Mark Lomas is Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd, he talks exclusively to Prosper this month about the way in which the company recruits its people and its approach to EDI.


HS2 will be a world-class feat in British engineering and I’m proud that we’re applying that same standard of excellence in our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and the way we recruit our workforce and support their career progression. 


Bringing in people from different backgrounds, with different histories and different ways of doing things gives us a wider range of ideas and a greater insight into what is needed to deliver HS2. Crucially, with a skills shortage in our sector, this also helps to establish a greater and more sustainable talent pipeline into, and beyond, the next decade.


I joined HS2 in 2016 and was impressed by the organisation’s commitment to driving change. I knew we had a great platform to build upon, as a longevity project of this scale offers unrivalled opportunities to tackle issues such as the underrepresentation of diverse groups in the sector. And we’ve really focused our efforts on reversing that trend. 


My mantra has always been that EDI should be treated like an engineering problem - find the solution and fix it. Organisations often make the mistake of directing their focus on fixing the people, but that’s not where the solution lies. It hasn’t worked in 20 years and it’s not the way to successfully drive change. 


Women, BAME and disabled groups are ready to be recruited, to be leaders, to shape organisational culture. To facilitate this, organisations need to fix the system; by changing their recruitment models, reassessing promotion criteria and working hard to eliminate the effect of bias on selection processes. Change the way you recruit and the evaluation methods you deploy, and diversity will happen naturally.


At HS2, we piloted Blind Auditioning. It’s not about removing a person’s name from their CV or application; it goes much further than that. Instead, Blind Auditioning removes the CV or application form process entirely and replaces it with skills-based assessment, derived from the job description and curated by the hiring line manager. When we put this into place, shortlisting success for women jumped from 17% - 47%. For BAME groups, shortlisting success rose from 14% to 50% - all based on technical competence for the role. We learned how to fix the system and the change was significant.


It’s practices like this that we’ve encouraged our construction partners and their suppliers to learn from and adopt. Over 2,000 British businesses already form part of our supply chain and thousands more will join as main construction works begin in just a few weeks’ time. When you think about that, that’s when you really begin to understand the enormity of HS2’s potential as a driver for positive change.


From the outset, we established a contracts framework that set clear EDI outputs for every business that joins our supply chain plays and plays a part in delivering HS2. Essentially, that means it’s not just HS2 delivering improved EDI outputs, it starts happening in businesses across a vast range of sectors up and down the country.

Without doubt, achieving good EDI practice means instilling a ‘no excuses’ culture. When leaders are engaged and held accountable, that’s when progress really happens. 


This year we took our commitment to the next level by appointing our non-executive board member, Judith Hackitt, as Board Diversity Champion to scrutinise our EDI performance. We also signed up to Business in the Community’s Race at Work Charter; an initiative designed to improve employment outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees in the UK.


It’s that process of continuous challenge and not falling into the trap of thinking early successes will deliver a long-standing change in culture that matters.


In May, we also became the only company in the UK to have achieved a Gold standard rating in all four categories of the Clear Assured best practice benchmark. The benchmark is accredited by the Clear Company, who are the recognised leaders of inclusive recruitment and talent management insight, training and technology in the UK. 


Our Gold accreditation was the result of an intensive two-year assessment programme, which included auditing over 120 policies and documents which were submitted as evidence. For me, this was a huge milestone in our journey. Retaining a diverse workforce is just as important as attracting one, and we knew that a thorough assessment of our practices right across the business would really help to embed diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organisation. 


I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and how this is making HS2 a great place to work, but I know we can do more. HS2 will support over 30,000 jobs at peak construction, which means over 20,000 people are yet to play their part. It’s important that we keep challenging ourselves to ensure that over the next decade, HS2 is designed and constructed by a workforce that is truly representative of the communities it serves.

Mark has been recognised in People Management’s Top 20 Power List, which champions individuals across the country who have made the greatest impact on diversity and inclusion on the ground, whether through academic work, campaigning activities or speaking engagements. 

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