Looking back on 20 years of AUT, we can be proud of being a university of ‘firsts’. We spoke to Professor Edwina Pio, the first Professor of Diversity and University Director of Diversity in New Zealand, about AUT’s work in the diversity space.
When Edwina became Professor of Diversity, her colleagues across the country applauded her for being the first in New Zealand with the title.
Edwina prides herself on being fiercely passionate about the diversity domain, along with the privilege and responsibility that comes with the title and role.
As part of the journey, Edwina had discussions with AUT Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack and Assistant-Vice Chancellor Dr Andrea Vujnovich, which led to her appointment as University Director of Diversity; another first for the country.
She describes herself as being both a compassionate warrior and a diplomat in this strategic role, ensuring that the University is more inclusive as it navigates the diversity space.
Edwina was awarded the Te Rangi Hīroa Medal by Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2019 for her pioneering research in diversity; specifically, how the connections of ethnicity, religion and gender impact and are influenced by the world of work.
She stresses the importance of addressing difficult issues with robust research.
“Quite often diversity roles focus almost exclusively on administrative aspects, but I bring to my roles both excellent administrative skills along with deep and relevant research which provides a universal perspective on often very challenging issues in the area of diversity,” Edwina said.
Along with Dr Andrea Vujnovich, Edwina created a Diversity Caucus in 2017 by putting a call out to all permanent professional and academic staff, encouraging those who were interested in diversity to join.
A group was selected from staff across the University, which resulted in a fresh Diversity Roadmap and yearly events for internal and external stakeholders.
In 2017 a diversity forum was held, followed by Give Nothing to Racism in 2018 in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission, and the Religion and Business seminar 2019 with the Religious Diversity Centre.
Edwina says the diversity office will continue to deliver compelling events, including an event this year to discuss coffee, gender and indigenous peoples.
The diversity office also implemented the inaugural AUT Diversity Awards in 2018, which are now incorporated into the annual Vice Chancellor’s Excellence Awards.
Edwina said that although the demographic of New Zealand is changing rapidly, learning must be ongoing so people can engage with diversity in all areas.
“Decisions still come from colonial ideologies and a change in mind-sets takes time. One might have the rhetoric of diversity without the practice of diversity; you see that happening across New Zealand and the world,” she said.
“Therefore, despite good intentions, people still don't know how to respond to people who are different from them. If you don't identify an issue, how will you deal with it?”
Edwina said diversity needs to be embedded into everyday university life. “If we do this, we will have fewer micro aggressions and rejoice in more micro-generosities in our daily realities.”