#IWD, Careers, ED&I, 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 (TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook).

I started my professional working life at a time when expectations of women were very different from today — few women went into business and even fewer stayed throughout their career.  As a result, women had very few female role models.

Having good mentors, regardless of gender, helped me in my career and continues to be important to me today.  Strong mentoring relationships need to feel natural to work. You must be able to be yourself, be open to learn and be honest about what you want to achieve.  I personally took the initiative to reach out to people I saw as potential mentors and always looked for opportunities to expand my network. Having exposure to different people is critical because these relationships grow and change throughout your career—what you need today may be different from what you need five years from now.

I recall one mentor of mine who recognized potential in me and told me he believed I could become a partner in the firm I was working for, at a time when I did not think it was remotely possible.  He helped me map out a practical progression plan, which included getting experience in different parts of the business.  He taught me to seek sponsorship, put my hand up for new opportunities and speak more confidently and coherently about my career aspirations – but most importantly, do great work every step of the way. Having someone who had such faith in me, not only inspiring me to think bigger, but being sensible about an approach to achieve it, made a big difference in the way I thought about myself.

That experience made me realize the type of leader I wanted to be and the work environment I wanted to create. The current business landscape has come a long way since then. At AECOM, there are many resources and programs aimed to help women thrive. Our Women Business Council in Asia and Senior Female Sponsorship Program in Australia/New Zealand enable our female employees to participate in mentorships and network to better understand unique issues faced by women at work. In the Middle East and Africa, our graduate programs, school visits and peer-to-peer mentoring accelerate the growth of women in our industry and educate students on the types of careers enabled by the study of STEM subjects. In Europe, our Freedom to Grow flexible work program and mCircles mentoring network aim to provide a more supportive and inclusive work environment for our employees to contribute in ways that work best for them. In the Americas, we’re forming an employee resource group for our women employees to facilitate conversations and better address the unique needs we face in a male dominated industry.

As my career progressed, my experience of great mentors helped me recognize I too could help mentor others – we all can!  I want all our employees at AECOM to feel that they can be a mentor and an inspiration to someone else. In a safe space, where we can be open and honest, and make others feel like they have potential beyond their wildest beliefs — that is the type of environment where one can truly thrive.

Shirley Adams

Originally published Mar 2, 2021

Author: Shirley Adams

Shirley Adams is AECOM’s Chief Human Resources Officer.