In late March, ACE will host an event focused on women in STEM, headlined by acclaimed speaker Alexia Hilbertidou, Girlboss NZ CEO. Outgoing ACE Chief Executive Paul Evans tells us why this event will be of enormous value to a wide range of members, not just women.
Who will be on the panel?
We have put together a fantastic panel of industry leaders for this event. The new Chief Executive of ACE Helen Davidson will be joined by the Managing Director of Beca Darryl-Lee Wendelborn, Ceinwen McNeil, the Chief Executive of BVT and Rupert Hodson, the Northern Regional Manager at Beca.
What is the current gender breakdown of registrations for the event?
As is often the case, when you put women in the event's title, men are a little slower to register, perhaps because they don't think the event is for them?
Despite men making up around 75 per cent of employees in the sector, they currently account for just 20 per cent of registrations to date. While the event is about women and STEM, the content will be invaluable to everyone in our sector.
What topics will be covered?
The panel will discuss why broader representation is critical to our sector's success. At its heart, consulting and engineering are about delivering for the communities in which we work.
To achieve that in a smart and fit-for-purpose way, we need to understand our communities, and one of the best ways to do that is to mirror that diversity within our firms.
Overall, the consulting sector has been doing slightly better in gender representation of late, but women are still just 25 per cent of employees at the technical level. That's a bit of an anomaly because, for the last 40 years, women have consistently outperformed men at every level of education in Aotearoa.
Currently, our sector is talent constrained, and we need the best and brightest minds coming forward. By not attracting more women, we're doing ourselves an incredible disservice.
We need to work harder on attracting the best and brightest minds to the sector, people who will challenge the status quo, be curious and ask why. By attracting these people, we will begin to understand how diversity can drive innovation and, in turn, better outcomes.
What are the benefits of increasing diversity in the sector?
I firmly believe that increasing diversity and specifically attracting more women into the sector is vital to ensuring that we are future-fit.
While we see a slight increase in the number of women coming into consulting and engineering at a graduate level, there are still too many women who leave the industry during their careers. That's a huge lost opportunity!
Women leaving has generally been put down to starting a family, and there is indeed some truth in that.
But when we talk to women about this, it quickly becomes evident that much of the problem is due to our current system not being fit-for-purpose. Historically, women have to conform to "how we do things" and work "within these confines".
As a sector, we should aim to be more agile and people-centred and look at how things can change to ensure the system supports and enables women.
What can firms do to attract more women?
That will be one of the most important topics covered at the event. We will explore what firms are doing to attract women during the recruitment phase and retain them throughout their careers.
We will also look at other impediments to long term employment, including the gender pay equity gap and how we close the gap between what happens in the office and how that translates to the worksite.
For example, many consulting firms already have a great diversity and inclusion policy that works well in the office. However, I've heard some dire stories about what happens out on the worksite. To treat our employees with dignity and respect, we need to look at the problems holistically.
What is the takeaway?
I want men to realise that this event is not just for women. If you are in a leadership role at one of our member firms, diversity and inclusion is something you will have to address if you want to continue attracting top talent and delivering excellent outcomes.
I encourage you to come along to this event and be part of the discussion.