Is diversity the (not so) secret to effective teams?

Kathryn Musgrave

As the topics of gender diversity and equality become more widely discussed in today’s workplaces, it should come as no surprise that job seekers are beginning to choose their new roles based on an organisation’s efforts in the area.

That’s certainly true for Kathryn Musgrave, who recently moved to GHD to become Technical Director – Operations and Optimisation.

Despite being a relatively new recruit to GHD, Kathryn has been a passionate addition to its diversity and inclusion efforts. In fact, it’s a main reason she made the move to GHD from the client side eight months ago.

“[GHD’s] recognition of the importance of diversity was one of the reasons I chose to come here to begin with,” says Kathryn. “I’m on the diversity committee and work to mentor younger engineers. I had a really strong mentor back earlier in my career, who was a male, and who was really encouraging in terms of finding my own voice and my own confidence which is so important when it comes to progressing in an engineering field. Without that support I had back in my 30s when it was hard, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would’ve left.”

“I have always worked and studied at places where the importance of diversity was recognised, and that’s definitely had an impact on my growth and career.”

From client side to consultancy, one truth has remained: diversity affects projects from start to finish. “In order to get exceedingly good outcomes, you need a diverse team to work with,” says Kathryn. “Diversity of thinking, diversity of qualifications, gender and age are all important. I’ve been very fortunate to have diversity in all the teams I’ve worked in, and that really has led to some really good and innovative outcomes. I put that down to diversity in thinking, but also in that we feel safe with the teams in which we work.”

Originally from the United Kingdom, Kathryn’s upbringing and education has given her a unique perspective on the power diversity brings. “I was really lucky that where I studied (Leeds University) had a very high female intake and diversity was really important in terms of the culture of the university,” says Kathryn. “I have always worked and studied at places where the importance of diversity was recognised, and that’s definitely had an impact on my growth and career.”

Those skills have come into play throughout her career but were significantly more apparent during key periods. For example, during her time working to set up the Joint Transportation Operation Centre (JTOC) in Auckland when the super city was being formed. “We had to create a collaborative team at incredible speed and develop relationships while understanding two different organisations,” says Kathryn. “Bringing them together as one was more difficult than I thought it would be. It was a really good lesson for me around how to build teams and collaborate, but also about personal growth.”

While collaboration and diversity are often the glue that hold projects and teams together, Kathryn has learned firsthand that another crucial ingredient needs to be present as well: empathy. “Those people and empathetic skills, especially in technical roles, are really important in terms of having a diverse team and delivering some of these challenging outcomes,” says Kathryn. “I’ve found that those leadership and people skills are just as important as technical ability.”

“Look internally, but also grow your network around that support externally. Find your voice and find your confidence.”

Many companies today think that in order to help their employees flourish, they just need to roll out some flexible working policies and sit back while everything sorts itself out. While creating policies is a good start that all companies should be looking into, Kathryn argues that there’s more to it than that. “It’s not just about those flexible working strategies, it’s also about the support of a leader,” says Kathryn. “As a leader myself, I put such a strong focus on mentoring, leadership, training, finding your own voice and having really strong relationships and discussions with your peers around growing.” Kathryn also points out that while leaning on other people for growth is encouraged, there’s also a responsibility on yourself to keep growing and evolving.

It’s fitting then that Kathryn’s advice to those who may be struggling to feel that they belong centres around recognising how to tackle the issue on your own first. “Taking ownership of the issue by reaching out and finding peers within your own organisation, but also outside of your own business, is crucial,” says Kathryn. “Look internally, but also grow your network around that support externally. Find your voice and find your confidence.”

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