By Megan Berger
Darryl-Lee Wendelborn is a poster child for female success in engineering. The Rotorua-raised engineer is now Managing Director at BECA, New Zealand’s largest professional services consultancy, overseeing the firm’s New Zealand business. Over the past 22 years, she’s learned the ins and outs of the organisation, where she started as a graduate with just two years of experience and found herself working on iconic projects like Auckland’s Sky City Tower.
For Darryl-Lee, the decision to become an engineer was an easy one. “When you look back at historical engineering, it’s all about creating communities and making them work for society and the people who live in it,” she says. “I was always drawn to the idea of having an opportunity to make communities and shape the world around us, so engineering was a great chance to be in that space.”
As a woman who’s risen through the ranks and achieved a top leadership role in a male-dominated industry like engineering, Darryl-Lee has a unique perspective on the roles that diversity and inclusion play in making all employees, not just females, feel valued and respected at work. She also has thoughts on the somewhat divisive notion of setting industry targets for females. “I don’t think it actually matters what that target is, it just matters that we are making it quite clear that we have an intent, we want to do something different, and that we talk about it,” says Darryl-Lee. “My focus is awareness. Nobody comes to work or comes into this industry intending to discriminate against anybody, it’s just that they’re not necessarily aware, or not cognizant of the way that they think and how that might limit others to participate.”
In addition to awareness, another component of the solution is fixing the leaky talent pipeline. “Rather than saying ‘we want this percentage female’ in this particular role or at this particular level in an organisation, what we need to be doing is allowing enough women to come in at the graduate level and stay in that industry so that they’re allowed to get to the top. It’s actually about feeding and nurturing those younger levels.”
We’ve heard time and time again about how having flexibility for both partners can have profound effects on work-life balance. For Darryl-Lee, it’s the flexibility that came with her husband’s self-employment that enabled her career to flourish. “Flexibility isn’t a gender issue, it’s an expectation of the future work-force issue. If you wanted to relate it to gender, I would say that one of the best things we can do is enable our men to participate in parenting and to be fathers. That will deliver equality for women in the workforce,” says Darryl-Lee.
While no one has all the answers on how to fix the gaps that exist in our workforce, Darryl-Lee and her team are taking the right steps towards a solution. “This year, our organisation will be looking at reporting on the gender pay gap. The tricky thing is that you have to have enough women in your dataset in order to be able to report on it,” she says. “We will do a thorough report against the guidelines that one should report against. We run our processes looking at salary increases and reviews every year and do a lot of reporting around what it means from a gender perspective. I’m confident that it’ll come out with the right answer.”
For the women out there looking to pursue engineering, Darryl-Lee has simple advice. “This industry offers so many different opportunities and experiences, so try to explore as much as you can. Say yes to opportunity and enjoy the journey.”