A transgender woman has criticised South Otago’s ‘‘rural town mentality’’ while speaking of her challenges gaining and retaining employment locally, because of discrimination.

Counsellor and student Catherine Vos made the comments during Clutha District Youth Council diversity awareness event Diversity Delivers, at South Otago Town & Country Club in Balclutha last Thursday.

The event, anchored by keynote speaker ‘‘That Blind Woman’’ Julie Woods, of Dunedin, aimed to ‘‘educate and enlighten’’ local residents and businesspeople about diversity.

About 60 people attended, including representatives from major local employers Silver Fern Farms and Fonterra.

Ms Vos said the event was ‘‘timely’’, and hoped it would ‘‘open people’s eyes’’ to some of the challenges faced by members of the diverse community in overcoming everyday prejudices.

‘‘I worked for [a large contractor] for more than four years, and never came out [as a transgender woman] there because I had an unsympathetic boss.

‘‘Then I moved to [a forestry industry firm], where I eventually came out.

‘‘After I did, attitudes changed, and they started to find fault with everything so, eventually, I resigned.’’

She had several formal qualifications, including as a registered counsellor, and was studying for a psychology degree via Massey University.

‘‘As a transgender woman, employers just don’t want to take me on. People need to get out of their rural town mentality and see the whole person.’’

Event spokeswoman Lilly Paterson said she was ‘‘stoked’’ with the number of local employers who had signed up to attend.

‘‘About 80% of those here today are from local employers, which is incredible. We just want to educate people on diversity as a whole, and maybe open their minds a little bit.’’

A ‘‘diversity pledge’’ given to attendees to sign, which had led to concerns about its intention on social media recently, was simply another educational resource, she said.

‘‘We at (insert business name), an employer within the Clutha District, pledge to provide an inclusive, safe environment of equal opportunities for all. We also pledge that this will be delivered with dignity, respect, and empathy with a high focus of fair treatment of everyone,’’ the pledge read.

However, the pledge would not be recorded, and was optional.

‘‘Like everything else today, it’s just to encourage thought.’’