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Cardno: gender agenda

Person - Ian Ball © Cardno

Having in recent weeks celebrated International Women’s Day, the corporate world has been at pains to underline efforts to promote and foster greater diversity and inclusivity (D&I) in the workplace. And whilst the consulting & engineering sector has not been amongst the frontrunners in terms of its make-up historically, many amongst its ranks are now taking significant steps to redress deep-rooted imbalances - Cardno included.

It’s an issue that the new CEO and managing director of Australian-headquartered Cardno says is close to his heart (EA 03-Apr-19), and one that he has made something of a personal mission since assuming the leadership of this global infrastructure, environmental and social development business nine months ago. Environment Analyst spoke to Ian Ball to understand the changes that have already been implemented under his watch across the 6,000-strong organisation and the results to date.

"If we’re serious about doing this we’re going to need to be transparent" 

For Ball driving the D&I agenda forward has been a no-brainer; global shortages in staff and a war on talent in the broader engineering consulting field and all its subfields (including environmental consulting) mean that firms are stepping up their efforts to retain existing staff and attract new from a dwindling pool of human resources.

But aside from trying to keep ahead of the competition, Cardno perhaps more than others has been motivated to demonstrate leadership in the sector, which is down to the fact that a sizeable part of its business is focused on international development (ID) activities.

As Ball explains: "Our ID business is working closely with the Australian, UK and US governments on a range of programmes in many developing countries. Many of the themes in those programmes are around promoting human rights and social inclusion, and obviously a significant element of that is focused on women. Working for those clients, our own business is itself closely scrutinised; clearly, we have to ‘walk the talk’ if we are to position ourselves as a credible player in this sector.

"My experience in professional services has taught me that the first cab off the rank when talking about diversity is to focus on gender in the workplace. What I have found is that if you get a better representation - a critical mass - of women then it is much easier to advance other diversity agendas.

"It just makes common sense: different perspectives, management styles and ideas brought about by a more diverse workplace not only improves company culture but also reflects what our clients are looking for in their advisors."

And as both a member of the Consult Australia Male Champions of Change (CAMCC) network and a newly appointed Work Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Pay Equity Ambassador, these aren’t empty words from Ball; gender and inclusivity are very definitely high on the Cardno agenda.

Employer of choice

"We’re working very hard to make Cardno an employer of choice to women and men, by offering an industry-leading parental leave policy; and we’re focusing on gender parity in opportunities such as appointments of principals in our technical excellence programme. The research suggests that to really see a difference, women need to represent 30% of any group; that’s the level where you start to see a real contribution because without inclusiveness diversity means nothing."

Ball is driving Cardno’s gender balance strategy around three key areas:

  • Recruitment - with a focus on developing a supply chain of female talent
  • Promotion - by networking and mentoring females and giving them a platform
  • Retention - by offering flexible leave and working from home to make it easy for women and men to balance family and work

So how does Cardno fare on the female front?

Ball admits that it varies across Cardno’s domestically-focused businesses: "In some parts it’s well above that 30% level, for example, in our US science & environment division, it’s around 40%. But when you move to more traditional engineering type businesses, we don’t do as well; at junior levels it starts off OK but then when you get to more senior grades the gender imbalance rises. Our fact pattern is consistent with trends across the engineering industry, but we are actively looking to break the pattern by implementing our new parental leave policy and mindfully focusing on recruitment, promotion and retention."

That said, looking at Cardno’s core leadership, this is a firm leading by example, with four out of the six key leaders women (excluding the portfolio business), a fact of which Ball is understandably proud.

However, achieving a diverse and inclusive representation, however well-intentioned, is made all the more challenging in the current employment market. The underlying problem is the shrinking talent pool, with falling numbers of graduates in core subjects, and obviously Cardno is not alone in this. It’s something that Ball recently discussed with his counterparts at GHD, Jacobs and Aurecon through the CAMCC.

"The challenge for us in Australia, as elsewhere, is that the pool of women is not big enough. It’s hard to get a 50:50 split when only one in seven at the top levels is female. And it’s not just engineering, this extends to mathematics and science and technology.

"We started talking about how best to address this but frankly the conclusion that we came to was that this is a much bigger issue than us. To really move the dial on this, it’s not just a question of a few well-intended initiatives; we’re going to need to tackle this as large employer groups, working with governments. So we’re taking this to the original Male Champions of Change (MCC) Group which covers the largest employers in Australia."

Mind the gap

But of course, when you look at the female make-up of any given organisation, sooner rather than later, you come to the issue of gender pay gap (GPG).

On this issue at least, Ball has been able to take the bull by the horns, with immediate results, at least within Cardno. Just months into the role, he mooted the idea of a radical overhaul of its existing pay and compensation structures. Furthermore, having learnt the value of data and transparency, he also suggested that not only should they measure the results but also make them public! It took some high-level encouragement…

"In some respects, getting the leadership on board was the first hurdle because going forwards, there’s no guarantee that the gender pay gap will continue to go down. Simply recruiting new staff with increased experience, who happen to be male, could push the gender pay gap in the wrong direction. But I’m convinced that if we’re serious about doing this then we’re going to need to be transparent by publishing the results."

"It’s taken courage," he admits. Not least because, unlike in the UK and other European countries where mandatory GPG reporting for firms over 250 staff is already in place (or currently being brought in), this is not the case in Australia (although it is a policy objective of the opposition Labor Party).

Being a decentralised organisation, compensation increases are pushed down to the various business unit managers who use their own discretion about how they recognise staff that have been promoted or progressed within their levels. That hasn’t changed but after some in-depth analysis, Ball and his team drew up a list of strategic actions and guidelines - covering salary reviews, position classification reviews and unconscious bias awareness - to help steer business unit managers to redress the imbalance.

GPG results

Currently the gross variance pay gap (comparing the difference between male and female average base salary and hence not comparing like-for-like roles) for employees in Cardno’s domestically-focused businesses paid in US$ stands at 10.2%, whilst the adjusted pay gap (comparing the difference between like-for-like roles by men and women) in US$ stands at 2.4% [see table below].

For those employees in Cardno’s domestically-focused businesses paid in A$, the gross variance pay gap is 14.7%, whilst the adjusted pay gap stands at 5.0%. And these figures put Cardno ahead of nationwide benchmarks in both the US and Australia, notes Cardno - with the US Census Bureau and Australia’s Work Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) quoting national gender pay gaps of 18.2% and 16.2% respectively.

Furthermore, Cardno’s figures reflect a positive move year-on-year. "We managed to reduce the adjusted gender pay gap for employees paid in US$ by 47% and for those paid in A$ by 32%," Ball states.

The initiative has been well received amongst Carndo employees, he adds: "I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. I’ve received emails from all over, not just from women but men also, because ultimately, it’s not just about the gender pay gap – although that’s obviously the primary driver – it’s also about transparency at the leadership level."

The plan is to keep the momentum going, with further analysis into the factors contributing to the GPG, ongoing internal training and salary reviews, backed by continued reporting and transparency. "I intend to keep pay gap reduction high on the agenda, both within Cardno and in our industry discussions," Ball concludes.

Graph - Cardno pay gap

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