#IWD, #IWD2022, BreakTheBias, ED&I, Equity Diversity & Inclusion, International Women's Day, Women's History Month

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, and this year’s theme, #BreaktheBias, we are featuring stories from our ED&I leaders across the globe from March 1 – 8. Learn more about how AECOM is breaking the bias for our employees and communities, by following our conversations on LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as the AECOM Blog.

Having spent most of my working life in the Middle East and 14 years with AECOM, I have experienced many positive changes aimed at addressing workplace gender imbalance both in our region and our industry. Most recently, the United Arab Emirates implemented a labour law that includes new work models covering job sharing, part-time and other flexible working arrangements. These new options provide much welcomed flexibility for people returning to the workplace after a period of absence, such as maternity leave, and open the door for conversations between employees and their managers about working in ways that allow them to meet personal commitments.

In Saudi Arabia, where the empowerment of women is at the heart of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform program, more women are working in our industry than ever before, and organizations are hiring talent based on skills and education, not gender. Our workforce in Saudi Arabia has never been more diverse, and we have a target to grow the number of women employees there by 4 percent year on year. Further, 70 percent of students in higher education in Saudi Arabia are women, so we’re confident that this will translate into more women in our sector and a steady pipeline of talent for leadership positions.

Despite all these reforms, the region and industry still have far to go. However, as someone told me recently, it’s about incremental gains, not big step changes, and this comment has really spurred me on to focus my efforts on what I can influence. 

In the Middle East, AECOM has seen positive results from a variety of initiatives, notably the nurturing of young talent by engaging with schools on the types of careers paths for students interested in STEAM subjects. Through this grassroots approach, we can inspire the minds of young women to pursue their passion for engineering and design, and change the gender imbalance for those studying these subjects and ultimately entering our industry.

Due to our active engagements with universities across the region, our UAE Advance Program has welcomed its most diverse intake since the graduate scheme’s inception eight years ago. As part of a wider diversity and inclusion plan, we attracted a graduate intake in January 2022 comprising 12 different nationalities, with just over half of the intake being women.

To mark International Women’s Day, we are launching Alliance, a mentoring program designed specifically to elevate our high performing senior women. Alliance will see the women paired with a mentor from the senior leadership team who will ensure their exposure to the wider business and support them to achieve their career advancement goals. 

In South Africa, we have recently seen Kim Timm, structures executive, awarded Woman in Leadership of the Year by the Big 5 Women in Construction Awards.

“If we support and encourage each other, we can change the world,” says Kim. Active in the industry for 18 years, she notes that when she commenced her career, there were very few women engineers. “The industry has evolved over the past 20 years, but it can still be a challenge to be taken seriously as a woman in engineering.”

Additionally, at the CESA Aon Engineering Excellence Awards, AECOM was recognized as the  Mentoring Company of the Year.

Darrin Green, managing director, AECOM Africa, says, “At AECOM, we embrace and enable better collaboration through our diverse teams and international nature. Our Think and Act Globally strategy sets a new standard of excellence and is focused on extending AECOM’s industry-leading, global expertise to all projects we work on.”

International Women’s Day is important to me because on the surface, it may seem that today, men and women are treated equally. But if we dig a little deeper, we can see the subtle comments and actions, or outdated workplace policies that don’t necessarily support women inclusion. Since many of the root causes stem from other peoples’ own internal biases (unconscious or not), International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of how biases manifest and demonstrate how incremental changes can make a stark difference to the employee experience as well as business performance. The more diverse a workforce, the better a business performs.

Having experienced bias throughout my life in terms of age, gender, and race, I know firsthand the impact this can have on someone’s confidence. I am doing my part in the hope that future generations are raised in a world where everyone is given equal opportunities to excel and pursue whatever path they choose.

Originally published Mar 7, 2022

Author: Vicky O'Neill