#WomenExcel, Impact

International Women’s Day is a big event for AECOM. On social media, at  industry events in Australia and New Zealand (and around the world), and in small groups in our offices, we were challenged as individuals and as a business to “make it happen” — to lead positive change for women in terms of addressing gender bias in performance, talent management and pay decisions in the workforce.

It’s, of course, a big challenge, but we’re up to it. Why do I think that? Well, I’m a living example of the opportunities a company like AECOM — with its commitment to diversity and inclusion — can offer women.

I first started with our company more than 20 years ago as a planner, and today I’m Chief Executive, leading a 3,000-person-strong team of talented specialists who work with our clients to achieve some pretty amazing things.

As one of the only women  leading a company this size in our industry across Australia and New Zealand, I’m immensely proud, but I also feel the responsibility to do what I can to ensure the next generation of talented women has the same opportunities as me to reach the top of their chosen field, whatever that field might be.

Put simply, diversity and equality make good business sense. At AECOM, in more than 150 countries, this is the way we want to do business. It’s not just because we want to ensure both women and men receive the same opportunities; our clients, too, have also told us how important it is to do business with firms that are showing real leadership in addressing the issues of pay inequality and unconscious bias. If we want to remain an employer of choice and trusted client partner, demonstrating a commitment to discussing these issues and, more importantly, acting to address them, is essential.

With 30 percent of our 3,000-strong Australia and New Zealand team currently being women, I’m the first to admit we have room for improvement, across a range of metrics.

Since becoming Chief Executive, I’ve sought to initiate open, frank conversations around the structural, cultural and unconscious barriers faced by our women, and the actions needed to overcome them.

Our mCircles network, for example, provides mentoring opportunities for women and a forum to discuss, explore and support. Online, meanwhile, debate and discussion are flourishing across geographies through our WomenExcel group on our internal social media platform.

But it’s not just about making it easier for women to access appropriate career support and networking opportunities internally. By attracting an army of supporters externally, across industries, we can contribute to a comprehensive, international and year-round conversation about how we can unlock the full potential of women in businesses of all sizes, in all industries.

I’m proud, for example, to be one of 62 Australian business leaders to have signed on as an ambassador for the Australian government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA’s) In Your Hands campaign. My ambassadorial role is to encourage other business leaders to recognise pay equity as a key business imperative.

We’re currently working with the WGEA to assess any pay gaps and develop solutions to bring about pay equity. Meanwhile, industry mentoring programs in Australia including the National Association of Women in Construction, and others as part of the Committee for Melbourne and Roads Australia, are all building to a point where gender equality is emerging from the fringes to be an integral part of how organisations develop, progress and succeed.

At AECOM, we’re focusing on long-term lead indicators such as development opportunities for women, promoting more women from within the organisation, and hiring more women into leadership roles from outside our business.

We believe that conducting gender pay reviews when we first hire women will help, along with ensuring that salaries of women on maternity leave keep up with their peers who have not taken a career break.

These few initial focus areas are only the beginning. It’s through setting achievable targets that we build momentum for positive change while empowering women to take control of their careers —  that is paramount to our efforts.

It’s time to get serious; it’s time to “make it happen.”

What are you going to do to ensure #WomenExcel? Comment below, and be sure to use the #WomenExcel hashtag when you share this post on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.


Lara_Poloni_HS_BW_89x100Lara Poloni is chief executive, Australia New Zealand, at AECOM and leads a 3,000-person-strong team of designers, engineers, planners, scientists, economists and project managers across 25 central business districts, regional and project offices. Lara is a member of the global AECOM Executive Committee as well as a member of AECOM’s Asia-Pacific leadership team.
LinkedIn: Lara Poloni

Originally published Mar 17, 2015

Author: Lara Poloni