People First Charter signatories launch ACE and EIC initiative

Organisations should work together to improve diversity and inclusion across the built environment industry.

That was the key message at the launch of the People First Charter, from the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), which took place at UKREiiF.

The People First Charter will support signatories to put people at the heart of their organisation, so they can focus on tackling some of the future’s biggest challenges. 

The charter focuses on behaviours and actions to continually improve organisational culture.

It is underpinned by four guiding principles.

These are inclusivity of all, openness and respect, development and growth and recognition. 

Organisations that sign up to the People First Charter will also be able to share their examples of best practice with other organisations, to encourage shared learning.

Early adopters of the People First Charter came together at the launch to explain why they were keen to get involved.

They included Steve Wooler, chief executive of BWB Consulting, Neil Parkinson, executive director of Curtins, Sarah Bannon, a managing consultant at Ramboll and David Cameron, director of Atelier Ten.

Wooler said: “We’ve been embracing inclusion and diversity for a long time.

“It’s not a race, it’s a journey and we are continually learning.

“We want to be part of the People First Charter initiative from ACE and EIC, partly because we can always learn something from other people but also because I think we’ve got a lot to share about our experiences – what’s worked and what hasn’t.”

He added: “I do really think that companies within the ACE and EIC - even though we are competitors on one level - we are also allies and collaborators on another.”

He added it was important to encourage organisations to come together to tackle skills shortages within the sector and demonstrate “shining examples of great places to work” so that we can show consultancy and engineering as being “somewhere you can forge a really great career”.

Parkinson added: “The reason we are an early adopter of the People First Charter is because we believe in it and the charter reflects the way we run our business.

“What we like about the charter – what resonates with us even more – is that it’s about turning words into deeds, which reflects the journey we are on in terms of the issues around equity, diversity and inclusion.

“The last few years has been about raising awareness and now we are starting to implement initiatives and take actions – and we are starting to make things happen.”

Bannon spoke about the importance of people feeling that their voices had been heard and that they had the opportunity to contribute to achieving an organisation’s goals.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity to put their best foot forward and bring all their ideas to the table – and we will all do better for that,” she said.

“Traditionally, our industry hasn’t been very diverse but there are significant improvements happening.

“We feel the People First Charter is very well-structured and it’s the reporting, review and accountability element that really matters to us.

“It’s not just about signing up to something and ticking a box, it’s about actually having to deliver on commitments.”

Cameron added: “We were looking for someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with us.

“We wanted to pursue an approach that had a collective force towards changing culture and ensure people are treated with respect, whether graduates or directors and make sure people have got a voice and have the confidence to speak up and contribute.

“We felt the charter could support us with that.”

Development of the People First Charter has been strongly supported by Sharon Slinger, of Constructing Rainbows Limited, a diversity and inclusion consultancy that helps built environment firms with their EDI strategy.

Sharon was a quantity surveyor for 20 years before getting involved in diversity and inclusion with her last employer and seeing the significant difference she could make in this area.

“There’s a real business benefit to be gained from, not just EDI, but from putting your people first,” she said.

“If we are going to tackle the biggest challenges that our industry is facing, we need the best people and a diverse group of people in our organisations.”

She added when ACE came to her to talk about the People First Charter, she was keen to ensure it wasn’t just about organisations putting a new logo on their website.

“It was very clear from the start that the People First Charter was about continuous improvement and making sure the signatories are going to put in place clear action plans we can examine at the end of a term, to ensure progress has been made,” she said.

The People First Charter will help organisations with knowledge sharing, by providing templated best practice policies and quarterly newsletters on the progress different organisations are making.

Slinger added: “It’s not about gaining a competitive advantage over another organisation – it’s about improving our whole industry – which is a great industry!”

To find out more about the People First Charter from ACE and EIC, visit

If you would like to contact Sarah Walker about this, or any other story, please email