ArticleOctober 18, 2022by included

Achieving success in a white male dominated sector

Included spoke to Marilyn Harris during Black History Month UK. Marilyn is a senior HR Business Partner at McLaren Group, a construction company. This sector is dominated by men, primarily white men. Marilyn shares her experience throughout her career in this context, as a Black woman, and how she has built her success.
Please could you share a short introduction about yourself and your career.

I have worked in HR for over 40 years in retail, publishing, education and construction. I started my career at McDonald’s after finishing college, they offered me a place on their graduate scheme and as much as the attitude at the time was this was not in the same level as other major retail companies I can honestly say the exposure and experience and not to say qualification was second to none and still regarded as once of the best graduate scheme’s. After obtaining my degree I stayed with McDonald’s for a further 4 years as a Training Co-Ordinator/Personnel Assistant, travelling up and down the country opening new stores, training, recruiting etc. I moved to a retail chain and spent 12 years as a Personnel Manager than promoted to a regional HR Manager. I moved into publishing and spent 10 years as an HR Manager (very difficult to break into that sector as my background was retail and was frowned upon but because I had union exposure I was appointed). Only a year in education and now in construction for the last 10 years as a senior HR Business Partner.

Women make up circa 11% of the workforce in the construction sector. Has this lack of representation shaped your experience in the sector throughout your career?

In short the answer is yes. The majority of the roles in construction that are filled with women are in the lower grades ie. Admin roles, L&D, recruitment, HR and very few engineers, project managers, design managers etc and hardly if any board member representation. Lots of companies have recognised this and have created affinity groups (women in construction) etc. It has shaped my career as I have always been the minority as a women and a Black woman so you have to fight harder to be heard and to be taken seriously.

What piece of advice would you give to Black women looking to become leaders in sectors lacking diversity?

As a senior HR Business Partner I have built the relationships with the business I support based on my all round knowledge, hard work, seizing the opportunities to influence and improve processes and procedures to promote diversity such as recruitment, reporting.

Practical steps to improve diversity in your organisation can include:

  • Set up or engage in a Graduate ‘Involved’ Project – linking in with recruitment team to target particular schools
  • Promote and encourage FIR
  • Link in with the resourcing teams to set up webinars to upskill line managers on a fair recruitment process
  • Endorse Unconscious Bias Training and roll out across leadership teams – setting completion targets.
  • Drive a culture that values and embraces diversity in an inclusive, diverse and safe environment.
  • Analyse D&I response data from recent employee pulse survey and develop an action plan should get the buy in from senior leaders.