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East Midlands Chamber News

East Midlands enterprising women: Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith

From legal and finance to logistics and housing, a wide range of sectors in the East Midlands are blessed with an even more diverse set of female talent in senior positions. To celebrate International Women's Day 2021 on 8 March, East Midlands Chamber profiles the inspiring stories behind 10 of the region's top enterprising women throughout the week.

Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith has spent the past 12 years transforming people strategies in the construction industry, but when looking to what’s next, she delves deeper into her career history.

Reflecting on the accountancy firms that propelled her on a journey towards becoming director of HR and training at national property consultancy Pick Everard, she identifies lessons in their workplace innovations.

The flexible working hours, annual leave and paternity policies they have adopted could help to attract more women to the construction industry, she believes – and unlock its widely-publicised skills shortage.

“It’s no good saying ‘come join us over here’ if, by the time they’re inside the business, people realise they can’t keep the same lifestyle,” says Elizabeth, who previously worked for firms including RSM and Ernst & Young.

“I’m always looking at over at how accountancy firms are so forward-thinking in offering broad flexibility.

“Being brave and taking some of these ideas into construction could open up so many options for a more diverse workforce.”

How Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith turned around company culture

Rethinking the workplace has been a regular theme for Elizabeth since she was tasked with turning around staff culture at BWB Consulting, the Nottingham-headquartered engineering and construction firm she joined shortly after it was forced to halve headcount during the 2008 recession.

As the sole HR professional, she believes everyone was wary of her initially, but over the next decade she implemented a series of changes, including setting up a BWB Academy Programme for skills development and establishing working groups to give employees a voice.

It resulted in the company ranking in The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list during each of her final three years – a challenge handed down by the CEO at the outset – before she departed for Pick Everard in April 2019.

“It went from being a very paranoid business, where people were afraid of receiving a tap on their shoulder to say they weren’t needed anymore, to one where they could have a say in the direction of the company,” says Elizabeth, who had a desire to work on a larger stage as she swapped the 300-strong BWB for Pick Everard, which employs 550 people across 13 UK-wide offices.

The focus this time has been on internal, rather than just external, recognition – as demonstrated by the Being Pick Everard series, which shines a spotlight on employees via podcasts and blogs.

Covid-19 has provided another hurdle for Elizabeth’s HR team but it has responded by creating resilience toolkits, broadcasts, Q&As and surveys for employees.

Diversity and inclusion are two areas she is pushing hard on and she has spearheaded a push for increasing choice of employee benefits and providing more agile career development.

Pick Everard’s workforce is 30% female but it’s 16% at management and leadership. While this is higher than the national average – 22% of roles in the engineering sector are occupied by women – Elizabeth accepts more progress is needed

She adds: “Ultimately, we’re in an industry where there’s a skills shortage and, unfortunately, for a long period of time women have been an untapped resource.

“It’s going to take year to address the balance but we’re seeing improvements in the way things are branded, the language we use, the diversity of choice and the skills we look for, so that women look at the industry and feel there’s a career for them.”

 

This story features in the March edition of Business Network, which has a special enterprising women theme. To read the magazine, click here.

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