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Five minutes with… Lucy May

Lucy May is head of inclusion and culture at Newcastle-based
engineering and design consultancy Cundall. Here, she tells Steven Hugill about her position, the value of diversity in the workplace and how she balances her role with time as an elite football referee.

You are head of inclusion and culture at Cundall. What does your role involve, and what does a typical day and week look like?

My focus is on shaping and embedding sustainable and meaningful change.

As with any global business, it’s important to create a positive and supportive environment for all our colleagues, whoever and wherever they are, and it’s vital regional and local contexts are reflected in our plans, policies and communications too.

My day starts with walking my dogs, followed by a training session – as part of my parallel career as a football referee – set by our Professional Game Match Officials Limited sports scientist.

There is no typical day at work, and that’s something I love.

I have a mix of meetings with people across the business, and have always loved the people aspect – it’s important to engage with colleagues, so I can better understand their needs.

After work, there’s another walk with a podcast, and I see what’s outstanding for football, which includes e-learning, reviewing clips or meeting my coach.

As your position attests, great strides are being taken to improve – and increase – equity in the workplace. Just how important is it for businesses to ensure balance across their workforces? What benefits do they, and their employees, gain from such change?

Extensive research demonstrates the value a diverse workforce brings – from increased efficiency and problem solving to innovation and engagement.

Recruiting a diverse team is great, but retaining that team is paramount, and only an inclusive culture will ensure that.

Moreover, businesses should be doing it because it is the right thing to do.

Having barriers to certain groups leads to teams who all look and sound like each other, with no diversity of perspective.



You are very experienced in the sphere, having previously rolled out a diversity, equality and inclusion strategy at Newcastle United, as the club’s head of inclusion, which ensured it met strict Premier League guidelines. What did that entail?

Internally, my work included creating our annual equality monitoring reports, people policies and working to create meaningful learning opportunities for employees.

Externally, my work included making St James’ Park as accessible as possible.

I also created the Memory Café, for those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

This was encompassed by the brand ‘United as One’, which I am hugely proud of. I still smile when I see it being used.

Staying with football, you accompany your Cundall role with time as a referee, with your CV including numerous Women’s Super League matches and position as fourth official during the 2016 Women’s FA Cup Final. How did your journey in the sport begin?

I used to watch my brother play football.

Each week, his team would struggle for someone to run the line, the flag passed around the dads like a hot potato.

So, I took it up. There were some tense journeys home but, overall, I enjoyed it.

I ran the line one day for Iain Thomson, who was a referee tutor.

He was starting a course that week and encouraged me to attend.

I have never felt as nervous walking into a room as I did that night at the Co-Op Club, in Portsmouth, but I braved it and never looked back.

Are there any complementary elements of your careers? Are you able to transfer skills and learnings from one to the other?

Both football and engineering have traditionally been seen as male-dominated environments, but are transforming to encourage and embrace more diversity, so there are many crossovers.

The success of the Lionesses has played a huge part in raising the profile – and participation – in women’s football.

It’s the same with refereeing. I’m proud to have played a part in it becoming ‘the norm’ to have females officiating, not just at women’s matches but men’s too.

We’re breaking down prejudices and barriers while, hopefully, making it easier for the next generation of girls on the pitch and in the workplace.

Inclusion is about anyone being able to feel they belong and be valued for who they are and what they can contribute.

As they say, ‘if you can see it, you can be it’, and here at Cundall we’re raising the profile of diverse role models at all levels in all our locations.

It’s also about allyship and activism, standing up and being counted, and supporting those around you.

And it’s about diversity within the team.

Eleven world-class defenders might not concede goals, but they’re unlikely to score many, either.

As in the workplace, it’s about creating a culture where everyone feels valued and, in turn, values the role of every other person in that team.

We need to have that diversity of thought and specialism, and the autonomy to believe that, while we are great at what we do as individuals, together we are stronger.

And finally, as a North East referee, how proud were you to see fellow regional official Rebecca Welch make history late last year, when she became the first female to oversee a men’s Premier League game?

It was a historic day for Rebecca and all officials in the game.

Refereeing is a meritocracy, with roles awarded based on ability and achievement, rather than gender.

It’s the way it should be, and I’m proud to be part of that.

To see Rebecca, as well as Kirsty Dowle and Emily Carney, receive appointments across various levels of the game was a great end to 2023.

One day, a woman officiating at any level won’t raise an eyebrow, and that’s when we’ll know we’ve really achieved change.

LinkedIn: @cundall

March 6, 2024

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