK Leadership team of Atkins drafted a GBIP or Gender Balance Improvement Plan that showed the measures and steps that the UK business offered to take over a span of 4 years to improve the gender balancing act.  The ultimate purpose was to support women empowerment on a continuous basis in order that they can position themselves majorly in the senior roles.

Atkins was of the opinion that its external website would result in attracting a huge sphere of applicants by focusing the significance of  collaborative skills and giving value to the efforts of each and every individual. The launch of the website has proved to be effective since it plays a crucial role in demonstrating the commitments made to improve gender diversity using essential images. These images are useful in indicating a big employee base and celebrating the awards and accomplishments of some of the people who are underrepresented (for instance, projects that are led by female engineers).

Flexible working

The inclusion of industry best flexible working practices and policies has been the key element of this strategy. It results in attracting applicants, irrespective of their gender in large numbers and that too, of high calibre. As a result, a very flexible working environment has been created (comprising 35 hours for 4 days, job-sharing, home-working or term-time hours). It has also brought forward awareness of these options, both externally and internally, through a set of 9 videos that display how flexible working has been a reason of big difference to the lives of certain staff (http://careers.atkinsglobal. com/flexible-working). These videos aim in highlighting real life events of people working at Atkins and how their lives have drastically changed with the flexible working process. This helps in making the viewers get connected and empathise on the beneficial part of the flexible work module. However, the reality is something else! Not all the work responsibilities available with Atkins promise to have flexible working hours. In fact, that’s simply not possible for any of the companies. But, then, Atkins takes more initiatives in making the work scenario look friendlier and encouraging for the employees. Experienced professionals are hired for managerial positions to create better opportunities and work environments. At present, 24% of the total live roles have been declared suitable for flexible working. 



The company has worked with both Tier 1 and 2 Recruitment suppliers to understand their awareness in regard to gender balance strategy. Apart from these tiers, there are other recruitment suppliers who were allowed to learn about the gender balance strategy to have a bigger picture of Atkins’ goals and objectives. 


Atkins has developed a sort of e-module to let line managers have a clear perception about flexible working and how they can talk about the same during interviews. Every single job description was reviewed carefully to ensure that the collaborative behavioural aspect is mentioned clearly. At the same time, focus is given on balancing the genders for interview panels. Also, all the interviewers were made to attain a special type of training course and e-learning module to enhance the selection skills and for better decision-making process, without showing biasness towards any specific gender. 


Women’s Development Programme

A 4-day Women’s Development Programme was introduced by Atkins. A total of 320 employees have taken part in this programme, and till now, 18% of the total who attended it were promoted to a new role or promotion. In fact, this programme has proved to bring in positive results to the business improvement and career progression process. 

D&I training

Diversity Awareness Training is primarily for the managers and team leaders to spread diversity awareness. 

Introduction Toolkit

Case studies


Nearly 45% of the employees are of the opinion that flexible work environment will help them fight stress in a proper way.  Source: YouGov Flexible working survey for Opportunity Now 2011 Diversity and inclusion toolkit 57

Flexible training options/ meeting flexibility

Different types of training programmes are being used to minimise the work pressure of employees while ensuring that their personal lives are also well-balanced. Moreover, scheduling meetings to suit the timeline of the employees while ensuring flexibility were focused upon strongly. Employees were empowered and encouraged to speak at the meetings. 

Engagement and retention

Network of women

At one of the main offices of Atkins, a network of women existed. But, it was decided to extend this and set it up across many UK offices, with the support to help it expand. In location that were small and the number of women were not enough to create a network, a toolkit Case Studies I Atkins had been proffered with some ideas for groups that were small. This approach emphasised on what could be accomplished with 2 or 3 people working in collaboration with each other or how they could connect to the bigger network.

Industry awards

The significance of women having prominent role models was realised by Atkins, which supported senior women with obtaining internal and external cognizance via awards for the success of a special assignment or fields that could be spoken about. In order to send the message of the business advantages for Atkins of better gender balance, internal communications were utilised.

Exit interviews

An external firm did the exit interviews for female managers who had made up their mind to lave Atkins. Additionally, HR business partners had a more detailed conversation with women who are leaving at senior levels to get an insight into the reasons for leaving. Atkins realized that the chances of women to seek promotion to higher grades proactively were less than that of men. Also, in case a senior role was advised as being on the line, some women had doubts on their capability to showcase enough proof to what exactly a male dominated panel is. In order to encounter this problem, divisions were asked to speak about the disbalance in gender in their succession plans, recommendations for promotion and senior role shortlists. The nominations for development programmes were also under scrutiny for making sure that these could be availed by all.

58 Royal Academy of Engineering Impact

  • As of March 2015, there were 8,867 unique visits (9,985 views) to the new, flexible and dedicated working page on the website.
  • Till March 2015, 9 videos that encourage flexible working champions have 20,073 views.
  • At the 2013 workingmums.co.uk awards, Atkins bagged the award for ‘Innovation in Flexible Working’ and ‘Top Employer.’
  • Female attrition has reduced by 5%. Tips and Hints
  • When compared to other firms, Atkins made a decision to not provide graduate schemes and apprenticeships that are only female-only in nature. The main objective was to apply a strategy for attracting a vast range of candidates and enhance the count of female apprentices. In 2014, there had been an increase of 1% in the female graduate recruit and 26% of the graduate intake was female. In the number of hours for apprentices, the rate of female recruits rose by 11.5% and 19% of the hires was female.
  • When starting development programmes targeting minority groups, the nomination procedure has to be considered with a lot of care. Since there are chances that line managers might be hindering access to these programmes, self-nomination can be given a thought.

Next steps

On reaching the last phase of a 4-year old gender balance improvement plan, Atkins is focusing on the next stage of its strategy on diversity. The beginning points in developing the new emphasis will be to utilise the WISE 10 Steps diagnostic tool with 3 key groups:

  • The HR leadership team
  • The leadership team of operations
  • Practice directors from every business area

The result obtained from this diagnostic exercise can be utilised to make a plan for diversity initiatives and activities over the coming 5 years. While the emphasis will stay on gender, the present gender balance focus group will develop into a steering group of diversity and inclusion, looking at what requires to be accomplished for all groups of employees in a firm.

Are you interested in a career with Atkins? Please click here.

VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please call 02037405973 or email [email protected] for more information.

We are also officially recommended by Disability Confident as a step on achieving Employer status, please click here for more information.


Vercida logo

VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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