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At its heart, diversity and inclusion is about living the values of our shared humanity – by enabling, welcoming, supporting and accepting people who might not look or think like us, but who make the profession and all of us richer in spirit as a nation

A focus on diversity – By Ben Holland

Engineering New Zealand’s new president Ben Holland says diversity and inclusion will be a strong theme of his tenure, and now is the opportunity for engineering professionals to make a huge difference for the good of New Zealand.

I always planned to focus on diversity during my term as Engineering New Zealand president. The atrocities that occurred in mosques in Christchurch in March have reinforced the importance of becoming more inclusive as a society, and the profession should reflect the society it serves.

We know that 10 of the people who were killed were engineers. They were people who had come to New Zealand to share their much-needed skills and help engineer better lives for New Zealanders. The engineering community is mourning them, and my heart goes out to their loved ones.

Engineers are also thinking deeply about how we should respond. Recently, at a gathering of all our technical group presidents and branch chairs, we discussed how we can better include and support engineers who have made New Zealand their new home. People shared their thoughts ranging from small individual actions, like smiles, to responses the profession as a whole can take, to make sure everyone feels included and that they belong.

Richer in spirit

At its heart, diversity and inclusion is about living the values of our shared humanity – by enabling, welcoming, supporting and accepting people who might not look or think like us, but who make the profession and all of us richer in spirit as a nation.

A year ago, Engineering New Zealand launched the Diversity Agenda in partnership with the New Zealand Institute of Architects. We started out with a focus on gender, and 90 firms have now committed to the goal of 20% more women in engineering and architecture by 2021.

With only 14% of engineers being women, gender remains an important focus. But we’ve always intended the Diversity Agenda will broaden its scope to diversity of thought and approach, which means making the profession inclusive of all ethnicities, cultures and sexualities. And we’re having conversations specifically about what we can do to make sure our engineers who come from other countries feel at home here.

In early April, we held an event in Auckland aimed at precisely that. It was a partnership between our special interest group for immigrant engineers, our Auckland branch, Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland. Nearly 300 people – students, immigrants, educationalists and employers – came along to hear a panel share their experiences and provide tips and tricks for working in New Zealand. It was a fantastic event, with people practising their networking skills way after the panel discussion ended. And it’s something we’re looking to roll out in other regions.

We all know that New Zealand needs more engineers. If we can dismantle the stereotypes so that everyone with the right talents wants to become an engineer, that will make a huge difference. At the moment, we’re losing too many potential engineers because they don’t think they’ll belong.

New Zealand faces a combination of challenges that will continue to drive the skills shortage. Climate change, increased demand for housing, new models of transport, better water quality: these are all issues that are generating more and more demand for engineering expertise. To engineer better lives for New Zealanders in the face of these challenges, we need more engineers, both now and in the future.

Speaking up for engineers

My focus on diversity does not stop there. At Engineering New Zealand, as well as demographic diversity we want to represent and connect the breadth of the profession – from our traditional civil and structural roots to areas like mechatronics, medical devices and software engineering.

To speak up for engineers, we need our voice to be as loud as possible, and that means creating a home for all types of engineering professionals.

To inspire the next generation, we need to show the almost limitless array of possibilities that creative problem-solvers have in our amazing profession.

After all, problem-solving is what gets all engineering professionals out of bed in the morning. This means looking to our pipeline and making sure the next generation of creative problem-solvers are choosing engineering as a career.

Our new schools programme, called the Wonder Project, is all about inspiring tomorrow’s engineers – about exposing children to the wonder and possibilities that science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) offer. It includes three programmes – a dynamic and fun rocket challenge for primary school students, a community challenge that resolves a community issue for intermediates, and a STEM careers programme for senior students – showing the diversity of jobs and careers open to those who we can inspire into STEM.

Our Wonder Project ambassadors work alongside teachers, and we’ve signed up 600 ambassadors so far. We’ve got close to 500 schools participating in different parts of the programme this year, from Kaitaia to Gore.

All this important work sits alongside our day-to-day focus on keeping engineering standards high, making sure engineers have access to the latest technical knowledge, and creating supportive professional networks.

In becoming president, I appreciate the bold footsteps of those who went before me. And I’m excited to be president at a time when Engineering New Zealand has the opportunity to make a huge difference for the good of the profession and New Zealand.

Wellington-based Ben Holland took over the role of president of Engineering New Zealand from Dean Kimpton at the beginning of April; in his day job, Ben is the head of commercial and major projects governance at WSP Opus.


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