An authentically inclusive workspace promotes and celebrates all forms of diversity – with David McDonald

David McDonald is a project manager with the water team at Stantec in Wellington. He's also a member of the Asia Pacific Inclusion and Diversity Council and co-coordinates their office representatives across New Zealand. We caught up with David to find out what inclusion and diversity means in the workplace. 

David McDonald

What was your journey before arriving at Stantec in Wellington?

I trained as an architectural technician and completed a Bachelor of Science in Construction in 2008. I worked for a short time for a small domestic architecture firm in Ireland before the recession really took hold. I saw some of the bad times, so I left Ireland and travelled around Australia and Asia before settling in New Zealand. I was able to keep myself going by doing some temporary roles in Wellington before eventually figuring out that I should get a permanent job! I found employment with a civil contractor in the hydraulic trade managing small projects and quickly realised that I enjoyed that type of work. I moved on to managing some of their more significant projects and eventually some quite serious commercial projects. When a job came up at Stantec, I jumped at the chance to apply. I always presumed I would return to education, add to my architecture technology qualification, and become an architect, but actually, I found I enjoyed being a project manager more. By nature, I'm quite pedantic (and probably OCD), which I think are essential traits to have when working as a project manager!!  

What do you do at Stantec?

I'm a manager in Stantec's Wellington water team where I get to work on a cool mix of projects. I manage Capex teams and teams that create network models which will result in outputs that allow engineers to run simulations to feed into designs or master plans. Developing a stormwater master plan for Napier was one of my more recent projects.  

What motivated you to become involved in the diversity and inclusion field?

Influencing how we can improve the culture and the working environment for individuals motivates me.  

I've had some great experiences and some bad homophobic reactions in my roles. Thankfully, I now work in an incredibly diverse office for a great company. I believe it's down to diversity that we have such a fantastic atmosphere in our office. However, I appreciate that is not always the case at every firm. Change takes time, but there is change happening. We have a graduate population that want this change. They've grown up in a generation that doesn't ostracise differences but embraces them. 

Progressive firms, like Stantec, embrace this change and I believe the firms that don't will struggle to grow and ultimately be left behind by recruits and current employees that want a better environment and by clients who are interested in social procurement. 

I'm humbled to be able to help shape the future of our organisation and others to create an authentically inclusive workspace, that promotes and celebrates all forms of diversity.  

I hope my efforts contribute to safer, happier working environments, where people can be themselves, their full selves. 

How does Stantec incorporate diversity and inclusion into the workplace?

We integrate our diversity and inclusion goals across our business in several ways. 

Globally we have employee resource groups (ERGs) which we've rolled out across Australia and New Zealand as Reach@Stantec. Megan Wylie and I co-chair Reach@Stantec across New Zealand and work alongside a counterpart in Australia. Reach@Stantec has representatives from our offices in New Zealand, and we answer up through the Asia-Pacific diversity and inclusion committee through to our overarching global one.  

The global committee includes our top leaders like New Zealand Country Leader Ralph Fouché and Stantec's President and Chief Executive Officer, Gord Johnston. Having leaders of this calibre on the global diversity and inclusion committee gives us the ability to have conversations that can effect change, not only in New Zealand but across our whole business. 

Megan and I are also supported to put forward ideas that come from grass-root discussions at an office level. There are also sub-groups within Reach@Stantec including Women@Stantec, Pride@Stantec, a group for persons with disabilities and a group representing Māori and Pacifika.  

How advanced were the diversity and inclusion policies when you began working with Stantec? 

When I joined Stantec, Megan was the Wellington office representative, and I volunteered as another local representative. When the previous national chair moved to a new role, we realised that Stantec's initiatives had also grown and that working as co-chairs would allow us to have a more significant impact. When we started, the primary focus was on women in the industry, but we've grown our brief over the year. I've learnt that having a strong committee to support you is vital to achieving your goals. They help to disseminate our diversity and inclusion initiatives and report on each success (and failure). In that way, we operate on a continuous cycle of improvement and growth.   

How does the financial support of diversity and inclusion work? 

Previously we had a very modest annual budget to run events and promote the aims of the group. Our success and impact have been recognised though, and for 2021, our annual budget has doubled! I'll use some of that money to work towards attaining the Rainbow Tick accreditation. At the same time, Megan plans to work with Engineering New Zealand and several universities to organise and host networking and collaborative events that focus on Māori and Pacifika students and graduates.  

I believe the most significant issue within the wider industry is that we need to start working with students from younger age groups. We need to demonstrate how the industry is working for the betterment of their community, and we must have more leaders who can encourage younger students into STEM subjects.  

How important is it to have senior leadership involved in diversity and inclusion?  

We have total buy-in from our local and global leaders into our diversity and inclusion initiatives, which means they see the great work we do and help to push it forward. It also makes things like budget approvals easier because our leaders know the positive impact diversity and inclusion initiatives have on our culture and the overall happiness of our people.   

How are staff encouraged to become involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives? 

I am so fortunate to come from a cool bubble as our Wellington office is already quite diverse. We've got some fantastic people with women in leadership roles and a large number of our people with international backgrounds, having now settled in New Zealand. We also have great social clubs working in the background to help develop great culture. By including all the social clubs and groups from within our business, we can plan a calendar of events that ensures something happens throughout the whole year. Initiatives are regularly communicated through formal and informal channels with everyone given an option to participate or feed into what we are doing.  

What are the benefits of having a vibrant diversity and inclusion group within the business? 

A D&I group helps create an authentically inclusive workplace which promotes and celebrates all forms of diversity. They help develop a happier, safer environment where people get to be themselves and become comfortable within their workplace. People no longer have to hide if they're gay or trans, or constantly feel unseen due to their gender or background. People no longer feel isolated simply for being themselves, and the benefits are great. Not only is it the right thing to do, but by bringing your authentic self to work, allows you to focus entirely on the job at hand, which improves productivity, ending with a happier employee. You're also more likely to stay with the business longer. When people are happy, it shows. And clients can stay longer because they enjoy and prefer to work with happy people. By embracing diversity and inclusion, you naturally build momentum which stems from the creation of a happy workplace where everyone feels they belong. 

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