SSE and Equal Approach won the first ever Diversity Award. Utility Week finds out why.

  • Category title: Diversity Award
  • Award winner: SSE and Equal Approach
  • Annual company turnover: £32.1 billion
  • Employees: 20,000
  • Customers: 5.88 million SSE Energy Service customer accounts; Four million homes and businesses looked after by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks; SSE Business Energy delivers for 500,000 business customers and SSE Airtricity has 750,000 homes and business customers in Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • Entry criteria:
  1. Provide a brief outline of how your business has promoted diversity
  2. Quantify the scale of ambition of your entry, in relation to your company size and size of your customer base
  3. Demonstrate how you have embedded a sustainable culture of diversity within your business
  4. Outline how you have measured the success of your work on diversity and how this measure is verified
  5. Provide details of how your approach to diversity has benefited individuals within your workforce
  6. Demonstrate how you have harnessed the benefit of diversity throughout your business and how you can quantify this benefit

SSE says it is focused on building inclusion into the way it does things as a business at every point in the employee life cycle – from attracting new talent through to people exiting the company.

It takes this approach in place of a “series of one-off intervention” as it believes that building stronger foundations will bring “sustainable cultural change”.

SSE’s work with Equal Approach to measure the financial return of investment in inclusion and diversity saw the company take the first ever Diversity Award at the Utility Week Awards in December 2018.

SSE was recognised for championing diversity at every level of the organisation. The Diversity Award was one of four new categories for the 2018 awards, which were introduced to recognise a wider breadth of achievement within utilities.

A diverse workforce is critical to the future success and sustainability of utilities businesses. The category aims to shine a light on businesses which have gone above and beyond the call of duty in fostering diversity at all levels of the business, whether through support networks, mentoring, HR and recruitment policies or other measures.

In its award submission SSE gave a list of examples of some of the actions it has taken to promote inclusivity. These included:

  • Inclusive hiring manager training as mandatory
  • Weaving inclusive leadership through all management development training
  • Embedding a “working differently” ethos – advocating home working, compressed hours and different start and leave times
  • Enhanced parental leave
  • Sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup
  • Mentor training and mentoring programme
  • Career site review with gender bias language review of all adverts as standard
  • The introduction of shadow boards to bring different thinking to business issues
  • Personal belief coaching for its senior team to help them articulate their personal want for more diversity
  • Researching the accessibility of back office and functional roles in its network business with a view to attract more candidates with disabilities
  • Publicly set gender targets in response to the Hampton Alexander request for 33 per cent female representation at executive level

key drivers

SSE says there are three key drivers which encourages the business to achieve greater diversity.

Firstly, the company recognises it needs different ways of thinking to make sure it is innovative enough to meet the changing customer demands. Consumers are becoming more active than passive and there is government pressure to better educate people on the smart use of energy within their homes. Like other energy companies, SSE needs to find ways to support the electrification of vehicles and heating. It suggests it cannot “simply apply the same routine thinking” to address these new challenges.

The second key driver for the company is the realisation that 47 per cent of those in the “technically qualified and specialist roles” in the industry can retire in the early 2020s – which will leave an industry shortfall of 1.8 million roles. SSE wants to make sure it provides a place that “everyone wants to come to and to progress their careers with”. The UK working population is changing with more women, an increasing ethnic mix, and those registered disabled are the largest growing minority group.

The final focus for SSE is how more diversity, specifically at senior levels, “brings better business results”. According to the company’s award submission even having one woman on a board “reduces the chance of a company going bust by 20 per cent”.

SSE wanted to understand two things:

  • The economic return of the investment made in gender diversity over the last three years
  • To learn more about the specific actions it needs to take to increase the diversity across the whole organisation

In 2017, SSE engaged with inclusion specialists Equal Approach to conduct a return on inclusion study.

A total of 81 data points over 20 categories were reviewed, using qualitative and quantitative research, focus groups, interview feedback and public domain information.

The research scored SSE 67 out of 100 “aspiring”, which showed progress and areas for development. It also revealed for every £1 invested by SSE in gender diversity there was a £4.52 return.

Through the return on inclusion study SSE learnt that by changing its inclusion and diversity strategy its financial return could increase to £15 for every £1 spent.

SSE says it will continue to invest and re-run the inclusion modelling tool for the next two years so it can see any year-on-year shifts, which will allow the company to re-shape its strategy if needed.


Female graduates attracted to SSE increased by 17 per cent to 40 per cent in over the course of one year, while of SSE’s hires across all directorates last year 39 per cent were female – almost 20 per cent up from when it started recording the information in 2013/14.

The company’s intake of BAME employees (black, Asian and minority ethnic people) has increased from 4 per cent in 2013/14 to 9 per cent. Meanwhile it received 16 per cent higher employee engagement index score for those working differently.

SSE’s efforts resulted in the company being placed on the Bloomberg global gender equality index and Equileap’s top 200 gender equality ranking.

The benefit of diversity is “being harnessed throughout the business” by influencing the way the company does things, much “more broadly” than from simply what is being driven through the HR agenda.

“It is rare that inclusivity is not mentioned in any strategic communications across the group both internally and externally,” SSE says.

“It’s this diversity of thinking that brings broader debate, helping inform better decisions and in turn brings better business delivery.”

Winner’s comment

Rosie MacRae, inclusion, engagement and HR compliance lead, SSE

“The return on inclusion research with Equal Approach has focused our minds on the activity that will have the biggest impact on growing a more diverse workforce at SSE. It’s taught us that reviewing the inclusivity of every process, from how people join to how they exit,  will pay back much more than spending time on one off interventions that may simply feel like the right thing to do.”


Dawn Hurst, chief executive, Equal Approach

“The return on inclusion research identified a clear and tangible measure of SSE’s progress on its inclusion journey. Following this, SSE has started embedding the principles of inclusion and diversity holistically throughout its business in order to create a truly inclusive culture and environment.

“Since winning this award, SSE has completed a follow up return on inclusion review to assess the impact that moving from a diversity focused strategy to an inclusion strategy has had over the last 12 months, and it has been fascinating to measure the development and progress that SSE has made in a short period of time.”

What the judges said…

Judges were impressed with SSE’s “clear and systematic approach” to championing diversity at every level of the organisation.

Other shortlisted companies in this category were:

  • UK Power Networks
  • UK Power Reserve

The Utility Week Awards are held in association with CGI, Capgemini and Microsoft

The 2019 Utility Week Awards will be opening soon. Sponsorship opportunities are available – contact Utility Week business development manager Ben Hammond on or 01342 332116 for more information.

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