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Fiona Sugden

Global Diversity, Belonging & Human Rights Project Manager

Conversations for Change is a blog series that highlights exceptional people from diverse backgrounds, promoting inclusive discussions and positive global impact. Explore with us as we feature inspiring Arcadians, amplify their voices and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable future through thoughtful conversations.


Tamae Partain


Tamae Partain

How do you define Gender Equity and actively promote it in your work environment? Our industry?

Gender equity is the fair treatment, representation, and voice of all genders in every aspect of life, including the workplace. In our work environment and industry, I actively promote gender equity by implementing policies that ensure equal opportunities for all employees regardless of their gender. This includes actively recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce, providing equal pay for equal work, and offering leadership and advancement opportunities without gender bias. I want a team who had difference experiences, who come from vastly different backgrounds, and who are willing to engage each other without fear of retaliation and also promote culture of inclusion and respect, where all voices are heard and valued. Additionally, I provide mentorship, training, and education on gender equity to raise awareness and foster a more inclusive and equitable work environment. Through these efforts, I aim to create a workplace and industry where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive and succeed.

In a traditionally male-dominated industry, what specific obstacles or biases have you encountered, and how did you overcome them to succeed in your career? What lessons have you learned from these experiences?

As a woman of mixed race in a male-dominated engineering and construction industry, I have experienced firsthand the obstacles that women and minorities encounter. I have entered rooms where, as the leader running the meeting, I was met with patronizing requests to get someone coffee and dismissive attitudes. I have faced the frustration of having my ideas disregarded, only to see them celebrated when presented by a male colleague a few minutes later. Despite these challenges, I have persevered, working tirelessly to demonstrate my worth and claim my seat at the table. While the journey has not been easy or fair, the doubters and detractors have inadvertently fueled my determination to excel in my field. Their resistance has only strengthened my resolve and made me even better at what I do.

Through my experiences, I have learned that transforming a culture is a formidable task, yet entirely achievable, and I embrace the opportunity to drive this change. I have also come to understand that there are instances where attempting to alter someone's fundamental character may not be worth my time and energy. I recognize that as long as goals are accomplished, personal recognition may not always be essential to me. I have learned to direct my efforts toward areas where I can affect meaningful and impactful change and truly make a difference in the world.

What advice would you give to individuals entering the AEC industry? What was the most impactful piece of advice you've received on your journey so far?

For individuals entering the AEC industry, I would advise them to stay curious, be open to learning from others, and seek out mentors who can provide guidance and support. It's important to continually build and refine your technical skills while also developing strong communication and teamwork abilities, as collaboration is essential in this industry. Ultimately, it’s about PEOPLE. Our industry revolves around individuals and relationships, making it crucial to prioritize the development of these interpersonal skills and the expansion of your professional network. Embracing diversity and inclusion is also crucial for success in the AEC industry, as it fosters innovation and creativity. Also, never underestimate the power of perseverance and pursuing your passion. Despite facing challenges and setbacks, staying steadfast and committed to my goals has been instrumental in overcoming obstacles and achieving success. It's important to recognize the necessity of being adaptable and continuously expanding your knowledge. As the world is constantly changing, being resilient is essential to staying ahead.

The most impactful guidance I've received on my journey is to have faith in myself and recognize my own value. At the age of 24, fresh out of school, I found myself thrust into the role of Deputy Program Manager for a groundbreaking $68 million regional water facility project. The scope of the project was vast, encompassing numerous complex elements ranging from business cases, to infrastructure, to engineering, to legal and financial matters, and I felt completely out of my depth. I didn’t even know what a “Deputy Program Manager” did when they offered me the position. Seeking approval for every task and doubting my decisions, I turned to my mentor for guidance. His response was a revelation: “I wouldn’t have put you in this position if I didn’t think you were capable. I believe in you. Why don’t you believe in yourself?” This profound realization transformed my approach to challenges and had a lasting impact on my journey forward.

What motivates you in your work? In your ideal world, what would best practice look like?

I consider myself fortunate to have a career that empowers me to make a difference in the world. Purpose and passion inspire me. While it may sometimes appear to involve small gestures, I have come to realize that these seemingly insignificant acts often hold the greatest significance for the individuals I am assisting. If I can alleviate a burden or resolve a problem for even just one person, I find solace in knowing that I have truly made a meaningful impact.

In my ideal world, best practice would involve a work environment where every individual's efforts, no matter how small, are recognized and valued for their sincere impact on the lives of others. We should feel enabled to speak up and express ourselves and our ideas without fear. It is important for individuals to value creativity and courageous and bold decisions, as these are often the catalysts for achieving the best outcomes. We should strive to uphold the utmost integrity in all that we do.

What excites you about this year’s IWD theme of ‘Allyship & Inclusion’? Regarding gender equity, what change would you like to see in the next 10 years?

This year's International Women's Day theme of 'Allyship & Inclusion' is particularly exciting as it emphasizes the importance of solidarity and collaboration in advancing gender equality. The focus on allyship underscores the need for individuals and organizations to actively support and advocate for women, creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

Looking ahead, over the next 10 years, I hope to see a significant change in the representation of women in leadership positions across all industries. I aspire for gender equity to be fully realized, with women occupying equal roles and opportunities, and for diversity and inclusion to be deeply ingrained in the fabric of every organization and community. I aspire to contribute to a world where discussions such as these are no longer necessary. My greatest wish is for my daughter to thrive in a society where she is recognized and rewarded based on her efforts, determination, tenacity, and unique qualities. I envision a world where everyone's potential is nurtured and celebrated, irrespective of gender. Let us honor each individual for their intrinsic worth, focusing on who they are rather than what they are.


Fiona Sugden

Fiona Sugden

Global Diversity, Belonging & Human Rights Project Manager