#WomenExcel, Impact

Early in my career as a mechanical engineer, I was counseled on how to speak and how to dress. As a woman, you adapted by downplaying your differences such as your appearance. So you did silly things like wear closed-toe shoes, style your hair in a bun, and only wear black or navy blue. Although gender bias was not a conscious topic that was discussed, the unconscious idea was that you shouldn’t stand out too much.

I believe we all have experienced unconscious bias — an implicit association or attitude (about race or gender, for example) that operates beyond our control and awareness, informs our perception of a person or social group, and can influence our decision-making and behavior toward the target of the bias. It is a normal part of how our brain filters information, which is not necessarily a bad thing; however, in the workplace, this can lead to bad decisions if we are unaware of our filters.

In my 35-year career, there has been a lot of progress in gender diversity in engineering companies, and we can celebrate that women can now be more authentic in their work lives. I don’t think anyone intentionally tries to be discriminatory. But once you are aware of it, you need to take action and spread awareness to start the chain of making a difference. Fortunately, we are now working at a time when it is okay to have conversations about unconscious bias. It is important that we take advantage of this opportunity if we want our companies to thrive in the long-term.

Gender diversity is not just a feel-good thing; data confirms that gender-diverse teams improve business performance. Inclusiveness and diversity create business value as organizations with the most gender diversity at the leadership and board levels have higher shareholder return, higher revenue, more customers, and greater market share than homogeneous teams.

My advice related to unconscious bias includes:

  • Once we become aware of unconscious biases, we can talk about it, make changes and take action. Don’t be afraid to bring your own personal biases into your awareness and confront them.
  • If your group is stuck in decision-making, consider bringing in someone who can offer a different perspective. Diversity can include gender, age, global experience, background and/or ethnicity; we have so many ways to engage our diversity.
  • Consider diversity when composing teams. There are many studies indicating that diverse teams are more innovative, more productive, and more likely to stay on schedule and budget.
  • Be an advocate for inclusion. Sometimes it just takes one person to say something. This is a conversation we need to be comfortable having.

As a member of AECOM’s Global Diversity + Inclusion Taskforce, I am continuously pushed to examine my own thinking and to have serious conversations about unconscious biases within the company and with our clients. I am passionate and committed to diversity and inclusion at AECOM and believe we are progressing in this space. I am a strong proponent that an increased focus on diversity and inclusion will not only improve our company, but will make the world a better place.

Headshot_89x100Jill Bruning is executive vice president and general manager within AECOM’s intelligence community and services department. She is an accomplished speaker in the Washington, D.C., area, was selected for the Leadership Foundry in 2012, and won the Women in Technology Leadership award for large business in 2011. She and her husband Jeff own a farm in rural Missouri and have five children and four grandchildren. 

Originally published Sep 8, 2015

Author: Jill Bruning