Penny Kneebone, Chief Executive, Tonkin + Taylor

by | Mar 12, 2022

This year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias – what have you found useful to break down conscious and unconscious bias in your organisation?

We’ve found that purposefully and openly talking about unconscious bias at all levels has been a great tool in creating an environment that has zero tolerance for discrimination. We also address this by running unconscious bias training sessions for all managers before annual remuneration reviews and we expect every manager to attend every year.

What progress have you seen in the NZ infrastructure industry over the last year to increase diversity and inclusivity?

In the past year we’ve seen momentum regarding diversity and inclusivity pick up across the sector, noticeably via the diversity of voices in the sector sharing their thoughts, perspectives, and experience. This is great, but it’s important to keep up the good mahi and build on that momentum.

From a T+T side of things, we were especially pleased with the response to our panel discussion at Building Nations 2021 on Te Ao Māori as an integrated approach for delivering infrastructure outcomes. The panel received a high level of interest, and it was great to hear that attendees had reached out to Manea Sweeney (panellist and Discipline Manager, Horizons Planning) to further discuss the importance of the relationship between Te Ao Māori and the infrastructure sector.

What diversity and inclusion improvements would you like to see in the NZ infrastructure industry by this time next year?

I think that strong progress regarding diversity and inclusion metrics across the sector is crucial – we can talk the talk, but diversity and inclusion metrics will help give the industry insights and indicators on where to take action to improve and ensure that we’re walking the walk.

I’d like to see and hear more on the beneficial impact of women’s perspectives in infrastructure, from concept stage through to design, and in Safety in Design (SiD). Let’s showcase the perspectives of all women – Māori women, Pasifika women, migrant women and LGBTQI+ women and hear and learn from their experiences.

I’d also like to see increased efforts and open discussion across the industry about transforming gender blind infrastructure, and gender mainstreaming becoming our new normal.

How do you think we can attract more women to the NZ infrastructure sector?

When it comes to attracting more women into the NZ infrastructure sector, you’re working with the present and the future – the existing workforce and the next generation of emerging talent.

With the next generation, it’s key that we increase our engagement in schools. We need an increased emphasis on marketing STEM and Engineering as an exciting, viable and fulfilling profession.

With women in the infrastructure sector at present, we need an emphasis on retention in the workforce. We can take action by:

  • Identifying organisational barriers or challenges to women such as workplace culture, the expectation to work long hours, a lack of networks, role models, and addressing transparency around pay and career progression that put women off remaining in the profession
  • Continually reviewing our recruitment policy – being aware of bias when hiring, ensuring we’re inclusive in our approach
  • Providing flexible working/working from anywhere/globally connected options
  • Awareness regarding proximity bias and visibility (women are more affected)
  • Fixing the gender pay gap
  • Elevating more women in leadership roles
  • Keeping in touch with those on career breaks or returning to work
  • Mentoring and sponsoring women
  • “De-bloking” – deescalating the masculine/alpha male approach in infrastructure
  • Recognising the skills/perspective that women bring because of the other things that they do

Let’s change the way we celebrate infrastructure to show what’s in it for women. Let’s move away from celebrating how big and expansive infrastructure is to focus on how infrastructure serves communities, connects people, and makes life better for everyone. Let’s be loud about successes in upgrading gender blind infrastructure. Let’s be visible in how women’s contributions – right from concept design through to construction – leads to better infrastructure.

How is your organisation celebrating IWD?

Tonkin + Taylor is co-hosting with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC) a New Zealand and an Australian Virtual International Women’s Day Panel ‘Breaking the Bias: Reimagining Infrastructure’. I’ll be featuring on the NZ panel along with Dr Grace Schaefer – Strategic Business Development Manage and Nicole Neal – General Manager Victoria will feature on the Australian panel.

Recordings of the NZ and Australian panels are available here:

NZ panel – https://www.iscouncil.org/breaking-the-bias-reimagining-infrastructure/

AU panel – https://www.iscouncil.org/breaking-the-bias-reimagining-infrastructure-australian-panel/

In addition, we’ve released a paper with the ISC entitled ‘Breaking the Bias: Reimagining Infrastructure’. Co-authored by our experts in NZ and Australia, the paper looks at the bias that has historically been present in AU and NZ in the transport sector, and the biases that exist for indigenous women in Pacific Island nations when developing resilient infrastructure.

The paper is available here: https://www.iscouncil.org/international-womens-day-2022/