#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 (TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook).

We had previously shared advice from some of our women senior leaders to younger women at the start of their careers on achieving success in a male-dominated industry. In response, we have welcomed some of our more junior employees to share the lessons they’ve learned from their mentors as they work towards the inevitable – becoming our future industry leaders.

Latisha Darling Mattis, Construction Project Management Apprentice, Europe (UK)

I’d like to help raise awareness among girls of apprenticeships opportunities and show them that there’s are a viable route into construction. When I was new to the company, one director told me that you drive your own career. That advice gave me the push I needed to speak up about switching sectors. I networked and made the right connections and now I am working within healthcare, which is the sector I am most passionate about. Being at the early stages of your career doesn’t mean you can’t navigate the direction you want it to take.

Kimberly Feldbauer, Transportation Planner, U.S. West

I joined AECOM fresh out of graduate school with the goal to gain a variety of experience and exposure to the vast world of transportation planning. Early on, I was fortunate that I was able to take on more responsibility and leadership tasks that lead to exciting, but challenging opportunities. When I felt less confident in my abiltiy to solve every problem, I was supported by an amazing team and strong leadership from my colleagues that we could navigate the unknowns – or at least unknowns to me – together. This perspective that I’m part of a team continually leads me to #ChoosetoChallenge myself and others to take on the projects and opportunities that may seem a little scarier, but end up being far more rewarding.

I have also been very fortunate over the past decade to have had incredible leaders in this industry as mentors; in particular, women with all kinds of backgrounds. The most valuable advice that I’ve been given and, more importantly, shown over the years is to lift as you climb. None of us alone can know how to contribute to our communities in the best way possible. Having a multitude of diverse perspectives and personal experiences is critical for our industry and communities, and that is only possible when there is representation at the table. My biggest hope and goal as a leader is to change how that table is made and who gets to be there.

Tian Kang, Track and Civil EIT, Canada

The best piece of advice I’ve received in my career was from a female mentor about the importance of time management. I was working for the government as an engineering assistant. This was my first full-time job and I learned a lot from it with her guidance.

In my first few weeks, I was involved in several projects, each of them at a different stage. I was confused and had no idea how to perform my tasks effectively. My mentor explained the importance of time management, prioritizing tasks by their deadlines and maintaining careful notes to help keep everything on track and organized. She also suggested developing multitasking skills to perform tasks more efficiently.

I like to share this advice with others who are starting out in their career because it was helpful in my first job and in my future work. I truly appreciated that my mentor took the time to share her insights and experience to support my career development.

Arshia Chaudhri, Urban Designer III, India

I believe that a journey without challenges and obstacles is no fun. As a professional, failure is not what concerns or deters me; it’s not trying hard enough. I wouldn’t have made it this far without the empowering leadership that I have been fortunate to work with. They have always advocated to consider failures to be the best milestones in a career path and to keep forging ahead by embracing challenges and to not get impacted by them. I have immense gratitude for the leaders who have consistently pushed me beyond my capacity. Allaying doubts and fears along the way, I have come to a place where I can confidently own my capabilities and skills and feel good about it.

Climbing the corporate ladder has never been a definition of success or a goal for me. It’s the small wins each day that fuels me to keep forging ahead one step at a time, building me incrementally into a stronger professional.

Janine Warner,  Structural Engineer I, Transportation-Bridges, NYC Metro

Each of us experiences an intersectionality of our identities, which can make it difficult to pinpoint why someone may act or speak to us in a certain way.  For example, although I am a woman, I am also young and inexperienced. If someone belittles me, it could be because of ageism, gender bias, or any other variety of stereotypes.  The reality is that you know in your gut when you are being treated differently, but how are you supposed to advocate for yourself without damaging your own reputation before you’ve even really established one?

No one wants to rock the boat when you’re new, so it can be daunting to #ChooseToChallenge the status quo as a young professional. I’d encourage recent graduates and young professionals to acknowledge that biases and stereotypes do exist – they’re problematic, and they can be harmful. The best piece of advice a fellow alumnus once told me was to create allies among your peers and coworkers because it is a lot easier to take a chance and make a change with people who support you and all that you bring to the table.

Rena Tang, Environment Consultant, Singapore

AECOM is my first job after graduation from university. I joined in January 2018 and have been working as an environmental consultant for the geosciences remediation services and engineering team in AECOM’s environment department in Singapore.

As a young female engineer in the field, I have received queries from contractors and clients as to why I did not choose an office job. I once received a remark from a contractor that this is not a woman’s job. I strongly believe that women are highly capable of doing such work and these gender stereotypes are not true, which is why I #ChooseToChallenge.

An inspiring quote I heard from one of my teachers from school is that, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This quote deeply resonates with me and I apply this to my everyday life, including my work. It is important to do proper planning before heading out to the field or any other task to deliver quality work to our clients, no matter what gender you are. The work we do is the same and I strongly believe that there should not be a divide between male and female engineers.

Valetta Saldanha, Project Engineer, U.S. West

When I joined AECOM as a new graduate, I had diverse work assignments that were a mix of desk assignments, visiting water and wastewater plants to collect existing data, and visiting construction projects to monitor progress or troubleshoot. At the time, I did not realize that I would be the only woman engineer at several of these site visits or meetings. I used to climb ground storage tanks to inspect the tank roofs or drive to remote sites to inspect a lift station; to the surprise of some of the plant operators. I was asked if I would be comfortable undertaking some of these assignments. I was eager to learn and work, and I performed the work assignments with a lot of zeal. I am glad and proud that I did not hold myself back.

When I look back, I appreciate these early experiences that challenged me to work outside of my comfort zone. That was then and this is now – I will continue to #ChoosetoChallenge.

Sarah Woodward, Senior Civil Engineer, Australia New Zealand

If there is one key piece of advice that I could give to anyone starting their career it’s to be enthusiastic.

When I started my career, I was really passionate about design management. I made sure to verbalize this, particularly to the design managers. Within a few months, AECOM won a project and the design manager was looking for a deputy to assist him. There were more qualified team members, but the design manager remembered our discussion and offered me the role. The role started off with administrative tasks, such as taking minutes, which I grasped with both hands. Those administrative tasks enabled me to attend meetings with key clients, understand different disciplines and get exposure throughout the business. The design manager loved my enthusiasm and it wasn’t long before I was leading client meetings, coordinating the design team and eventually transitioning into the role of design manager.

I #ChoosetoChallenge you all to show enthusiasm in every task that you undertake. It’s so easy to do and will truly accelerate your career!

Lauren McKenna, Transportation Planner, Canada

Since joining AECOM a year and a half ago as a Transportation Planner, I have been able to work on a variety of exciting projects and learn new concepts, ideas, and processes from others. Reflecting on how I #ChoosetoChallenge in the beginning of my career, I believe it is important to feel like you can share your ideas without judgement. At AECOM, I feel like my thoughts and questions are always heard and fairly considered. Whether it be in an informal call with a colleague or at a project meeting, it is reassuring to know that even in the beginning of my career I am supported by those around me. I am grateful for the continual opportunities to learn, contribute, and truly feel like an equal member of the team.

Originally published Mar 5, 2021

Author: AECOM Editors