Conversation: Enhancing inclusion and diversity
In 2021, GHD hired chartered professional accountant (CPA) Sadaf Parvaiz as its first-ever global inclusion and diversity leader. Based in Oakville, Ont., she manages the firm’s inclusion, equity and diversity (IED) strategy for more than 200 offices—and more than 10,000 employees—around the world.
How did you get into this line of work?
It’s not something I imagined doing as a CPA! I fell into it 17 years ago at Ernst & Young (EY). I had no background in human resources (HR), but was asked to apply because of my passion and my compassion. There were no formal IED programs at the time, so I learned the ropes through experience. Later, I got a certificate in intercultural studies from University of British Columbia (UBC), but I would say a lot of what I have learned has been through continuous self-education and curiosity.
Is your focus very different at GHD?
Changing jobs during the pandemic, I had to do a ‘virtual roadshow’ to gain insights and information about the firm. Compared to accounting, engineering’s demographics are different, but there are a lot of similarities in the obstacles to overcoming IED challenges.
The biggest difference is I didn’t have much difficulty finding diversity in accounting at the entry level, whereas engineering needs a more concerted effort to grow the pool of candidates even at that level. Once people are in the workforce, however, there are a lot of similarities in how we can achieve more inclusion.
Also, the work we do in engineering has so many implications for diversity and inclusion. When we’re building bridges, railways and roads, we’re planning how people will live. It’s an industry that can change the world. There’s a huge benefit when we have engineers who can look at things from different perspectives.
Canada is a multicultural country, but diversity still woefully lower in engineering than in other industries, especially with regard to Black and Indigenous professionals. We need much more outreach and engagement with people from those communities.
What are you doing to change things?
We’ve partnered with Inroads, which helps source students from underrepresented populations, so we can access really good candidates for internships—those already pursuing engineering degrees, usually in their third year—and hopefully sign them on full-time. We have committed to hire 10 Indigenous interns across Canada this year.
For the people already working here, we’ve rolled out inclusive e-signatures, where you can indicate working hours and the pronunciation of your name and use different pronouns. It’s optional, but helps people feel valued and respected.
When residential school students’ graves were found in Kamloops, B.C., and when a Muslim family was killed in London, Ont., we provided a forum for people to come and share their shock and other feelings, a safe space to discuss difficult issues, with no agenda or scripted leadership message.
What about at the leadership level?
There’s a general similarity across workplaces where we still don’t see underrepresented groups at the highest levels, reflecting the community population, but one of the things that made me choose to join GHD is its board is really engaged on this topic. It is a strategic priority for our leadership team and there is a genuine desire to make demonstrable progress.
Sadaf Parvaiz will be part of Annex Business Media’s Women In Construction (WIC) virtual event on Mar. 10. For more information, visit www.rocktoroad.com/virtual-events/women-in-construction-2022.