National Highways Case Study: Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity, and the procurement process

National Highways are committed to providing an inclusive and connected workplace, in which individual’s differences are understood, valued and respected. The diversity of our workforce is central to who we are, and we have set progressive and challenging public-sector equality duty ambitions and objectives that follow the 2020-2025 timeline of our second road investment strategy.

We are ambitious in building an inclusive culture that encourages, supports and celebrates diverse voices to improve the experience of our people, supply chain and our customers.

Our approach varies contract to contract as we consider the value, length, and subject matter of the contract. Procurers have the flexibility to choose where in the tender equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) questions are asked.

At selection questionnaire stage we use all or some of the PAS91 questions. PAS 91 is a standardised pre-qualification questionnaire commissioned by Government and is a recommended common minimum standard for construction procurement.

This can then be followed by a more detailed ask in the invitation to tender about previous EDI activity and what the supplier intends to deliver should they be successful. EDI quality promises are monitored through the contract delivery.

Within the scope there is a requirement that suppliers develop and then deliver against an inclusion action plan (IAP). This plan is monitored and scored either on a quarterly or 6 monthly basis.

The inclusion action plan focusses on the following three priority performance areas:

– To create inclusive working culture, practices and environments that enable everyone to perform to their full potential

– Consider and value the diverse needs of customers and neighbouring communities at all stages of the framework/ scheme

– Develop wider supply chain capability around EDI


Within three months from the beginning of the contract (or at any other time as defined by National Highways Performance team), the supplier Contract Manager should have:

– gathered baseline intelligence

– analysed this intelligence to identify likely opportunities presented by the contract

– developed an evidence based inclusion plan


The inclusion action plan should start with baseline data and intelligence. This will help demonstrate how an action has driven improvements when the data is resubmitted later. The IAP actions must have clear ownership at an appropriate level, are monitored regularly, action taken to ensure progress and to evolve the plan in the light of new intelligence/ evidence gathered. The IAP needs to include:

– The objectives – the issue you want to address (e.g. under representation of a specific group)

– Current position – where you are at the start of the contract

– Action/task to meet requirements – what are you going to do towards meeting your objectives

– Time frames – when will you take the action specified above

– Person responsible – who will be responsible for this action

– Update


Plans are scored based on whether activity has been delivered and if that activity has driven quantifiable change. The actions that drive change are shared on a Teams EDI site for all suppliers to see and replicate if they wish. We run masterclasses and lunch and learn sessions where suppliers share more details on those actions that are driving change. We are in the process of creating a ‘lite’ version for tier 2 suppliers and below to use.

Much of our other supplier EDI activity includes;


Gathering intelligence and insight on our supply chain.

We have run an annual data benchmarking activity for many years but for the last 3 have run it in conjunction with HS2, Network Rail and TfL. This gives us a picture of the diversity of talent within our sector. Since 2020 we invited SME companies to take part and they made up a third of submissions. In 2021 we worked with the supply chain sustainability school to create an online tool to collect data. A small number of suppliers helped with the testing and the design and as a result more suppliers provided data. Each year we see an increase in suppliers submitting better quality data with reductions in ‘unknown’ and ‘prefer not to say’ in both the ethnicity and disability categories. Last year we had over 220,000 pieces of data which far exceeds the workforce data held by ONS for our sector.

Our data collection activity has influenced the Infrastructure client group, Construction Leadership Council and the Major Projects Association who are promoting a similar approach.


Supplier Engagement

We recognise the best way to learn is from others. We routinely hold Masterclasses where suppliers shared their learning and good practice, since moving these online we have seen an increase in suppliers attending.  In the last two years we have run 5 masterclasses which focussed on;

1. How to engage with schools

2. Personal safety for all

3. Customer service

4. Using data to drive change

5. Developing supply chain capability


All presenters are either from National Highways, our supply chain, or our client peers.

We also run annual events with the last one focussing on Connecting Customer and Communities and shared best practice from both road and rail.

Feedback showed many would go and use what they had learned. In December 2021 we collated data we held on our key and strategic suppliers to create an EDI league table. There was a clear correlation between attending events and learning from others and how well they delivered EDI on our projects.


Supplier Diversity Forum (SDF)

Supplier Diversity Forum (SDF) is a collaborative group that was set up to support the delivery of National Highways equality objectives and to benefit members in their work to improve business performance. In 2018 we revised our SDF so that it would;

1. Improve inclusive behaviours: acting as role models within the industry

2. Share learning: commitment to sharing good and bad practice to help accelerate the pace of change

3. Adopt best practice: looking inside and outside of industry for leading edge practice in the field of EDI

4. Create catalysts who would work together to drive change within National Highways  supply chain

Sub groups focus on specific topics and share their learning widely. The SDF feeds into our wider supplier engagement council so that we continue to create catalysts for change that continually learn from their peers.


Collaboration with supply chain school

We have developed a closer working relationship with the supply chain sustainability school develop because of our enhanced membership. We have been able to utilise their resources for our suppliers and worked in conjunction with them to develop a FIR learning pathway and the creation of new tools.

An EDI growth matrix developed with Supplier Diversity Forum is now the self-assessment tool for the FIR programme and used across the sector. This was launched in November so all members of the school can assess their EDI maturity and be signposted to resources which would help them improve. We are now working with the school to develop some e-learning modules and a toolbox talk.

We are also in the process of rolling out a supplier development system which will support our supply chain in aligning to our priorities. Within this EDI is requirement. The system requires our tier 1 suppliers to cascade the ask down their supply chain to create end to end awareness and capability.


Active Research project

In September National Highways began working with Leeds University Business School to undertake research looking at;

1. how diversity and inclusion impact productivity in temporary management organisations

2. Testing and measuring which diversity and inclusion enablers trigger productivity improvements

3. Evidencing causal relationships between diversity, inclusion, and productivity to achieve predictable outcomes and business returns.


The Research is split into 3 phases to be completed over 3 years. Live schemes will be test sites and outcomes will be shared across our supplier base.