Diversity key to the future of engineering

Image: WSP Opus engineers and talent managers connect with SPIES

Historically the engineering industry hasn’t always been diverse and inclusive, however WSP Opus is playing a key role in driving change.

Ian Blair, Managing Director, says that WSP Opus’ leadership team is committed to increasing participation in under-represented groups, which is why the company established a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Plan to Action in mid-2018.

Progressive initiatives already delivered as part of this plan include the closure of the gender pay gap and the introduction of a progressive parental leave policy.

Blair says this has seen WSP Opus driving towards an inclusive culture, one that respects and maximises the contribution people from different backgrounds bring.

Engineering NZ figures from 2016 showed that 13% of engineers were women, 6% Māori, and only 2% Pasifika.

Blair says there is clear room for improvement, especially since diversity and inclusion is something that benefits clients, employees and wider communities.

“In order to create positive and lasting impacts in our communities, we must embrace the range of approaches and life experiences that a diverse workforce brings. That’s how we’re going to design the unthinkable and create places where our friends, families and neighbours can thrive,” says Blair.

As such, a key area of focus for WSP Opus is to support employment opportunities and initiatives for Māori and Pasifika.

Alongside sponsoring the inaugural Te Taumata Tiketike Scholarship with First Foundation, WSP Opus has funded a two-year scholarship with the New Zealand Planning Institute.

This new commitment provides resources for a university student to incorporate Māori and Pacific Island perspective in a way that better advances planning for Māori. This will provide insight into the role of Māori people in the New Zealand planning framework, and the integration of Māori perspectives in resource management planning and decision-making.   

Nick Aiken, WSP Opus Market Leader Environmental and Planning, says that Māori, as kaitiaki of Aotearoa, has a very significant role in planning for communities, environments and decision-making at all levels, which is why the scholarship is needed.

 "It’s very encouraging to see the incorporation of Māori perspectives, Te Reo Māori and Mātauranga Māori (indigenous knowledge) into our planning profession. But there is still much to do and WSP Opus has recognised that Te Ao Māori (Māori world view) is important for the planning profession and for Papa Pounamu.”

WSP Opus has also become a gold sponsor of the South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students (SPIES) Network, which provides a strong foundation for Māori and Pacific students studying engineering at the University of Auckland.

 A key goal of the sponsorship is to provide opportunities for SPIES students to go behind the scenes of a large consultancy and connect with established engineers to learn from their experiences in the industry.

 A number of WSP Opus engineers were part of SPIES during their time at Auckland University and say the network was a crucial part of their development.

 Graduate engineer Natasha Mudaliar says the shared values of fellow SPIES members helped her connect her profession to her culture.

 “SPIES is not just a club, it’s a family. A family of students who understand and take care of each other during some of the most tough academic years of your life. SPIES provided me with both social and professional development opportunities which helped me develop as an engineer, while still staying true to my heritage”

Leki Funaki, Team Leader Structures Asset Management, moved from Tonga to study engineering.  

“It was a massive culture shock and I was grateful for the support SPIES provided in helping me transition to a new country. Also, being away from family was very hard but SPIES provided a ‘family’ type of support in settling in.” 

Troy Brockbank, Kaitohutohu Matua Taiao/ Snr Environmental Engineer, was in SPIES between 2003 and 2006 and says the network became his second whānau.

Coming from Northland to the University of Auckland, it was a shock to see that only a small percentage of engineering students and staff were of Māori descent. At the time, Māori knowledge, values and culture were non-existent in the teaching at the School of Engineering.”

Brockbank says SPIES was the home of Māori and Pasifika students, a place they could share cultures and be themselves.

“It was a place where culture and engineering were united. I consider my experience with SPIES, and now a member of their alumni counterpart South Pacific Professional Engineering Excellence (SPPEEx), to be the foundation of my professional career as an engineer of indigenous descent. These friendships have remained, and I’m happy that WSP OPUS is supporting the next generation of SPIES.”