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Costain share their experience of implementing a Women's Empowerment Programme 

By Samantha Anthony – Learning and Development Advisor at Costain

Costain is an inclusive and family friendly employer: we’re committed to tackling systemic barriers to create a psychologically safe workplace, where everyone has equal opportunities to reach their full potential.

We recognise that an inclusive workplace means everyone is valued and feels safe to be innovative, raise challenges and step outside their comfort zone, with the intention of doing things differently to get a better outcome.

A survey carried out in 2022 by our employee led Women’s Network, identified that the main barriers to progression for respondents included a lack of confidence which was highlighted by 50% of the respondents. Individual visibility and challenges with networking also featured highly. 85% of respondents expressed a want for some form of development/progression.

In 2023 we piloted Costain’s first women’s empowerment programme. The aim was to tackle the barriers women face with progressing into more senior roles within our organisation. As the lead learning and development advisory for the initiative, I was keen that this wasn’t another leadership programme – this needed to be more personal and more reflective in style and approach.

The programme provided space for women to come together, the opportunity to conduct self-awareness exercises and time to reflect on what they had heard or experienced, as well as a network of individuals they could relate to.

By the end of the programme the learners would:

  • Be equipped with self-awareness tools to identify their strengths, appreciate how others sees these strengths, and increase their confidence in articulating them with confidence.
  • Feel invested in and seen by senior leaders at Costain, with a strong support network to set them up for success, including senior sponsors and mentors.
  • Be connected with inspiring women, internal and external to Costain, learning from their career journeys how to navigate challenges, define and drive their own career success.

Throughout the programme we also aimed to engage the cohorts line managers with an increase in supporting and advocating for women in the workplace. This included raising awareness of the differences in which men and women approach work.

What are the differences I hear you ask….

There is a lot of evidence out there that suggests that men and women do approach things differently in key aspects of their career. Generally speaking these include:

  • Men tend to overplay their strengths and then moderate their areas for development… whereas women will be overly modest about their strengths and actively look for gaps in their knowledge, skills and experience, which can result in them missing out on opportunities as they don’t put themselves forward.
  • Men will be assertive about their desire for a promotion, the associated increase in their reward package, and be confident that they can navigate the rung of the career ladder. Women on the other hand will continue to accept additional work to prove themselves with less money, and therefore are less likely to be assertive about the need for greater recognition in their reward package.
  • Men will take larger risks and make bigger changes in their career choices… whereas women will rely on their manager to recognise and drive their career and be less likely to be articulate their ambitions.
  • Men will understand the importance of a wide network and formulate a network which will deliver the sponsorship/support to enable their career goals… Women will focus on doing their role to the best of their ability and in doing so may not build a wide network of contacts who could enable their goals.
  • Men will ensure their workload and activity levels are understood by their senior leaders and create time to invest in themselves and for personal relationship/care commitments… Women will often downplay their workload to senior leaders, focusing on role comprehensiveness, and struggle with prioritising their own self-care due to unique challenges in their health.

What’s next?

We learnt a lot for our first cohort and have just launched a cohort 2 which includes additional elements such; extending opportunities for the cohort to hear from external female leaders and to connect with women in other industries, increased opportunities to develop allyship through line managers through raising their awareness of the unique challenges that women face in the workplace and further development of the resource toolkit.

Education will remain a key element of our programme – we want empowerment to include all and encourage individuals to talk to their line managers, teams, colleagues, friends and family about what they have learnt or discovered. Empowered people will be unstoppable!

Read our Social Value Impact Report 2023!

About our guest blogger - Samantha Anthony from Costain

Samantha Anthony has been advising businesses in their learning and development programmes since 2007 and has a broad background across education, nuclear, water and rail sectors. In her current role as Talent and development advisor at Costain, she advises the business on how to develop its people and creates associated programmes and content to meet those defined needs.

Samantha is a coach and mentor to individuals in Costain as well as a Master neuro linguistic programmer and Emotional intelligence practitioner.

A keen learner, she's passionate about developing talent and fostering learning cultures that encourage individuals to take accountability for developing their own knowledge, skills and behaviours in both a personal and professional capacity.