International Women's Day: The conversation at John Laing

JL IWM Insight Asset

John Laing firmly believes that the most successful teams are those with a diverse range of experience, backgrounds, and problem-solving skills. Good diversity, equity, and inclusion management also helps improve the bottom line, opening up new markets, and improving employee satisfaction and retention.

In short, diversity is vital to our success.

So far, we’ve made great progress with 47% of our workforce are now women. However, we are still striving for more and our focus now turns to increasing female representation at senior levels.

“At John Laing, success means continuing to evolve our business”, says Andrew Truscott, CEO. “That is why we are committed to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am proud of what we have achieved so far but recognise there is more to be done to ensure we have true equality and inclusion throughout our global business. International Women’s Day is an important moment to reflect on the talented and skilled women in our business, representing the industry and John Laing every day at work. Everyone is valued at John Laing and together we make an exceptional team.”

“We hold John Laing to the highest standards when it comes to diversity in the workplace – standards which demand action over indifference. Our value of diverse perspectives, is best demonstrated when we give diverse voices across John Laing a chance to tell us what’s important and how we can improve.” Claire Silver, Chief People Officer

To mark International Women’s Day 2024, we kicked off a conversation with a handful of John Laing’s employees across the globe, on the experiences that have shaped them and their views on how to grow female representation in the business – and the infrastructure industry more widely.

What’s clear is that discrimination is not always easy to spot or define and can be shaped by women’s experiences in society as well as in the workplace.

As Tanja Atanasova, John Laing’s Head of Portfolio Performance and Risk, says, “There are two parts to gender equality – explained and unexplained. Explained differences are those around educational level, qualifications, work experience, job type, and hours worked. Unexplained is what we call discrimination. It can be unconscious as well as conscious.”

Lara Patterson, Office manager and Executive Assistant in Sydney, reflects that, “Those that have risen through the ranks are often also raising young children and have less support at home than their male counterparts. Feeling compelled to excel at both challenging roles, some women in leadership roles work around the clock and end up exhausted or burnt out.”

“My journey through motherhood was filled with a lot of guilt because I was the only woman who was not always driving her kids around”, echoes Estefania Leon, a Director from Bogota, Colombia.

“It was hard, but my mother was always there saying, you have to do this, you're doing the right thing, and your kids are going to grow up free of the stereotype of what a mother should be.”

Women often rely on female role models at work and a support system at home to make their career success possible.

As Tanja reflects, “I've been extremely lucky that I've had great champions in my career that I've not felt like I've ever had to jump over hurdles being a woman, but I've always had a hand there that's helped me, whether they've actually meant it or just inspired me in a different way.”

“I was in the European Investment Bank with the Margaret Pennisi, who is this very smart Italian lady, that climbed the corporate ladder there as well in a very large institution. She was very, very inspiring because she had a similar background to me and was not just successful, she was also liked by a lot of people.”

 “As I started growing early in my career”, says Estefania, “I realised that I was the only women left from either my high school friends or my university friends or this cohort of investment banking analyst. I was almost the only one left.

 “I realised it was partly because I always had this support network around me telling me my career was important and they were ready to chip in. My mother-in-law and my mother were very supportive in terms of taking care of kids or filling in the gaps. But there were a lot of women left behind because they didn't have the same network or the same safety net that would allow them to grow.”

 Workplaces also need to play an active role in supporting their female employees and foster diversity in practical ways.

 Tanja Atanasova says that “all the tools for growth should really come from enforcing a culture of equality, and that comes from increasing understanding through things like knowledge sessions and training”.

 “Flexible working is a key area where we have seen significant change borne out of necessity when we were all required to work from home during the pandemic”, says Lara.

 She also advocates more transparent salary ranges, diversity education programmes and fostering inclusive cultures that allow everyone to thrive.

Kara Vague, Asset Management Director in New York, agrees that whilst “a lot of people have diversity front of mind, inclusion is also really important. We've seen better flexibility, better working conditions, better policies for parents, not just about maternity leave, but about paternity leave as well, better access to mentors and more focus on how we can continue to do better in this space.”

 For me unconscious bias is huge and so we should try to speak about it as much as possible”, says Estefania.

 “When you do that, bias becomes conscious and once it becomes conscious, we can start working around it.”

 John Laing has made good progress in supporting its female colleagues as well as promoting inclusion across the business.

 Kara says that John Lang was “incredibly supportive” when she was going rounds of egg freezing.

 “They gave me a lot of flexibility. I felt so grateful to work in an organisation like this and with great people. I'm honoured to work in an organization with such amazing women and men as well who I think are going to support the future women in the organisation.”

 Estafania notes the role of the John Laing Women’s Network in shaping the support provided to employees.

 “A big focus in on attracting more women. But retention is also so important. Once we've got them, what do we have to do for them to stay here.”

 “As a female I feel valued in John Laing”, says Tanja.

 “What John Laing needs to do as an organisation now is to include more representation of women and leadership positions. That starts with recognising the challenges that women face in reaching higher positions. Because only by recognising those challenges will women be given the opportunity to get to the positions.”

“I also think it’s important to provide more transparency in terms of pay disclosure and set some objective criteria on pay and promotions.”

 All agree that International Women’s Day is an important marker to recognise women, take stock of the issues that still need to be tackled, and for men to take opportunities to support and advocate for their female colleagues.

 “International Women’s Day is beautiful,” says Tanja. “It gives recognition to all women, especially the ones that might feel very small in certain settings. It doesn't matter whether you're a man or a woman, you should celebrate every day and your own success.”