Q&A: Helen Robinson: “Our people don’t just work for themselves – they work for the whole population”

Author: PM Editorial | Date: 9 Mar 2016

Atkins’ head of talent management explains why its women’s business network is going from strength to strength

Helen RobinsonAhead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday 8 March we spoke to Helen Robinson, head of talent management at Atkins, a global design, engineering and project management consultancy, who explained why initiatives such as the firm’s Women’s Business Network are so useful for women and organisations in the region.

What is the women’s business network?
Atkins in the UK has had a women’s leadership council for quite a while, so a couple of years ago a few senior women and I got together and said it would be really nice to have something like that in the Middle East.
It didn’t make sense to have a leadership council in the Middle East – we have around 2,500 employees in the region, compared to over 10,000 in the UK – so we set up the women’s business network instead. It’s very inclusive, and is open to women at all levels of seniority.
We got a group of people together and tried to come up with a diagonal slice of the organisation, to get a good mix of cultural groups and different ages, people at different stages in their life, some with children some without. That was set up in the summer of 2014, and we quickly realised we couldn’t have a group of people meeting up, because that’s too much like a coffee morning. We needed to have some areas of focus, so we set up seven projects, which cover areas such as health and wellbeing, networking, mentoring and a buddy scheme.
What has been its biggest success?
The networking project has been the most successful because it works on a number of levels. We have one annual networking event, which is open to all women in the region, and men now too. We have a networking event in Dubai for 100 people and a couple of smaller, local events. It’s very well supported and appreciated by everybody.
At every event, we have a particular theme or topic that we want to focus on and we invite external speakers to come and give a talk. For example we’ve had Carol Talbot (a training consultant and motivational speaker) come and talk about influencing people and building rapport and confidence, which has been really well appreciated by men and women alike.
We’re starting to get interest from other organisations in the region that are looking to start their own women’s networks and follow our lead, which is great to see.
Why is international women’s day important in the Middle East?
It raises awareness of the gender issue, which is increasingly prominent in the agenda of many large and small organisations. Of course, it has been well documented in the press that having women on the board and in teams gives a different dynamic to the way those teams and boards operate.
Our people are largely designers, architects and engineers who don’t just work for themselves – they work for the whole population, producing an urban environment that everybody experiences. So we, and other organisations in the region, need a diverse range of people in the workforce that are going to reflect that.