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A day in the life of a sustainability consultant—The face of diversity

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Ritva Vilppola shares workplace experiences on topics of identity, diversity and bias. This is ­­Ritva’s second story in our graduate voices series.

By Ritva Vilppola

Acknowledgement of Country

I would firstly like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land, the people of the Turrbal nation, where I am writing my blog today in Brisbane, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional communities of the land where you are reading this blog and I pay my respects to their people past, present and emerging.

As I reflect on myself, I am constantly developing my understanding of how I define me. It’s interesting how you change as you grow older and experience more which is quite like being a consultant in the everchanging environment we live in—always evolving and sometimes unpredictably in which we must adapt to for our communities to thrive. When I was younger, I always defined myself through my father’s name, Vilppola—Finnish—and the way I looked to Pakeha and Maori—Chinese. Living in Australia, I define myself through where I come from—New Zealand. I defined myself as a girl throughout childhood but now, I define myself as non-binary.

However, regardless from how we define ourselves, we are still defined by others. Experiencing the effects of the concept known as ‘Model Minority’ that Alice Li talks about in her Ted Talk was a challenge for me personally, more so than my gender, as because of my appearance, my grades seemed to be the more judged upon topic throughout adolescence. This needs to change. We need to re-evaluate ourselves and organisations need to foster an environment for everyone to learn about the changes that come with diversity and identity.

Driving diversity

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Standing strong—As a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders, I take the opportunity to support our local organisations who share our values such as Multicultural Development Australia’s Lantern Parade which encourages all people to walk alongside the importance of diversity.

Social value has become an ever-growing concept in the present. More companies are starting up their own internal committees around Corporate Social Responsibility, inclusiveness and diversity because it is what the market demands. Younger generations are focusing more on working for a purpose and the ability to work flexibly rather than the salary they earn.

But, are we just using these words as a marketing scheme to attract and retain more people? There are now many rating tools that assure the quality of a company’s values. One example is Bcorp which measures a company’s performance and takes into consideration not just the profitability of a business but also its impact on the environment as well as the people. It’s great to see that we are moving towards wanting better working environments however, there is still a lot more to be done!

The art of awareness

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Integrating indigenous design principles—WSP collaborated with a local Aboriginal artist creating artworks that combine Aboriginal culture with the values of the business.

The Acknowledgement of Country that opens my blogs is of great significance in Australia around reconciliation towards the recognition and awareness of the national history of colonisation and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Recently, there have been concerns over the construction of a new coal mine on native land which the state government has removed the rightful title belonging to the local Aboriginal communities in order to build it. Working in the sustainability field can be mentally challenging when you learn about the injustices that happen which can lead to serious issues in social sustainability such as marginalisation, racism and other disparities. It’s important to note that sustainability is not just ecological but also socio-economic and we are all responsible for raising awareness around these issues and doing our part.

Beat unconscious bias

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Statistics speak—Taken from the “Are We There Yet?” exhibit at the Auckland Museum about the history of gender equality however by further extrapolation, you can see that disparity goes far beyond gender to race as well (far right is the average European earning).

There is a riddle around bias called The Surgeon Riddle which shows how people commonly assume that certain professions are done by certain genders. But, unconscious bias extends beyond this to age, fitness, sexuality, disabilities, race and even extroversion. Harvard University has an interesting project that allows you to begin understanding your own personal biases. The results can be quite surprising (I apparently have a bias towards old people rather than the young ones!) and this exercise is a good way for you to be more aware of your viewpoints.

Pursuing people empowerment

We are behind our time! As a young graduate, I must note that our commercial industries are going at a snail’s pace when it comes to acknowledging inclusion and diversity in the workforce. As a volunteer on my team’s own Diversity and Inclusion committee, we spend a lot of time focusing on promoting women in engineering and encouraging girls into studying engineering. However, diversity is not just women empowerment—it is people empowerment. It is raising awareness about self-identity so those who may identify differently do not feel excluded. It is giving fathers equal paid paternal leave as mothers. It is parents who want to stay at home to spend quality time with their kids rather than having to go back to work in concern over their future employability or funding their retirement. It is pursuing a livelihood that actually interests you rather than something that is incentivised because the gender ratios are ‘low’ or confining to the western measures of ‘progress’. It is a huge societal challenge in the capitalist era we live in. The issue is greater than what we see—as we are barely scratching the surface—and it’s time to speak up and embrace activism!

I believe in order to overcome our biases, it is necessary to discuss and be more open with our colleagues, friends and family around what we know and what we may need to know more of. Different opinions should be discussed and considered as something to refine, develop or change as you learn from others. Put that TOK knowledge to use! Flick me a message, I am always interested to hear your thoughts and what your biases are.

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Ritva Vilppola completed their schooling at St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland, New Zealand before continuing their studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Prior to joining WSP in 2017 as a Sustainability Consultant and relocating to Brisbane, Ritva worked at the New Zealand Green Building Council. Passionate about helping communities thrive, Ritva is the local Queensland Chapter Vice President of the non-profit organisation, Engineers Without Borders Australia. In their downtime, they enjoy being immersed in art at the local printmaking studio. You can also reach Ritva on LinkedIn or via email at Ritva.vilppola@wsp.com.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at alumni.relations@ibo.org. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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