Home    AECOM    Insight

AECOMs Rachel Billington leads ED&I strategy in Europe and India

AECOM's Rachel Billington leads ED&I strategy in Europe and India

 December 15, 2021

 Read time

Rachel Billington is AECOM's Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) in Europe and India. In this role, Rachel is responsible for leading AECOM’s ED&I strategy across the region, with a focus on developing inclusive people practices and leadership and collaborating with clients to drive change in the industry.

In this article Rachel shares what she was working on during her first 90 days at AECOM, as well as the exciting ED&I initiatives she aims to launch in the coming year. Rachel also discusses how ED&I has changed over the years, makes some predictions about how it will continue to evolve in the future, and shares a top tip for how we can all be more inclusive in the workplace.

How did you found yourself working in an ED&I role?  

AECOM Rachel Billington

Before AECOM, I was HR Senior Diversity & Inclusion Lead at the Metropolitan Police Service. Previously I had always worked in Human Resources or Learning & Development. I had my children at the same time as the crash in the early 2000s, and the police in particular experienced some real cuts. I was working part-time and wanted to continue to do so. The opportunity came up as part of the redeployment as Deputy Head of Diversity. ED&I wasn’t as well-known back then, so it was a role where I was able to learn and develop. It’s the best field I have ever worked in. It is due to this experience that I am a firm believer in trying every opportunity available, even if it is something that you had never even considered trying before. To be fair, I wouldn’t have stayed in the role unless I developed a real passion for ED&I, and it is this passion that keeps me in it.

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

I am particularly proud of my awards. However, what I am genuinely most proud of, is when people share their stories with me about how my ED&I programs have helped them. At the Met each senior leader had to do a review of the year. We were each given a spotlight to talk about the work we had done. Rather than me presenting, I arranged for the people who had directly benefited from the programs to talk about them. It makes me truly proud to know that what I have been working on, and striving to get out, can have such an impact on people and make people’s lives better.

What attracted you to AECOM and what's a top tip for starting a new role?

What attracted me to AECOM was the honesty, transparency and absolute clear indication of their direction. Also, Colin Wood was on the interview panel, and when the CEO is interviewing you, that shows the company’s commitment to ED&I. My top tip is meet as many people as you can before you join. I reached out to everybody involved in the selection process and invited them to a quick meeting before I started. This meant that on my first day I was just having another meeting with the people that I had already met. This really helped to take away those first day joining nerves.

What are some key strengths you regularly call upon in your role?

One of my main strengths is building relationships. I deliberately build relationships at all levels of the organisation. I am not one of those people who only looks up to the CEO, even though they are important! I ensure that when I am in a meeting, the person I am meeting has my absolute focus. Another core strength is to challenge with kindness. I don’t go in shaking my finger, but I will call it out if I see something that isn’t right. In some ways I want to prove people wrong about ED&I. Many people think of ED&I as a buzz term and that you never see any real change. I want to prove them wrong and show them that you can see real change.

How has ED&I evolved and what are some current and future issues?

In the UK back in the early 2000s it was about diversity. Specifically, how many people do you have. It was very much a box ticking exercise for each group of people. There was a real fear of pointing out people’s differences. It wasn’t about embracing differences, instead it was about trying to make everyone all the same. It was about equality, but not equity. By the mid-2000s there was then a real apathy where quite frankly people were so despondent about ED&I that a lot of them stopped doing anything about it. People were too frightened to do anything for fear of getting it wrong.

As we started to get towards 2010 there was a big change, and that change was a move to inclusion. The idea that irrespective of what your difference is, we will celebrate it. We stopped seeing differences as a problem to fix, instead we started to celebrate them for the benefits they bring. At this time several key reports came out from the likes of McKinsey and Deloitte which provided clear evidence of the benefits that diversity brings, and this led to companies starting to build a business case as to why inclusion is important. There was also a move away from only talking about gender and race.

Fast forward to 2020 and particularly the murder of George Floyd, I think there was a real wake-up call where we realised that, as a profession, we had gone too generic. By trying to include everybody, we had stopped focussing on some of the real difficult issues that still needed solving. Today the focus is on belonging and trying to find a balance between looking at ED&I with a very wide lens where everyone should feel they belong and looking at it with a sharp lens with a focus and priority on some of the real systemic issues that need societal change.

In terms of the future, I think race will continue to be something we are challenged on and held to account for. We need to get ahead of ourselves with things like ethnicity pay-gap reporting because it will come. I also think socio-economic equality will be much more of a focus for companies.

What are AECOM’s strengths and achievements when it comes to ED&I?

One of our strengths is that from a very senior level there is commitment to being better at ED&I. In terms of achievements, I would highlight the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that we have created for Europe. Our ERGs are still relatively new but have a real strength and maturity in terms of wanting to work with the organisation to make it a better place for our people.

What are AECOM’s ED&I strategy and priorities, and what's your future focus?

The most immediate priority is the launch of our inclusive leadership programme which is aimed at 200 of our senior leaders. It will enable us to build on the ED&I capability in the organisation at the senior level and encourage leaders to be good role models in ED&I behaviours and also they will be held accountable for new ED&I targets. For them to be able to meet these targets we need to invest in them and give them the confidence to lead their teams in a new inclusive way. Once our senior leaders have been fully trained it will really support embedding ED&I throughout the organisation.

We are also currently working with our employee resource groups (ERGs) around activities to raise awareness of ED&I.

AECOM had lots of activity going on for National Inclusion Week and Black History Month, and this includes places for our employees to go to learn more and ask questions.

Going forward, we will be focussing on embedding ED&I into our people processes. This will involve rolling out what we term our Inclusive Work Streams. Here we are talking about moments that matter to our people, such as hiring, promotion, retention, etc. and ensuring that ED&I is embedded throughout them all. We are also hoping to launch our Gender ERG Group in 2022. The final area we will be focussing on is inclusive client practice to make sure we are giving the best account of ourselves when it comes to ED&I to our clients.

How can more women forge STEM careers, especially engineering?

Absolutely we need to be encouraging women to choose STEM careers, and this is something that must start at school. We need to think about how we can influence a diverse range of schools and universities in terms of doing just that. We also need to think about why the best female talent should join AECOM, and then we need to be doing everything we can to sell that as a career option. However, this must be data-led. We cannot just guess at what we think the barriers are to women entering STEM careers. Instead we need detailed research into the barriers, and then once we know what the barriers are, we can then look at solutions.

How can we all be more inclusive in the workplace?

If you want to be inclusive at work, then just say “hello and tell me about you”. The number of times we sit alongside people, we might sit alongside them all day, and never know anything about them. When it comes to meetings, I have always introduced myself and then said: “Before we get stuck in just tell me a little about you, your background and your role”. 

The things I have learnt about people, where they have been and what they have done. So next time you are in a meeting just say “Hello. Tell me about you.” Because that is when you will hear people’s stories.

What might work and the ED&I agenda look like in the future?

AECOM Rachel Billington

I honestly don’t know what work will look like in the future. Flexibility is likely to be a given. But with that flexibility there needs to be choice. Previously I thought that working from home would be fantastic and I would love to do it all the time. But the reality is that working from home isn’t good for everyone. The future of work should enable people to deliver their work, while working in an environment that best suits them. AECOM is ahead of the game here with its Freedom to Grow initiative which gives our employees the freedom they need to find the working style that best suits them.

For us at AECOM, it’s not just about time and location. We have the freedom to think, work and communicate to ensure we be our whole selves at work. What ‘belonging to an organisation’ means is changing and we need to be agile enough to adapt. The traditional tools we use such as going out after work or going for lunch may no longer work, so we need to be more creative about how we create belonging.

How do you refresh and reenergize yourself?

I am a proud working mum. I have a 14-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl and that is the most important job I do. They are very good at giving me feedback as to whether I do that job well or not! To keep me on the straight and narrow I also need my me time, and that is through fitness and wellbeing. No matter how difficult it is, I carve out time for running, yoga, boot camps and walking our dog. I am not naturally sporty. I was one of those people who thought I could never run, and then my mum at the age of 68 started running. I had a good look at myself and thought if my mum can do it at the age of 68 then I can do it, and it absolutely does me the world of good.

Inspired by Rachel's enthusiasm?

Find out more about working for AECOM and learn about the wide range of work they deliver. Then search all the latest jobs to see where your strengths might best match.


Find out more

Stay connected by subscribing to our monthly newsletter and following us on LinkedIn, X, Instagram and Facebook.

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


Join our women's careers community