Spotlight on Emma Dawas, HR Director

In the six years since HR Director Emma Dawas joined Scitech, she has made it her mission to enhance the workplace culture to attract and retain exceptional talent. Her steadfast belief is that a thriving company requires a positive and inclusive work environment that fosters collaboration, creativity, and employee well-being. Here Emma sheds light on how Scitech collectively prioritises these aspects and the initiatives that are contributing to success.

Emma is clear in her belief that HR is not responsible for a company’s culture, yet it has been her team’s mission to ensure that Scitech is a supportive and positive workplace. In pursuit of this vision, Emma has overseen several new initiatives designed to help colleagues across the organisation, from introducing a support and networking group for women to EDI plans, well-being initiatives, and an in-house graduate programme to develop the talent of junior team members.

The importance of listening

Yet Emma is keen to point out that, while HR instigated and developed many of the initiatives, they very quickly became owned and run by employee groups. “Our role as an HR department requires listening to our colleagues and responding to their needs,” Emma explains. “We have formal mechanisms for internal feedback and to gather ideas, such as our staff survey and through our employee forums. But many of our ideas also come from just listening, the water cooler moments where someone makes a comment and sparks an idea.

“For example, our Women at Scitech group was created during the Covid-19 pandemic we realised that a new female employee could potentially feel isolated working on her own from home in a male-dominated team. We set up virtual calls to bring our female colleagues together from across our offices to provide mutual support during what was a difficult time for everyone.”

The Women in Scitech Group collectively decide the focus and what issues they would like to tackle. Topics are varied and include women’s health, menopause, attracting women to engineering and construction careers, improving working life for women, unconscious bias in the workplace and gender bias in recruitment.

Emma adds: “Together, the Women at Scitech group has also tackled subjects such as how we ensure its female staff have access to women’s toilets on its construction sites and making sure there is appropriate PPE and workwear clothing for women rather than smaller versions of men’s clothing, which never really fit correctly.”

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace

When considering new ideas, Emma explains that she isn’t just introducing initiatives to please her colleagues. She must carefully weigh the strategic implications. “Ultimately, we’re running a business, and any changes we introduce have to align with our commercial objectives.

“So, the work we are doing on equality, diversity, and inclusion is clearly driven by a desire to do the right thing, but it’s not just that. We know it will make our organization a more diverse and inclusive workplace. It creates a better culture, and it is a positive culture that drives high performance.”

Emma and her team are aware that younger generations hold a greater desire for flexible and remote work arrangements, they demand a higher quality of life with a solid work-life balance and priority on mental health, and they want to work for a company that shares similar values regarding ethics, social causes and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Emma says: “Companies won’t survive if they can’t attract younger staff, so we know this is something we have to get right. We are working hard to ensure that we remain attractive to graduates and that, once they join, we offer a clear career progression path.”

In-house graduate training

Scitech has recently launched its in-house graduate training programme, Xcellerate, which is aimed at recent graduates and trainees from all areas of the company. It provides a comprehensive programme designed to equip participants with the necessary personal, technical, and behavioural skills to tackle the industry’s biggest challenges.

“We also make sure that every employee at Scitech has their own personal development plan that is designed to help them progress on their chosen career path. This could include supporting colleagues to achieve Chartership or an appropriate professional qualification.”

Emma has recently completed her Institute of Leadership and Management Level 7 Executive Coaching and Mentoring qualification, however, she is aware that not everyone wants to continue to study.

“We know that not everyone wants to strive for promotion,” she explains. “So we also include other ways for staff to achieve personal growth and development so that when they come to work, they feel fulfilled.”

Supporting the health and wellbeing of employees

Some of the opportunities available at Scitech include getting involved with various forums or developing new initiatives. For example, the well-being forum has been behind many of the initiatives designed to support the health and well-being of Scitech employees. “Through the well-being forum, we have introduced mental-health first-aiders who can signpost support to those in need. It’s becoming less of an issue now, but part of this initiative is to challenge the stigma around mental health and to make it clear that if someone is struggling for whatever reason, then we will help them – that it’s ok to not be ok and we will support them in whatever way appropriate.”

Summing up her approach, Emma says: “The key to the success of these groups lies in collaboration, joint accountability, and collective responsibility. Relying on one person or a specific team to drive initiatives hinders innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. This is embedded in our roots as an Employee-Owned organisation. We all have a stake in Scitech’s success and so we are all in it together. Collectively, we can ensure we succeed.”

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