International Women's Day - the importance of diversity in engineering

International Women's Day - the importance of diversity in engineering

STEM has long been a bastion of monoculture, a domain where males have been an enduring, prevalent theme.

But along the history of STEM you’ll find glimmers of gold that break the norm – Marie Curie, Emily Warren Roebling, Rosalind Franklin, Chien-Shiung Wu.

A diverse range of thought is crucial in finding new, innovative solutions, and that stems (pardon the pun) from our own diverse range of backgrounds and experiences.

We asked two women who have smashed through several glass ceilings at Tonkin + Taylor to outline why they believe diversity is important and how we achieve it successfully.

Environmental engineer Simonne Eldridge was the first woman to be appointed to T+T’s Executive Leadership Team and our first female Fellow. She has just become a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers – one of a handful of engineers in the country to hold a double-Fellowship.

Simonne was one of seven women in her engineering cohort of 70 and believes diversity is vital to engineering’s future.

“We can’t hope to solve the complex problems of the future successfully by continuing to do what we have done in the past.  True innovation comes through thinking differently and diversity will facilitate that”, says Simonne.

“If you put a whole lot of daffodils in a room and ask them to create a floral arrangement, you will get a yellow bouquet.”

Tonkin + Taylor is a signatory to Engineering New Zealand’s Diversity Agenda that was launched in April 2018.  The initiative aims to see 20% more women in engineering roles by 2021.

“I must emphasise that it’s not just gender diversity we’re looking for, we need to mix things up by embracing diverse thinking across the board. Gender is one way to do that, as is age, ethnicity, mobility, cultural and social economic backgrounds, and life experiences.

Simonne believes achieving diversity is a complex problem to solve, itself. We need to promote maths and science at a primary school level, promote engineering as an option for everyone at a secondary school level and once we have recruited diverse thinkers, we need to focus on retaining them.

“The retention element relies on having an inclusive culture”.

Both Simonne and Tonkin + Taylor’s first female board member, Marje Russ, agree that diversity can’t work without inclusion.

“It is important to attract people who bring diversity of thought and it is important to ensure they feel included and are able to participate and contribute – to do that, we need to find out what is getting in the way, what is impeding participation”, says Marje.

Both Simonne and Marje sought out strong female mentors early in their careers and identify good role modelling as being key to their success.

Simonne Eldridge and civil engineer, Nic Catto were interviewed about diversity and inclusion in engineering on Morning Report.  To listen to the interview click through to RNZ's website