The Big Interview with Mukta Hashmi

With a proven track record in delivering sustainable improvements, driving value, and positive stakeholder engagement within change environments, she is currently Head of Procurement at Balfour Beatty.

Mukta heads up the function for the Living Places Business Unit, with a focus on collaborative relationships, supply-chain innovation, safety and sustainability.

With a keen interest in ED&I, Mukta recently took up the role of co-chair of the Gender Affinity Network at Balfour Beatty and for Procurement Heads‘ latest Big Interview, she spoke to Hayley Packham about what equality, diversity and inclusion mean to her and how she got into procurement.

What do equality, diversity and inclusion mean to you?  

To me, ED&I is about embracing differences.

It’s about creating an inclusive environment where differences are valued and supported; giving everyone a voice; standing up if someone is being treated unfairly or unequally and it applies in both our personal as well as professional lives.

It is about everyone confidently sharing their identity, feeling that they can be their true, authentic selves and where different perspectives or ways of thinking are the norm. 

The most conducive ED&I culture results in individuals having the confidence that they will be accepted as they are; regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, social background, faith, age, disability, neurodiversity, parental status, marital status, or indeed anything else that makes someone different or diverse.

It means an individual being able to be who they are without worrying about the impact of conscious or unconscious bias, discrimination, prejudices, clumsiness or general ignorance impacting them and their progress through their careers and lives.

ED&I requires everyone to speak up as advocates, allies and supporters to challenge inappropriate or unintended language, behaviours or actions and to do what they can to help remove barriers.

What are your organisation’s most important values?   

Balfour Beatty values are; lean, expert, trusted, safe, and sustainable. Our key behaviours: talk positively, collaborate relentlessly, encourage constantly, make a difference and value everyone, reflect the things we do to consistently deliver to the standards set in the values. 

We are committed to creating a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture that nurtures people where everyone can fulfil their full potential. Great progress has been made to embed inclusivity within the business and with our rolling 3-year Diversity and Inclusion action plan, Value Everyone, this remains a top priority; we respect individual perspectives and experiences and are open to learning and making changes based on different views.

Balfour Beatty cares about its people – a company that takes its responsibility as a custodian of the planet seriously and gives back to the communities it works in and with.

We want to be known as an organisation that is always innovating and constantly improving to leave a positive legacy. 

How important is diversity to you? 

I am a UK-born female of Indian descent, and by default fall under two under-represented groups, as well as the fact that I am a full-time working parent, which has its own challenges.

I am conscious of the possibility that I could easily have been held back professionally by sheer virtue of any of these factors and I count myself fortunate that I have always had open-minded leadership and not faced many barriers.

That said, it is important to be mindful of the fact that people are impacted by ED&I issues daily, and I am committed to doing what I can to influence improved change. 

With more open discussion about ED&I taking place in the workplace, over the past year I have got involved in the Balfour Beatty Affinity Networks, initially with the MCAN (Multi-cultural Affinity Network) Steering Group and as an ED&I Procurement Champion, progressing into taking up a Co-Chair role for the Gender Affinity Network.

I am also a Reverse Mentor to a member of the Group Board as part of the Balfour Beatty EXCO Reverse Mentoring scheme. Despite a very packed day job, I have stepped up to these initiatives and programmes as I want to influence change to move the dial.

To complement the professional reasons, ED&I is also of importance to me in my personal life; I have experienced interfaith prejudice due to my choice of husband as he is of mixed heritage, and not the same race or religion as me.

The family I married into is a very diverse one, combining a range of faiths, races and nationalities and I have seen first-hand the value and benefits from the sheer diversity of thinking and perspectives, whilst remaining in harmony as a unit, celebrating and valuing each other’s differences. 

Has your approach to ED&I had to change as a result of the pandemic, and if so how?  

Our approach has not necessarily changed as a result of the pandemic, but our way of engaging on it has, mainly with the move from face-to-face interaction to other remote means.

ED&I was already a key area of focus at Balfour Beatty and we had gained a lot of traction with a clear strategy for driving success. In particular, great work had been done around bringing race discussions to the forefront, especially with our Multicultural Affinity Network (MCAN), where we had scheduled some ‘Let’s Talk about Race Webinars’.  

The switch to people working from home using digital technology such as Teams and Zoom to hold webinars and meetings provided the opportunity to reach a wider audience, facilitating the scheduling of meetings, training, webinars, events and so forth to communicate, share content, train, educate and generate debate with employees and leadership.

As a result of all the increased engagement over the past year, talking about ED&I has now become natural and is more readily embraced as a sustainable change, rather than seen as a passing fad or something to give lip service to. 

How does your company’s hiring process align with its ED&I goals?  

The ED&I goals are fully aligned with hiring talent. One of the 5 objectives of our ‘Value Everyone Plan’ is ‘Creating Opportunities’. This is about recruiting and retaining the best available talent, representative of the communities in which we operate to enable us to create high-performing, innovative teams and meet the future skills demand. 

 It is key that we are recruiting from diverse candidate pools and with hiring being a key area that we need to address, ‘License to Recruit’ training has been developed by HR and the business to support hiring managers in managing recruitment and selection in an inclusive way, ensuring people are equipped to manage the process effectively.

License to Recruit is a fully accredited programme and will become mandatory as a precursor to anyone being able to shortlist and interview. This is quite a game-changer approach and I feel very positive about the investment being made to implement and roll out the programme across our business. 

Does the business have diversity programmes in place?  

We recognise that to achieve meaningful, sustainable changes, change must be led from the top. 

Leo Quinn, our Group Chief Executive, is the Board Level Sponsor for D&I, ensuring momentum and the start of a true cultural shift throughout the organisation. Below the Sponsor level, we have the UK D&I Steering Committee, which flows down into the UK D&I working Group, and finally into Strategic Business Unit D&I groups.  

Our D&I goals focus on 5 key areas: leadership, communication, culture, creating opportunities, and community and supply chain. Wrapping around the governance structure are the four employee-led Affinity Networks.

These help us to build understanding in all areas of diversity and inclusion, and to make meaningful changes in the medium to long term.

They help to formulate action plans for us to take forward and promote a more inclusive workplace that enables innovation, understanding and harmony.

The four groups are Ability, LGBTQ+, Multi-Cultural and the one I have been a co-chair of since March 2021, Gender.

In addition, we also have training and development programmes recognising some of the challenges faced by women and other under-represented groups, such as ‘Empower’ and ‘Thrive’.

These have been very successful and demonstrate our commitment to removing barriers for these groups of employees to help them progress in their careers.

How does ED&I contribute to achieving the business’ goals?   

As a company, our vision is for a truly diverse workforce for our business.

We want to be an employer of choice for high-quality talent, irrelevant of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, social background, faith, age or disability, not only because this is the right thing to do, but because it makes us a better business. 

I have heard many people simply cite ED&I ‘is the right thing to do’, but I believe it is much more than that and it is incumbent on everyone to play their part in moving the dial; being inclusive needs to become an embedded part of the company’s culture and DNA.

Having a welcoming, supportive, safe and fair workplace for everybody to be themselves helps to build a competitive advantage by enhancing our capacity for innovation and creativity and supporting each employee to perform at their very best.

The business case for ED&I includes meeting current and future skills demands, broadening talent pools, retaining experts, achieving greater creativity and innovation, strengthening the employee experience and enhancing business performance.

What role does procurement play in ED&I considerations?

Procurement plays multiple roles in ED&I considerations. 

We should be ensuring that we have a diverse team within the procurement department across all levels, and recognising that we still had some work to do in this area, the Balfour Beatty procurement leadership kicked off a Champions ED&I group in 2020, to ensure we drive this forward. 

Procurement also has a role to play by aligning our diversity goals with the supply chain; alignment is key because ultimately, the supply chain (particularly sub-contractors) represents Balfour Beatty and we need to be aligned in culture and objectives. 

ED&I has a similar business case with supply chains as it has within the company.

Diversity within supply chains provides the opportunity for new ideas and solutions, boosts competitiveness and can facilitate the way for market growth. It also keeps with our Sustainability strategy, “Building New Futures”, because selecting diverse supply chains can reduce socio-economic inequality and create stronger, more stable communities.

Our ‘Value Everyone’ Plan includes “collaboration with the supply chain to achieve D&I goals together” as one of the five goals, and this demonstrates that Balfour Beatty recognises their fundamental importance in moving the dial. 

How does the organisation celebrate its diversity?

Much of the diversity celebration is led by the four Affinity Networks, supported by Group and is generally around national and international celebrations pertinent to the members and allies, for example, in the Gender network, we celebrate International Women’s Day, International Women in Engineering Day, International Men’s Day, and so forth.

For LGBTQ+ there is currently a lot of focus and publicity around celebrating Pride.

In Ability, among other events, we recently supported Mental Health Awareness Week, with a full programme of events and activities.

Within the Multi-Cultural network, we celebrate key religious dates and provide education around festivals. For example, recently we gave guidance around Ramadan and how to support our colleagues who were fasting.

One of the best celebrations of diversity takes place in National Inclusion Week in September, which we start planning for in June as there is always a packed and insightful programme, focusing on different areas of diversity each day. 

We use ‘Yammer’, an internal platform, to communicate as a means of social media across the company, and each Affinity Network has its own page which is a great way to share updates and celebrate.

What keeps you enthused about procurement? 

I am one of those annoying people who absolutely loves their job and waxes lyrical about it! Being in Procurement means you get to influence both top-line growth and bottom-line performance.

People in the function know that what they do and how they manage that supply partner relationship will have a direct link to a company’s success and reputation.

There is so much opportunity for engagement and collaboration with a variety of both internal and external stakeholders and I find I am constantly challenging, learning, educating and applying best practices. 

What has kept me particularly enthused is working with stakeholders who have resisted the procurement function previously; it is really rewarding influencing stakeholders and change their perceptions by seeing procurement transform into an integrated and value-added function rather than being regarded as a blocker where the ‘computer says no’.

It’s also rewarding to build collaborative relationships with the supply chain and know that the way you work with them can result in a competitive edge for your company.

As I have progressed to more senior roles aligned to business units, it’s also been great to look beyond the function and apply my skills, personality and knowledge to influence the overall direction of the business; being able to add value that goes beyond my procurement and supply chain experience.  

I also enjoy the leadership of procurement; getting to know members of my team as individuals, helping them develop and grow in confidence, watching their enhanced credibility with stakeholders and seeing them progress.

I am particularly encouraged by seeing emerging talent, both graduates and apprentices, choosing procurement as a career path.

Tell us about your procurement journey to date and what made you choose procurement as a profession.   

I selected the Apprentice path after my A-Levels and did a Business Management Apprenticeship with GEC Marconi.

The structure was four different three-month placements across various commercial functions in year 1, followed by two longer six-month placements in year 2.

I really enjoyed the three-month procurement placement and decided that would be one of the areas I would specialise in for year 2. During this period, I developed extensive knowledge of procurement activities and cross-functional interdependencies during the design, conception, development and pre-production stages of what was at the time, innovative and cutting-edge technology (one of the first videotelephony products in the market.

At the end of my placement, we were at the initial startup phase, ramping up for production which had been outsourced to a contract manufacturer. I was delighted at this stage to be offered a role as Materials Planner, responsible for managing the manufacturing partner for production planning, materials control and new product implementation. 

I have stayed in the supply chain and procurement function ever since, with experience gained across a diverse range of industries and sectors, from Engineering, Manufacturing, Telecommunications, Aviation & Defence, Construction, Facilities Management and Corporate Real Estate.

My journey has covered the end-to-end sourcing, procurement and supply chain management processes from both a strategic and operational perspective.

The early part of my career was in Planning and Master Scheduling, moving into Directs Procurement and then onto the management of Electronic Manufacturing Service (EMS) providers.

Since 2008, my career has shifted from an operational focus into more senior leadership roles; a key focus since has been to lead and transform the procurement function in the organisations I have worked in, with many being newly created roles. 

I love procurement and I’m really pleased to have had a say in selecting this as a career choice, rather than ‘stumbling into it’ which is quite common amongst my peers. I am also grateful to have experienced such diversity within the function and to have had insight into so many different aspects, allowing me to take best practices, skills and insights to apply to the different industries I’ve worked in.

What barriers have you faced – if any – as a woman in the industry?   

Although most of my career has been in industries that are traditionally male-dominated, I do not feel that I have faced any barriers that my male counterparts would not have faced.

The usual barriers I encounter are about procurement not being a credible or trusted function, or about being new to an industry and needing to prove yourself at the start; neither of these is particularly gender-related. 

When I first joined construction, I often found myself to be the only female in the room, and as the years have progressed, it’s been great to see better gender diversity develop. 

It has been challenging at times being a full-time working parent and trying to juggle a demanding career, but I have been fortunate in most of my roles to have had flexible leaders. I do wonder in hindsight if I should have just openly justified a case for more flexibility, where I felt I wasn’t achieving a good balance, rather than be concerned about the perception that people would think I was asking for special treatment as a working mother. 

Although not a barrier, what I have regularly encountered, and it is likely by having a foreign name, rather than any gender stereotypes, is that people (of all genders) automatically assume I am a man and I am used to being addressed to me as ‘he’ or ‘Mr’. 

When this happens, I have just learnt to correct the person and move on.

What skills and attributes do you believe help women progress in their careers?   

These are skills that all genders should possess to be successful in their careers, however in my experience, some of these come more naturally to women, and these should be capitalised on, rather than try to replicate what have historically been seen to be more masculine attributes.  

A key one is high emotional intelligence and self-awareness which is essential to lead, motivate, manage conflict and help navigate the social complexities of the workplace. Other important skills and attributes are being: agile, pragmatic, an effective communicator, having the ability to build powerful networks, and the gravitas to influence, collaborate, engage and manage stakeholder relationships at all levels to gain buy-in and win hearts and minds. 

It is also important to be resilient, and decisive, keep raising the bar and believe in yourself. It’s easy for women to allow imposter syndrome to hold them back, so it’s key not to allow it to be an inhibitor.

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

Being a workaholic, spare time is a bit of a luxury as I spend a large portion of my non-working hours playing taxi to my two teenage boys. However, with my 18-year-old having just passed his driving test, I am hoping that it is payback time and he can start to ferry his 16-year-old brother about!

I love socialising, eating out and travelling the world. Inevitably, all of these have had to go on hold since the pandemic, so I’ve been so excited to be able to start doing the first two again and I look forward to rebooking cancelled travel when restrictions fully lift. 

To offset my love of food, I’m a keen runner, albeit a slower one who enjoys the social side more than the competitive element, and have a lovely collection of Half Marathon medals, which I keep adding to. I am a regular at my local gym, having a love/hate relationship with HiiT classes and morning boot camps, moaning all the way through but always finishing with a huge smile.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be authentic and be you; the more established I have become in my career, the more liberating it has been as I have learned to accept myself as I am and be true to myself. The younger me tried to maintain a ‘professional’ persona and tone down my natural personality; however, that isn’t necessary; you can be professional and yet keep your identity.

The other two bits of advice I would have given (and probably still need to at times) is: firstly, stop to savour and celebrate success – don’t rush straight onto the next challenge, without giving yourself that pat on the back and recognising the achievement; and secondly to accept that ‘you are enough’ and not compare yourself to others: if everyone else believes in you, then please believe in yourself…don’t let those nagging doubts or imposter syndrome feelings hold you back. 

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.   

I did a photo shoot and interview for a national Sunday newspaper supplement about 10 years ago, which took me right out of my comfort zone; the photos were of me modelling bikinis, knowing I wasn’t exactly what I would call ‘beach ready’.

It was a feature to promote positive body image, and despite my initial discomfort, I wanted to take the opportunity to inspire others to accept themselves whatever shape they are. I wanted others to believe they can be content as they are, rather than constantly striving for the perfect figure and comparing themselves to others.

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