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AECOMs Nicole Brown: Water projects, diversity & volunteering

AECOM's Nicole Brown: Water projects, diversity & volunteering

 July 01, 2021

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Nicole Brown is an AECOM area market sector lead for the water practice based in Philadelphia.

With over 22 years of experience with planning, design and construction for water-focused projects, Nicole has worked with clients to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of their systems.

Managing projects of various scopes and sizes has led to an adaptive management style to develop creative client solutions. In addition to industry work, Nicole is also passionate about ED&I work, putting a strong focus on creating and fostering inclusive environments for everyone to thrive in.

She shares the inspiration behind her work and its positive community impact, and the importance she sees in creating environments built on equity, diversity and inclusion.

Wanting to positively impact people's lives

Being a comic book fan and wanting to save the world as a child inspired Nicole to work in the environmental field. After taking a Hydrology class in high school that focused on the importance of water, she was hooked. "Water is universal and clean water is a human right, so I wanted to be a part of positively impacting the lives of many and help save the world in my own way," she explains.

Nicole is also passionate about spreading facts about safe, reliable municipal drinking water. She has lived in many communities with a lot of misinformation and distrust about drinking water. For her, it is her duty to spread facts about water to her community.

"In many cases, people that are most likely to buy bottled water because of that distrust can least afford the expense. I take being a steward of the environment seriously and I enjoy speaking about the necessity of increasing the numbers of women and people of color in STEM fields, particularly the water industry every chance I get to hopefully improve the pipeline," she explains.

Listening to others to make progress

Nicole shares a story of how her work positively impacted the community. "Right out of college I worked on a project improving the water quality to people of Queens. The project was technically challenging so when I was asked to present the technical aspects of the community, I was excited for the opportunity. Little did I know that there was a long history of distrust in the water for that community," she says. 

Her energy and enthusiasm was met with vigorous opposition. She saw the concerned faces of this community and realized that the residents felt ignored and unheard. Unless she stopped speaking and started listening, no progress would be made. Therefore, Nicole spent the next 2 years listening to concerns and offering her technical insights in a way they could understand to help them trust the project’s intentions.

"Too often we jump to explain our solution without truly hearing the problem. It was an impactful and humbling experience that led to a wonderful collaboration with the community over many years," she adds.

Focusing on intentional inclusion 

Nicole believes we too often forget about the “Inclusion” part of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. She quotes Vernā Myers, who says: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”  

"We all have a responsibility to offer a welcome greeting or a smile to those that are arriving at the party. I need to make sure that I look around the proverbial room and seek out those that are walking in alone or don’t know anyone. We have to be intentional about inclusion or we will have an issue with retention – if they’re not having fun at the party, they may leave. I try to point out ways that we are unintentionally pushing people away from opportunities of involvement by not being inclusive and I encourage others to pay attention, too," Nicole adds.

Encouraging others to learn and grow

Nicole shares a salient piece of career advice to help people learn and grow: "Don’t be afraid to get involved in professional organizations." 

"We often keep our heads down and just do the work. Volunteering not only expands your network and provides new educational opportunities but it also helps to diversify and improve those organizations with your presence and impact. Your point of view, life experience, technical expertise, and background are all brought to the table and are needed so that these organizations can thrive," she adds.

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