Women in Innovation: The Impact of Visibility and Mentorship in STEM
In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, and this year’s theme, #EachforEqual, we are featuring stories from our leaders and employees throughout the week of March 2, across editorial themes ranging from the importance of inclusivity to the power of allyship.
Each March, AECOM celebrates International Women’s Day globally. Why? Because women’s perspectives, experiences and ideas are critical. In my two decades in this industry, I have experienced both inadequate representation of women in leadership as well as more diverse leadership teams and have seen the difference it makes. I strive to identify and mentor the growing and developing talent in this business, while paving my own path.
In the past year, I took on a new leadership role focused on digital and innovation for AECOM’s Design and Consulting Services Americas (DCSA). In addition to stepping into this new role, I also joined the DCSA leadership team and am happy to see that several other women joined me at that table this year too. These women lead national business lines and programs, strategy and, most importantly, our people. I could not be more honored to serve beside them. These women raise critical issues and ask important questions. They support and drive productive, meaningful dialogue in meetings so that we discuss issues and hear all opinions on our way to a resolution. It is an incredible experience to look around a room and see women leaders and peers on every side of the table. This is the active and engaged work environment I want and am proud to see at AECOM.
The AECOM team at Investor Day
It is no secret that the industry struggles with a lack of diversity, and some sectors, such as coding, are seeing fewer women enter the workforce. However, the evolving industry landscape means that some of the old gender-based power structures don’t apply in emerging fields. Now is the time for people with more diverse backgrounds to establish themselves as experts/leaders in the field. The Digital and Innovation team at AECOM is working to exert a positive influence on this. We kicked off the Digital Innovation Initiative focused first around celebrating our innovative people and projects. We are working to ensure that our digital and innovation culture reaches every corner of our company and that our staff feel empowered to suggest new ways to solve problems. Internally, we are partnering with our HR Inclusion and Diversity team to develop a joint strategy for inclusion and diversity across the Digital and Innovation initiative.
Externally, our team is assessing opportunities to partner with nonprofits focused on increasing the number of women in STEM fields. I have been involved with the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) throughout my career and have found some amazing mentors through this organization. I am focused on paying that forward by mentoring women inside and outside of AECOM.
Throughout my career, when I have so often been the only woman in the room, I have found myself gently educating my male counterparts on subconscious biases and generally my insight is well received. Recently, I spoke on a panel, Sponsors vs. Mentors, held at a large regional engineering conference. In response to a question from the audience, I used a few simple examples to demonstrate how meeting interactions often impact women. For example, I mentioned how the suggestions women make in a meeting are often unacknowledged and that several minutes later a man will make those same suggestions. I noted that women are more likely to be interrupted — interestingly by both men and women. I also discussed how many women, especially young women, often do not sit at the tables during meetings — and the impact that could be made if their colleagues invited them to sit with them at the table.
Penn State Transportation Engineering Safety Conference – Mentor V Sponsor panel
Nothing will change if we do not speak up, are not visible and do not take deliberate actions. I believe being a senior-level women in our company who is focused on digital and innovation helps other women within and outside of our company see what’s possible. Being highly visible through social media, conference speaking engagements and visiting our offices and encouraging women to step up also helps to drive gender parity.
Every day I see women taking the lead to bring about a better environment for our clients and for our people. To everyone celebrating IWD this year, should you have the title or just the influence, be the leader that you want to see in this business. That’s what I’m trying to do every single day and I would love to work alongside you.