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Faces of success: Environmental engineer Ashleigh Denize

When Ashleigh Denize was in high school, her career advisor told her to stay away from subjects like biology and chemistry, as they would limit her job prospects.


Now, she’s spreading her wings as an environmental engineer for one of the world’s largest civil engineering consultancies.


“I don’t like being told what to do – as my mum knows well – so I took every science class I could,” Ashleigh laughs.


Ashleigh was recently selected to meet with ANZ CEO Antonia Watson as part of the bank's Watch Women Win project, aiming to recognise and showcase female talent and inspire women to succeed in their chosen field.


Women are typically under-represented in STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – and Ashleigh told Antonia that in her first year studying engineering at university, just 10 of the 120-or-so students were women.


“Civil, mechanical, robotics and computer engineering are traditionally male-dominated fields – and while I think people see engineers as being men, outside, hammer in hand and a hard hat on their head, the reality is that anyone can do anything,” Ashleigh said.


It’s a scenario Antonia has been all too familiar with during the course of her career, although the number of female leaders in banking, and within ANZ, is increasing.

"More than half of our executive team at ANZ are now women – so less and less I’m finding myself in a group of all men – until I go to, say, a CEO roundtable with other businesses, and then I think about how we still have a way to go across different business sectors."

Antonia Watson - ANZ NZ CEO


She told Ashleigh that female leaders shouldn’t have to compromise who they are to fit in with the traditional, male-dominated view of how leaders should act.


“I’m very conscious of that,” Antonia said, “of being true to myself and not suddenly turning into a dominating leader, which just isn’t me, just because that’s someone’s idea of what a leader should look like.


“You’ve got this amazing opportunity to make an impact, because you’re a woman in an industry where there are less women.”


Ashleigh said, aside from the civil engineering classes at uni, certain sub-sectors of engineering are attracting a growing number of women.

“Chemical and process engineering, biological engineering and environmental engineering are more appealing to women now, as well as men,” Ashleigh said.


“Attitudes are shifting to reflect that anyone, of any gender, can have a career in those roles.

“It’s about knowing your strengths - finding the spaces you know you’re good in.”

Environmental Engineer Ashleigh Denize at Auckland's Te Auaunga - Oakley Creek.




As an environmental engineer for Stantec, Ashleigh helps design and implement natural solutions to some of our biggest problems - like flooding.


After recent flood in the North Island, the idea of nature-based engineering has gained traction, especially as climate change threatens to increase the frequency and severity of weather events.


“With the flooding that happened in Auckland, the reason why the flooding was so bad downtown was that we’ve taken all the rainwater and put it into pipes underground – but we can never build a pipe big enough for all of that rain,” Ashleigh said.


“In Auckland, we’re starting to daylight the streams again – all of those that were buried are being dug up again, and it becomes a community space - you can make walkways, native planting, attract wildlife and it becomes a recreational space as well as beneficial engineering.”


One example of this approach is Auckland’s Te Auaunga - Oakley Creek project, which has seen a 1.3km stretch of the stream transformed over the past decade, going from a flood-prone concrete channel to a large recreation area planted with native trees.

Auckland’s Te Auaunga - Oakley Creek - where native planting and smart infrastructure has reduced flood risk


The result has increased the stream’s capacity, while also restoring its ability to soak water naturally into the ground, and reducing the flood risk to surrounding properties.


Stantec wasn’t involved in the Oakley Creek project, but Ashleigh is now looking forward to working on similar – if not bigger – projects overseas.


Her position with Stantec has led to an opportunity to work at the firm’s London office, where centuries of development have left nature fighting for an ever-decreasing share of space.


“There’s nowhere left for the water to go,” Ashleigh said, “so I think we’ll look to get rid of some of that concrete.”




During her studies, Ashleigh wanted to inspire others to get into STEM fields.


“I think that starts in high school, encouraging students to do science and maths and keep up with those kinds of subjects,” Ashleigh said.


She became involved with Engineering New Zealand’s Wonder Project.


“It’s a really cool initiative – you go into schools and get them involved in engineering projects, teach them about technology, and show them kinds of things you can do using technical skills.


“We built a water bottle rocket for the primary school kids,” Ashleigh said.


“I think just exposing them to aspects of technology in a really fun way lets them know it is an option for them.


“It doesn’t just have to be boys who like maths and computers that go into engineering – it’s actually anyone with a passion.”


ANZ's Watch Women Win Report

There’s a huge amount of work to be done to find ways that enable, empower and encourage women to fulfil their professional or personal aspirations and dreams, which uplifts us all, socially and economically.

ANZ's Watch Wāhine Win Report

Report recognises and celebrates the women who make up the rich cultural fabric of Aotearoa, and restates the need to continue efforts to achieve an equitable society.

Building Back Green – Why We Must ‘Let Nature In’

In a warmer world the risk to infrastructure has increased. That’s why we need to be smart about how and where we re-build after events like floods.