OSPE Member, Ashley McKenzie, P.Eng. on Work-Life Balance During a Pandemic

With her managerial position at WSP, a part-time MBA in progress, a 5-year-old son at home, and multiple volunteer leadership roles, Ashley McKenzie, P.Eng., knows just how demanding the life of an engaged engineer trying to balance it all can really be. McKenzie currently works full-time as Team Lead, Contaminated Lands – Northeast at WSP, managing a team of 11 people, located across five different offices in Ontario, while studying part-time for her MBA at Wilfrid Laurier University. She has also made a point of giving back to the engineering profession through her work with several organizations. In 2020 she served as the Chair of an internal initiative at her former place of employment, dedicated to mentoring and inspiring the next generation of consultants, and being actively involved in the development of their careers. She also recently served on OSPE’s own Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Task Force and is the secretary of the PEO Peterborough Chapter.

ashley mckenzie portraitHowever, alongside of all these professional and academic endeavours, Ashley McKenzie and her husband are also raising their 5-year-old son, who due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would suddenly need to be homeschooled. “My husband and I both work in consulting, so this allowed us to try and figure out a new balance to watch our son full-time while continuing to work full-time. This was very stressful because I was also in school, and as a leader in the company [was] also faced with additional management responsibilities,” McKenzie explains. Despite having a supportive partner and flexible employer, the result was long hours, working from 4am to 12pm and then again in the evening so that she and her husband could take turns caring for their son while the other worked or studied.

“I always found it funny when people would say ‘you must really be enjoying spending more time together now that you’re both working at home,’” says McKenzie. “The opposite couldn’t have been more true – I saw my husband less.”

Ashley McKenzie notes how fortunate she feels for the support of her employer and the partnership of her husband in raising their son, but stresses that the pandemic has had a disproportionately greater impact on women because they often take on the role of primary caregiver. “My story is that of positive family teamwork and a supportive work environment (for both my former and new employer), but I worked with and spoke with several who were not in the same boat,” says McKenzie. “They were extremely stressed because they were balancing work while also homeschooling their children, with minimal support from their partners who were also working full-time. I felt like women were forced to sacrifice their career in some instances so that they could focus on their family. Family is always the most important, but I’d wish that it was never a choice that has to be made if the right supports are in place.”

Engineers on OSPE’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Task Force has worked hard to address this phenomenon by helping to create the right supports for engineers at their organizations, and to remove barriers that may prevent them from participating fully in their profession. The DiversifySTEM learning platform, designed as a corporate training tool to help employers attract and retain diverse talent, is just one of many examples of such work.

McKenzie’s own dedication to building a more diverse and inclusive engineering workforce is reflected both in her volunteer contributions and in her very decision to become an OSPE member. “I think that OSPE does important work because it focuses on other aspects of engineering besides the technical component. In addition to awareness and advocacy, they also look at promoting and increasing awareness with respect to leadership and equity, diversity, and allow new engineers to be part of a community as they develop,” McKenzie asserts. “I have been an OSPE member as I think that it is important to be connected with the engineering community, outside of the workplace. OSPE allows me to read about other aspects of the engineering community, know about OSPE initiatives, have access to the salary survey, and take part in the trainings offered.”

Click here for more information on OSPE’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. To learn more about how to make the most of OSPE membership benefits like those listed above, visit our Membership Benefits page.

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