#ChoosetoChallenge, #IWD, Careers, Equity Diversity & Inclusion, International Women's Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, and this year’s theme #ChooseToChallenge, we have asked a diverse group of leaders and employees to write about their experiences in challenging the status quo and strengthening gender equity and inclusion in the workplace. From March 1 through March 8, follow this conversation on our blog and across our social media handles (Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook).

Identifying allies and creating mentorships is an integral part of achieving career success, especially for those who are underrepresented in their workplace. Now in mentor roles themselves, some of our senior leaders reflect on the work it took to acquire their seats at the table, taking on gender inequity through maintaining clear focus, accepting guidance and overcoming self-doubt.

Mary Pasut, Vice President, Director of Operations, Buildings + Places, Canada

Accelerating women’s equality includes recognizing the critical importance of being open minded and learning from others. In your own personal career journey, you can challenge yourself by asking for input – whether it’s from your leaders, peers or those who report to you – to gain different perspectives. Equally important is finding a strong mentor – one who understands you, your capabilities and ambitions, the business world and where you are well suited. I was fortunate to have such a mentor at the start of my career. She helped me build confidence in my abilities and encouraged me towards an altered career path that was focused on what I loved to do and felt passionate about. With her initial support and through a network of people built across the broad and varied business and personal connections, I continued to evolve while reinforcing my ambition and drive.

I firmly believe that if you love what you do, you will continue to add value. Don’t be too shy to celebrate your achievements, be confident in your abilities and continually focus on your future. Invest in it by extending your learning opportunities beyond your current role. Empower yourself by creating a developmental plan in areas that are valued by your company and will take you to the next level in your career. Ultimately, with every progressive step, be sure to find balance between your personal and professional worlds to find real happiness.

Marie-Jose Croonen, Vice President, Energy, Canada

I’ve always believed that regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, we are all equal. When I started my career, it was this perspective that helped neutralize real and perceived challenges and gave me the confidence in knowing that I had an equal chance of succeeding no matter what type of industry, company or role I selected for myself. During my career, when I had seen prejudices in others or personally felt things were tougher, I tried to disassociate myself from the emotional elements of the job and focus on the parts that I loved. I strongly believe that when you focus on what gives you passion and on the value you bring to the company, the job hurdles come less often and you can positively advance your career and make a difference.

My greatest career advice is to take time to truly understand yourself and know your capabilities. It’s important to continually evaluate where you are in your personal and professional development and take incremental steps to build on your successes. If you run into challenges, look at breaking those down into manageable actions – whether that means taking a course, talking to others with similar experiences or finding a mentor to guide you. Believing in yourself and your value is the key to being successful.

Jihane Fazio, Vice President, New Jersey Transportation Design Leader, U.S. East

Communication and advocacy are how I overcame my own challenges.

I was mid-way through my career when I decided to start a family. Work was in full swing, yet when I welcomed my first child, I realized that putting in late hours regularly was no longer going to work for my new situation. This was 15 years ago, when we were expected to come into the office 5 days a week and our hours were set. I was also the only working mother in our group, so I wasn’t sure how my manager was going to take it. I remember practicing my speech along with the what-if scenarios before approaching him. When I finally did, I advocated for my career, my family and my wellbeing, and he was very understanding and willing to work with me. We worked out a new schedule for me and we made sure we communicated that to all of my team members as well as clients. As I reflect on that today, and where I am in my career, I am so thankful for AECOM and my colleagues for being so accommodating and giving me that opportunity. Today, my daughters are 15 and 12, and since they can’t be bothered with their momma as much as before, I am so grateful to have my career.

Lori Labrum, Vice President, Transit-Rail Division Manager, U.S. West

I want to share a couple of quotes that I use to remind myself that I can. I can carry on through the difficult days, I can achieve great things personally and professionally, and I can enjoy this great journey that I am on. They are:

“I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only,’ not ‘as long as’. I matter. Full stop.” – Chimamanda Adichie,

“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Early on in my career I found myself looking for cheerleaders, someone who could give me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and tackle difficult assignments. Now that I am deeper in my career, I realize, the most important cheerleader is me. I can’t underscore enough the importance of confidence, say it, and believe it, you can do anything!

Courtney ONeill, Associate Vice President, Americas Practice Lead for Water Resources Planning

A few years ago, I was getting extremely frustrated with my job and the position I was in. I felt that I wasn’t progressing in my career and that I wasn’t getting the guidance or support I needed to do my job. I was ready to leave for a different opportunity elsewhere. However, just when I was trying to resign, my supervisor listened to my complaints and really seemed to understand why I was frustrated. He asked me to give him a few days to try and find a solution. He reached out to his network and found out there was a role in a different part of the organization that would be a good fit for my skills and career goals. He went out his way to make sure that my concerns were addressed even though it meant that I would still be leaving his team.

This experience taught me the importance of communicating my goals and of developing a network of people to help me in my career. There are a lot of opportunities available and oftentimes, it just takes speaking up and asking for them. It’s also important to develop a wide network that can help bring opportunities to you that might otherwise not come in front of you.

Beth Myers-Graham, Senior Vice President, Regional Business Line Leader, Environment, U.S. East

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the 2021 theme of #Choose to Challenge is very timely. The global pandemic has brought about a variety of challenges that have resulted in many women not only re-evaluating their schedules, but also their careers. The need to adapt has always been a component of women’s daily focus, but additional pressures have seen an increase in women exiting the workforce during the past 12 months. I feel like as a longer-term career woman, I’m being called on to provide extra support and resources to our early and mid-career team members as they address these pressing issues. I know how critical this support has been for me in the past. Although our careers are individual journeys, each of us can make a difference within our spheres of influence. At AECOM, it is imperative that we address potential diversity gaps that will exist in the near term and future to ensure we can continue to Build a Better World. We must challenge ourselves as leaders, in this evolving career landscape, that ED&I remains a core focus and that we create opportunities at every career level.

Serena Lee, Project Director, Program Cost Consultancy, Malaysia

This pandemic has made it a difficult year for many women in the workplace, especially mothers. Many are risking losing, if they haven’t already lost, the steady income they badly need to sustain their family, adding to the pressures of juggling their personal and professional lives. During online meetings, there were many occasions where I could hear the chattering of children, the sound of cooking, renovation work and so on in the background and this tells me how much these women need to adjust their lifestyles to find balance. Women have had no choice to but to rise to the challenge.

No matter how hard a situation is, I know one thing for sure is that time waits for no one. So each time I face a challenge at work, I always stop what I’m doing and start observing and listening. I would process any information that may be useful and then ask myself, “What is my next best option? What else can I do to reposition myself? Where would each option take me? What are the consequences? Is this what I want at the end of the day?”. Each step is important and is crucial in knowing what I want to achieve.

It may take days, weeks and even months to see the result of the decisions I make but I believe it is a worthwhile exercise as I believe we present our best when we look forward.

Haiyan Zhao, Technical Director, Electrical, Mainland China, Asia             

I had my own business before I joined AECOM, so I knew what a great platform AECOM has provided for those who are ambitious in their career while hoping to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

During my six years here, my team is growing fast. I now lead a group of experts covering areas of Building Engineering, BIM and Sustainability. After work, I could also enjoy quality time with my children, which I had never dreamt of when I was starting and running my own business.

I always encourage my team to think, innovate and embrace the latest technologies to provide the best solutions to our clients. AECOM’s strength in global expertise also allows us to learn from international best practices. We regularly exchange resources and technical experiences with our teams in different regions. This not only helps us grow professionally, but also by cooperating with other teams and disciplines, we are now exploring more business opportunities than before.

I believe that work is only a part of your life, and the only way to achieve work-life balance is to identify your life purpose and then devote time and energy to what you are passionate about.

Originally published Mar 1, 2021

Author: AECOM Editors