Walking the Talk: University of Auckland

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Auckland (which is a Founding Partner of Diversity Agenda) recently held an internal workshop to discuss the Faculty of Engineering’s diversity ambitions, and how to best achieve their goals. Read on for a recap of the event from Suzanne Wilkinson, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Auckland. In response to the aim of reaching 33% of women in the first-year engineering cohort by 2020, the women academics, technical staff and professional staff in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, met in July to discuss how they could collectively contribute to 33% by 2020 and provide networking, advice and support to each other.

The workshop listened to two invited speakers: Dr Naomi Fleming who is the Women in Engineering Adviser and Associate Professor Kathy Smits, Politics and International Relations, who is part of the working group writing the new harassment policy for the University.

From Naomi, the group learnt that there were many initiatives happening around Faculty, and the assistance needed was often to make these initiatives more attractive to the women students thinking of engineering.

Some of the extra ideas included:

  • Adding a focus on “helping society” such as courses or examples of women working for aid agencies or humanitarian engineering or through Engineers without Borders, developing robots for health or interesting environmental work.
  • Assisting with the Women Engineering Network (WEN) activities, outreach and Enginuity days.
  • Enhancing the involvement of existing women undergraduate engineering students in various events such as Courses and Career Day and Engineer Her Future.
  • Communicating our research through Instagram/social media/university pages to highlighting research by women academics.
  • Providing useful slides/stories/ video clips/ Vlogs to be used in outreach material.

From Kathy, the group learnt about the University’s focus on harassment and the new University policy. The discussion focussed on a range of subtle issues that could mean that women engineering staff are disadvantaged in their careers, or have little ability to impact decision making.

These included:

  • The gender imbalance meaning women staff not being on key committees
  • Recent hiring with no women on a hiring committee, or women with no technical input on the committee
  • Few, or no, women on staffing and promotion department committees
  • Women staff being located in “service” teaching areas, and not able to develop their research.
  • Lack of mentoring groups for new women staff members.

At the workshop, the participants agreed that a regular group catch-up and discussion would be useful. Further ideas included inviting Equity Office, and speakers from the Diversity Agenda to speak at the next departmental and faculty meetings about what we can do to retain and build our cohort of women academic engineers.

Pictured above: Members of the Women in Civil and Environmental Engineering group who also participated in the workshop. 

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