Engineering, Environment, Inclusion and Diversity, Water

Celebrated globally on March 8, International Women’s Day recognizes the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. AECOM has devoted the Impact blog to featuring women leaders across the globe throughout the month of March. Join us here as we recognize the accomplishments of our staff around the world, embrace diversity and promote gender parity. Also, in honor of World Water Day on March 22, Echo Leong shares her experience working in our water group.

I joined AECOM in 1997, when only about ten percent of engineers in the workforce were women. Today, those numbers are on the rise, and I believe it is because companies like AECOM have such a diverse and inclusive company culture.

As an environmental engineer, I have been working on wastewater projects for almost 20 years. Many people are not familiar with the wastewater business. Civil engineering graduates see the bridges and tunnels we build, not our lesser-known wastewater projects. Wastewater treatment is actually very broad in scope because it is a multi-disciplinary business involving environmental, electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, building and landscape architecture, transportation, environmental impact assessment and more. As a project manager on wastewater treatment projects, I regularly coordinate with colleagues from many disciplines, which I find challenging and rewarding.

My work with the Shek Wu Hui wastewater treatment plant in Hong Kong has been challenging because our goal is to double the wastewater treatment capacity on the existing site while using no more than 10 percent of additional land while in operation. To achieve this goal, we adopted Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the design phase to demonstrate the exact construction sequence and avoid interruptions to plant operations. This is the first time using BIM in designing a wastewater treatment plant in Hong Kong and by AECOM globally, so we anticipate learning much about this new technology and creating a BIM database specifically for that purpose. BIM will provide an easier platform for plant operators to carry out asset management.

In any industry, innovation and resources are important, but having an open mind is just as key. In many wastewater treatment projects, the public pushes back with “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) — a term for those who oppose new developments in their neighborhood or town. So on top of technical concerns, we also must design the Shek Wu Hui plant to ensure the community can see its benefits. One idea is to turn the plant into a live outdoor classroom, where people can watch and learn about the lengthy process of cleaning wastewater and hear stories about the benefits wastewater treatment brings to the community. This way, we can promote the concept of water conservation while teaching students, professionals and the public about new treatment technologies and how they improve our quality of life. Furthermore, the new generation of wastewater treatment plant design gives building and landscape architects room for innovations.

#WaterIs the world’s most important resource. I am glad that AECOM has given me the opportunity to learn from our global experts and apply new technology to do something meaningful for the community. Being a woman in a “man’s world” doesn’t bother me — there is value in every person and in everything that we do here at AECOM. We just have to think big.

Leong_hs_89x100Echo Leong is executive director in the water and urban development business line based in Hong Kong. She has nearly 20 years of experience working on wastewater treatment projects and stays motivated by learning about and applying innovations to her work. Collage images depict the following (from top left moving clockwise): Yamdrok Lake (Tibet); ziplining (Netherlands); Matterhorn mountain (Switzerland); and Drepung Monastery (Tibet) .

Originally published 03.21.2016

Author: Echo Leong