Diversity and inclusion – two words that seem to be discussed, explored and challenged more and more in New Zealand workplaces.
As someone who chose a career in a traditionally male dominated industry, I spent many hours during my student days wondering what my workplace would be like one day. How does the industry really compare to university? Was it as diverse and inclusive as I had imagined it to be? Are there any changes we, as an industry, still need to address?
How does industry compare?
At university, you have support groups, brunches and special tutoring sessions for women in engineering. It is something unique that I felt set us apart from our male counterparts then. I needed this network of women. I needed the reassurance that I had chosen the right career path in an industry where I wasn’t sure how included I’d feel. And these forums provided it.
According to IPENZ, in 2015 only 16% of engineers in the workforce were female. In later career-stages at that period, only 9% of engineering senior managers were female. At a governance level, the numbers are similar.
These numbers illustrate that even today female engineers are a minority in the workplace. Fortunately, there are forums like the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), who are trying to change the picture, celebrating successful women who are progressing to senior levels in the industry.
Is it diverse and inclusive?
As a graduate engineer 18 months into my career, I’m pleased to say I really had no reason to be nervous. We are a diverse and inclusive industry. I have always had the support of my colleagues and have never felt inadequate because of my gender.
I’ve felt a sense of equality which I believe comes down to two things:
- a rich culture with strong leadership, and
- the diversity of roles in professional consulting companies, with – draughters, advisory and technology consulting teams, building and environmental scientists, engineers, and urban design and landscape architects to name a few.
It’s the variety of roles that strengthens that feeling of inclusion, especially when you all come together to provide clients’ with integrated responses and solutions.
However that’s not to say it’s been a smooth ride. On one occasion, someone didn’t want to sit next to me or shake my hand but interacted freely with my male colleagues. Did he act this way deliberately or was it unintentional?
On another occasion, someone complained about a contractor by saying, “He’s acting like a girl.” I was standing right there – should I be offended? Because it was said in such a way that it implied it wasn’t a good thing. So why did he say it?
Both these experiences happened on construction sites, but it could happen to anyone, anywhere. They are my own experiences, and I should point out that I’m not implying that construction sites are non-inclusive. Every situation is different and every person will take things differently. These are just examples of where I happened to feel less equal than my male counterparts. And there are probably occasions where men have felt the same in female-dominated industries.
Does anything need addressing?
While I’m lucky to work for an organisation where diversity and inclusion is encouraged, there are always opportunities to break down out-of-date stereotypes. I’m not saying go out and preach to the masses, but do speak up if things aren’t right.
Acknowledge people who are present in meetings or groups and think about what you say first. If someone says “you’re behaving like a girl,” ask them what they mean. It could be a positive statement!
If you need to, find an organisation or group like NARWIC that provides you with the support you need.
At the end of the day, feelings are unique to every individual and this includes feeling that sense of inclusion. And everyone’s feelings, regardless of sex age or race should be considered equally.
As the Golden Rule states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”