Less than a third of people working in science, technology and engineering in New Zealand are women. It’s no wonder that leading women in the industry, including manager of measurement, insight and reporting at the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, Vij Kooyela MIML, are concerned.
Kooyela believes that the challenge isn’t exclusive to leadership and management in the industry – there simply isn’t a solid pipeline of young women entering the workforce in this field.
It’s not that the industry is lagging in taking positive steps toward social change. “The energy industry is in a fantastic space in New Zealand,” Kooyela admits. It is bolstered by policy directions that will benefit the environment, in particular the New Zealand Energy Strategy.
However, Kooyela can see that more can be done to grow the number of women in the energy sector.
Leaders’ actions matter
One factor that makes Kooyela acutely aware of the need for greater gender diversity in her industry is the team she manages. “My team are all men,” she says.
Kooyela would love to shake off the stereotype that male-dominated industries become that way due to natural abilities that men possess. “I don’t believe that girls are not as good as boys when it comes to quantitative skills. I think women have excellent communications skills and if that can be coupled with solid technical skills, then that’s an advantage.”
Simply put, the qualities of a good leader remain the same regardless of gender.
She also suggests practical ways for leaders to drive change:
- Language: For Kooyela, leaders should start with what they say. For example, when recruiting, she believes organisations should take a leaf off the UN, which include specific encouragement for women to apply for roles they advertise.
- Behaviour: Having once presented to an all-male room – and finding herself, the only woman, left alone on one side of the said room – Kooyela hopes more leaders will consider their actions. She challenges all leaders to remove all barriers to the equal treatment of people and to make everyone feel comfortable no matter the situation.
Leaders’ attitudes matter
Being no stranger to poor management experiences, Kooyela made a conscious decision to lead well. She found herself with a manager who didn’t do a great job and was described as a bully. Although for Kooyela, the focus was always on the silver lining. “I am so grateful for that experience because that is what pushed me to take the right steps, to demonstrate that [leadership] can be better and it can be done well,” Kooyela explains.
Since then, she has challenged herself to be a better manager and leader because of the impact she knows that leaders have on people. “If I can positively influence someone so that they make a step forward – whether that’s in their life or their career – that’s something very powerful,” Kooyela says.
However, she cautions other leaders, particularly women, to break away from the fear of uncertainty. “Leaders find comfort when we can tick all the boxes before venturing into something different and unknown. We want to get everything right,” she says.
Kooyela believes that more women should back themselves. For her, waiting for perfection is not the way forward.
Her advice? “Go for it. Don’t worry about having all the boxes ticked,” confirms Kooyela.
Leaders’ dialogue matters
“The key thing we are looking for is diversity of thought. Women do bring a different perspective on things and every workplace needs that balance of views,” says Kooyela.
What better way to gather a diverse set of views than through dialogue with a group of peers?
In March, for the first time, IML ANZ is hosting two International Women’s Day (IWD) events in Auckland and Wellington. This year, Vij Kooyela will join other leaders to explore the official IWD topic, ‘#EachforEqual’. Be part of the discussion and join forward-thinking managers and leaders in creating the type of dialogue that drives change.
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