#diversitymatters With Tom Benn, “Own What Makes You Unique”
Tom Benn, an Associate in BG&E’s Buildings team in Sydney and a passionate Member of the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Committee. He is an accomplished structural engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in helping clients to deliver award-winning property developments. He’s also an inspiring advocate of equality and inclusiveness.
When did you recognise that diversity was crucial in society and the workplace?
I grew up in Balmain in Sydney’s inner-west, I attended an all-boys school, pursued a career in engineering and my peer group throughout those years was dominated by Caucasian males, who enjoyed similar opportunities.
When I finished university, I stepped outside of my ‘childhood norms’ and realised the world was more diverse than I had experienced. I began traveling, working and mingling with people from varying socio-economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and it was brilliant.
Early in my career, I noticed little nuances in the way males and females experienced the workplace. I witnessed males attending client meetings and industry events, while females with similar qualifications and experience did not get these opportunities. When we won large projects, I recall technical tasks being allocated to males in the team and females being asked to undertake support type roles. Those experiences helped to shape my appreciation of gender inequality and made me reflect on my behaviour.
Do you have mentor that you seek guidance from, about diversity?
Not one mentor specifically, rather a network of people in my life, starting with my mother, Sue. She’s a driven, bohemian-esque, university professor with a PhD, that raised three sons while being surrounded by other males – my father, uncles and cousins. Those years taught her resilience, determination, to call out inequality and she subsequently shared those learnings with me.
Is there something about diversity that keeps you up at night?
Confidence about ‘owning’ your sexual orientation or anything that makes us unique. Around the world, in societies and workplaces, a lot of progress has been made to encourage everyone to feel comfortable about their sexual orientation. However, I believe there’s more work to do in this space.
I occasionally assume the role of assisting others that are seeking guidance about being their authentic self, in a professional environment. Seeing others grow and succeed is a pleasure and knowing that I can contribute to this is highly rewarding.
I listen and encourage them to be self-aware. I share anecdotes and experiences about acceptance. Most of all, I remind them that they have a voice and together, we can navigate through what can sometimes be a challenging, but increasingly evolving world.
Sexual orientation is a critical part diversity – one that is not widely spoken about – and I have an opportunity to improve that.
Do you have a diversity role model who has had a significant impact on your life/career?
In recent times, I’ve been influenced by some of my colleagues in BG&E’s Sydney Buildings team, including Nina Lee (Principal – Structures, NSW), Reza Hassani (Principal – Structures, NSW), Vitali Bebekh (Principal – Structures, NSW) and Vahid Shamsaeifar (Senior Structural Engineer – Buildings, NSW). Their values and life experiences have led them to overcome obstacles while still being incredibly authentic people. They’re great role models for inclusiveness.
Padraic Murphy (Associate Director – Civil, WA) is another colleague that I respect, for his understanding of diversity. He has helped to create a workplace culture that is underpinned by putting people at the core of our thinking, Padraic reminds me about the amazing things that have and can be achieved.
What will shape a fairer future for the next generation?
Ensuring the next generation (and beyond) recognise the importance of self-reflection. We need to encourage them to regularly reflect on their beliefs, behaviours and impact on others. All too often self-worth is centred around image and Instagram ‘likes’, rather than having the humility to reflect on ourselves.
Self-reflection is also vital in creating and sustaining working environments, where equality flourishes. It opens up our minds to new thinking, self-improvement and helps us to have the confidence to call out poor behaviour, as well as to work with others to improve unconscious bias.