Urban Planner at AECOM, Molly Gifford, relocated from Australia to Abu Dhabi for an exciting job opportunity

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Molly Giffords AECOM career - from Australia to the Middle East

Molly Gifford's AECOM career - from Australia to the Middle East

Molly Gifford is an Urban Planner in the Design, Planning + Economics team with AECOM in Abu Dhabi.

Molly holds a Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning degree (with honours) and is enjoying a varied and busy workload within a diverse team.

As part of our ‘AECOM in the Middle East’ interview series, Where Women Work talks with Molly to learn more about her exciting career in planning and design.

Tell us about your career journey with AECOM in the Middle East?

I moved with AECOM from Australia to the Middle East because I was looking for a new challenge and wanted to learn, live and work with people of all different cultures, backgrounds and experiences – and it definitely delivered. In my immediate project team of 12 people, we represent 12 different countries and speak at least eight different languages between us. It has been this and the nature of the large-scale, multidisciplinary projects that keeps me at AECOM.

AECOM Molly Gifford

What do you do on a daily basis for your job and what skills are needed?

Each day I find myself applying my skills in organisation, coordination, technical writing, editing and strategic planning - sometimes all at the same time. The role I have established involves being a bit of a generalist as I wear a lot of hats to solve tricky problems in my team and for clients. I can move from technical planning policy to high-level visioning workshops, to assisting with project management and team admin all in one day. It is this variety and mix that excites me and makes every day a new challenge.

AECOM Molly Gifford Urban Planner

What are some overall challenges, changes or opportunities in your sector?

Challenges we experience in the Design, Planning and Economics team usually relate to the fast pace at which we operate. We work extremely hard to ensure quality throughout the project all the way to delivery, however we sometimes find ourselves struggling to incorporate innovation.

Our team has used this challenge as an opportunity to implement a ‘design review’ process, where colleagues from other parts of the business or other disciplines within the team are invited to comment on the project at key design stages. We have also taken time to reflect on how we were already using innovation to increase our efficiencies to deliver quality work on time, every time.

How would you describe the work culture at AECOM in the Middle East?

We joke about the working culture at AECOM in the Middle East aligning with the ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ rhetoric. Due to the scale of the projects, this can often mean working hard to meet tight time-frames, however the close-knit expatriate community and colleagues and the amount of opportunities for adventures get you through the challenges.

What’s life like as a working woman in the Middle East?

After working in the Middle East now for a few years, I have noticed solid support for inclusion and diversity and an increasing drive for gender equality in the workplace. It still feels, however, like there is a way to go compared to the western countries I have lived in before. Challenges I have observed throughout the region include the lack of support after a career break, social norms, and gender stereotypes and biases.

It is a really exciting time for change in the region. Countries in the Gulf region are looking to diversify and tap into new markets (away from oil and gas), giving women increased opportunities to break into different sectors. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is opening up and offering tourist visas and beginning to relax some of their gender-based laws, offering a wide range of opportunities for women to be a part of this country’s rapidly changing environment.

AECOM inclusion diversity

Are you involved with inclusion and diversity initiatives?

I have been assisting with organising our local mCircles women’s mentoring group initiative – mCircles provides a space for AECOM’s female professionals to seek and receive constructive advice for career growth. We are also working closely with the larger AECOM Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region to develop a targeted plan for the Middle East to ensure that inclusion and diversity is at the forefront of our business in the future.

I am also involved in our Middle East ‘AECOM Unity’ Committee – bringing people together through Corporate Responsibility (CR) activities, and sporting and social events. I have been helping to organise the CR activities including Iftar meals for construction workers, toiletry collections for the female labour camps and working with the Radisson Blu hotel to support their annual Box Appeal. This has been extremely rewarding and a great way to learn about our different areas of the business; and connect with people from our different offices, from sites and from different cultural backgrounds; as well as to give back to those in the country who support our work.

AECOM career advice

What advice would you give to women looking to work with AECOM in the Middle East?

The Middle East is a really great place to work at the centre of the world. Our diversity of thought and the scale of our projects in the region provides a really fantastic environment for both learning and exploring.

I would definitely recommend AECOM as a place for women to work in the Middle East – we have a really great support network of people within the region and beyond. With the scale of projects, the calibre of senior professionals, and the inclusive and diverse working environment, I would especially encourage women early in their careers to be exposed to this exciting and challenging environment.

What interests and hobbies might you have outside work?

There are a lot of extremely niche outlets for different hobbies within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) so it has been a great couple of years exploring new interests and meeting so many amazing people.

AECOM Molly Gifford hobbies

I have recently become involved in the roller-skating community in the UAE including park skating and roller derby. This has exposed me to a group of really inspiring and supportive women and a new focus on growth outside of work. A number of these women are also involved in the building and design industry, so we are often not surprised when we use our technical planning and engineering skills to collaborate and break down new tricks and skills.

A great time to join AECOM

Join talented women like Molly and find your next career opportunity with prime employer for women AECOM.

There are some very exciting AECOM jobs in the Middle East so do take a look.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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