Equity and inclusivity: a collective effort
Insights from Terri Pomana, KLINGER's NZ Country Manager
Industrial companies have long suffered from a lack of gender diversity, with women consistently underrepresented in the field. This disparity is often attributed to gender bias, including recruitment practices that favour men, a lack of support for women in technical roles, and a culture that values masculine traits over feminine ones. Moreover, the intersectionality of gender with other identities, such as race, sexuality, and socioeconomic status, compounds the challenges certain groups of women face in achieving equity. Despite the considerable progress made in recent years, the gender diversity gap in these companies remains significant.
In honour of International Women’s Day, we had the opportunity to interview Terri, our Country Manager in New Zealand. As a Maori woman who has worked 25 years in a male-dominated industry, Terri’s career has been marked by both challenges and rewards. We asked her to share what she has learnt as a woman and a minority in this traditionally male-dominated field and to provide her thoughts on where she sees things going.
It was condescending to say at the least
Starting as a sales representative in the late 1980s, Terri found herself with predominantly male clientele and colleagues. During the earlier years of her career, Terri faced the significant challenge of being viewed as an anomaly. “There were times when I was not always welcomed in this traditionally male environment. I was often referred to as the ‘Maori girl’ by many customers, which was true but condescending to say the least.”
She recounted struggles working in a predominantly male environment. “Sexual innuendo and racist comments were more open and widely used in the workplace back then. I think it wasn’t until the late 90s that girly posters and calendars were banned from being displayed in shared workspaces. I learnt to stand my ground against most of it, but there were times I refused to deal with people.”
Put in twice the effort, but don’t tolerate any nonsense
In industries dominated by men, it can be challenging for women to establish their voices. Despite this, many women have managed to succeed in male-dominated fields, but often at a high cost. Terri was no exception.
“In order to be recognised as competent, I had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. In most cases, even before I said anything or before they met me.” But Terri discovered that consistently providing excellent customer service, working hard and following through were effective ways to gain respect, regardless of gender.
Her dedication towards work is also what ultimately brought her this far.
“However, as I have got older, I do find my patience for such nonsense is a lot shorter,” Terri joked about how sometimes the only way to win is just not to play the game. “Pick your battles wisely. Stay true to your values and principles but remain adaptable and open to new ideas. This along with a good sense of humour helped me in navigating challenging professional situations,” Terri said.
We’re calling for more
Terri’s experience highlighted the importance of acknowledging that there are differences between people and what they need to succeed. “To be honest I find the ‘equal for all’ and box-ticking diversity requirement thing hugely offensive. It allows companies to have a minimum instead of striving for a better workplace environment.” In her view, workplace equity requires companies to identify individuals’ unique needs and obstacles and consider them in decisions related to diversity and inclusivity.
Terri is thrilled to witness the increasing number of women entering the field. However, she also acknowledges that there is still much progress to be made. “I have noticed a significant increase in the number of women working in this industry. We are excelling and improving workplaces. This is so good to see as a collective. However, some women may still feel isolated in their struggles, as the numbers within individual companies are still relatively low.”
She is optimistic about the new generation of women joining the workforce as they push for greater representation and opportunities. “The ones entering this sector today are unapologetically demanding equity. It is inspiring to see women stepping into positions in areas such as engineering, manufacturing and management, bringing with them unique perspectives and diverse skill sets. “
Moving towards true equity
Terri is excited to see companies like KLINGER are making progress in creating a more inclusive and welcoming work environment. “It is very encouraging to see that KLINGER has been actively hiring people from a diverse background including women and women of colour, and promoting awareness and understanding of different perspectives and cultures.”
She emphasises the need for companies to truly embrace equity. “I would like to see more representation of women in senior positions and open pay rates to be implemented, and for job performance and suitability to be the primary factors in hiring and promotion decisions. “
To build on this progress, Terri stresses the importance of proactive and open communication between employees and their employers. “Speak up and share our experiences. This way, we can help our companies to better understand the support we need to thrive in our roles.” In addition, Terri encourages companies to invest more in fostering networks of support and solidarity for women, providing opportunities for women to connect and support each other.
A collective effort
Terri’s insights and recommendations are valuable reminders that creating a more inclusive work environment is an ongoing process that requires the collective effort of everyone involved. Companies must be committed to embracing diversity and providing equal opportunities for all employees, and individuals must be willing to speak up and support each other.
Let us continue to work together towards a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of their gender, race or background. Thank you, Terri, for sharing your thoughts and being a part of this important conversation.