Tracey Ryan, Managing Director, Aurecon

by | Mar 10, 2022

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

First and foremost it’s about building a culture that at its foundation is integrity, equality, and respect for all people. A culture that makes everyone feel they can bring their whole self to work and reach their full potential inclusive of all cultures, abilities, ages, ethnicities, religious beliefs, sex, genders, gender identities and sexual orientations.  Its also a culture that rejects harassment, bullying, discrimination, and stereotypes and actively supports difference, builds connections, and provides psychological and cultural safety, where people can be themselves and express contrary opinions without negative consequences.  

To help break down bias (whether it’s conscious or unconscious) we have focussed on inclusive language and behaviours and increased awareness of stereotypes and biases through a number of initiatives, including:

  • Introducing ‘system disruption’ whereby we use data to increase representation across the board (leadership courses, teams on larger projects, recruitment targets etc).
  • Supporting our people to slow down decision making, use a gender lens and having an ‘inclusion conscience’.  
    • By having a level of awareness so that you can be deliberate in the way you act and make decisions helps in reducing bias and discrimination.   We know that if you slow down decision making you also allow other voices to be heard.  It’s about sense checking with others to bring in different perspectives.  For instance, you can say “this candidate appealed to me because they’re an extrovert, and I’m an extrovert, can I just sense check this with you to make sure that I’m considering that in balance with what’s needed for the role?”.
  • We use listening sessions and storytelling to assist as well as ‘in the moment’ challenges and active by standing where our people are empowered to speak up if they are seeing bias come into decision making.
    • Through listening sessions and storytelling, we hear personal stories that help our people understand the challenges that some have to deal with. We did this recently with International Disability Day and Wear it Purple Day. When you hear “this is what happened to me, this is how it felt and this is what you could have done better” it helps to bring their experience forward and makes you think about the lived experience of someone else. So from a gender perspective, you would be asking “tell me about your life, your career, what makes you thrive, what can we do to help you thrive” then all of a sudden you are walking in different shoes.

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

I think the most progress is around driving broader outcomes in both our organisation and the clients and communities that we work with. The role of infrastructure has changed dramatically and its now so much more focussed on the people that it serves – it’s whole communities. Those communities need to be reflected in everything we do, so when we bring these major infrastructure projects to life, we start ingraining gender, Te Ao Māori, disability etc into the way we do things and the way we work with clients.

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

More focus on inclusion: Diversity and inclusion is not just about pulling diverse people around a table – it’s about ensuring that all people feel they can bring their whole self to work and reach their full potential inclusive of all cultures, abilities, ages, ethnicities, religious beliefs, sex, genders, gender identities and sexual orientations. It’s about supporting people to feel safe and being able to have a voice at the table and therefore, its focussing on breaking down both conscious and unconscious biases to ensure that everyone is included.

Focus on resistance to change: There are always challenges in cultural shifts, especially around diversity & inclusion, and resistance for some to change their way of thinking is sometimes apparent. As an industry, we need to learn how to have courageous conversations, for our industry leaders to fully understand inequality and why change must occur, and for people to recognise everyday sexism/racism. At times people are often blind to it.

Aligning the different Diversity & Inclusion groups: We have a number of Diversity & Inclusion groups across the infrastructure industry and its all good stuff, however, there needs to be linkages between all groups which I think is the missing piece. It’s about how we bring them all together so that they are all scalable and truly making a difference.

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

No single approach will work, it must be a combination of leadership, policies/systems and behaviours. We also need to get in front of school children to help break down barriers and normalise that anyone can have a career in the infrastructure industry. There are now more senior female leaders in the industry which has been great progress – we are still a small group, but we’re not just a couple anymore. It’s about “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so the more we support women into senior and leadership roles the better.

How is your organisation celebrating IWD?

We have an external social media campaign from across our business – New Zealand, Australia & Asia. The campaign will feature Aurecon employees sharing how they have experienced bias against them with a call to action to call it out.  Our Group CEO will also be communicating Aurecon’s commitment to gender equality and in particular, reinforcing behaviours and empowering our people to be ‘active bystanders’ if they see an instance of bias. We also have Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committees in each of our locations and they have been working hard on ways our people can celebrate locally.