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Women at AECOM go the extra mile

Women at AECOM go the extra mile

 July 09, 2018

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An emphasis on work-life balance for women is critical for a healthy lifestyle. AECOM’s focus for International Women’s Day was the many women who have to balance their work life, personal life and family - women who continue to be a generation of icons and game-changers, and who are transforming their own world and ours.  

We caught up with a few of the many amazing and powerful women of AECOM Africa - Shirley Meyer, Bianca Sprout and Kim-Lu Steenkamp - to get to know them personally, and see how they contribute their time beyond the workplace.

Transformation specialist, Shirley, supports abandoned infants 

Shirley Meyer is AECOM Africa’s Transformation Specialist - Corporate Services, and the mother of three-year-old twins. She also assists the Cape Town-based baby safe houses as often as she’s able to do so. These organisations care for abandoned babies until they are adopted or old enough to enter the foster care system. Most of these organisations are private and non-profit, with little to no funding from the government. They are often in need of basics to be able to care for the infants. 

Shirley comes from a very small town where careers are often limited. “I grew up knowing what an attorney, doctor, engineer, policeman, nurse, pastor, teacher, magistrate and accountant was.  We didn’t have the internet and I was not really exposed to the ‘big world’ out there. My father was, however, of the opinion that I had to study for a professional degree and I eventually decided on law. 

“After moving to Cape Town, I was offered a position as a B-BBEE consultant and from there my passion for communities, people, the less advantaged and children grew. On the Saldanha Transnet project, I was exposed to procurement and contracts management (which went hand-in-hand with supplier development). In terms of my current career path, procurement and HR are the areas I would like to explore and gain experience in and I am determined to excel at AECOM and grab opportunities with both hands.”

So how might women at AECOM in general feel valued and encouraged? 

Shirley explains that traditionally, the built environment's professional sector has been dominated by men, especially in South Africa.  In the recent years, women have excelled in this field and more women are entering the marketplace. AECOM, she says, has been a frontrunner in the employment of women and provides additional support to women as needed.   

“A stigma continues to surround women in that they are not as tough as men; and women have to work exceptionally hard to win the confidence of their peers and clients, especially in the construction industry. 

“As a full-time working mother, it is often difficult to juggle your children, partner and work requirements, but AECOM has been very supportive in accommodating ‘other responsibilities’.

“As women, we all need to support each other, as we understand each other’s needs, frustrations and responsibilities.  Ultimately it depends on your manager, and I am in a very fortunate position to have a female manager who understands what it is to be a full-time working mother.  She is supportive and encourages growth and development, and is always there to lend a hand or provide assistance when required.”

Bianca’s motto is “work smart, not hard”

Bianca Sprout is based in AECOM’s Cape Town office as a Candidate Project Manager. Like so many women in the workplace, she tells us that she is busy learning the art of balancing work life and ensuring she excels professionally whilst making time for family, friends, fun and her community work.  

AECOM construction team

Bianca (pictured on the far right) acknowledges that men are more prevalent in the construction and engineering industry but explains that the “boardroom is evolving”. “While gender dynamics in the workplace are changing, though not at a rapid rate, more women - powerful women - are present and being heard.”

She lives by the motto of “work smart, not hard” and this has definitely shown in her career success at AECOM. She started working at AECOM with a focus on procurement for over two and half years and then developed an interest in systems, details and the overall successful delivery of a project. She slowly transitioned into project management.

“In doing so, I have become proficient at bid compilation, tender and contract reviews and I understand the nuisances of a 500-page tender document!  I’ve been privileged enough to work for and represent contractor, consultant and client and have gained an understanding of each. It’s allowed me to showcase my skills and talents, but also learn from everyone. I hope to continue growing and adding value to the Business and Project Management Team.”

She also explains that the AECOM leadership team based in Cape Town has made her transition easier as they’ve made even the toughest days seems better by providing mentorship and guidance, without micromanaging.

Bianca undertakes charitable work whenever she has the opportunity.  She’s actively involved in the Dignity Drive campaign, which involves collecting and distributing sanitary towels to less fortunate young women, with the aim to reduce the absenteeism and dropout rates of young women in schools and increase opportunities for girls to complete their education with dignity. 

“Anything is possible,” says civil engineer, Kim-Lu

Kim-Lu Steenkamp is a civil engineer site representative, who lives and breathes the belief that 'anything is possible and you can do anything that you put your heart, mind and soul into'.

AECOM women teamwork

Kim (pictured far right in the front row) actively participates in the mentorship of young female engineers. As she’s site-based, her technical experience and positive attitude have been instrumental in the retention of site-based staff.

Kim is an active member of the CESA Women’s Forum and attends events, engages in discussions and builds relations with other influential females within the fraternity, etc. Her goal this year is to invite a group of female delegates from the forum and from surrounding schools to the site, in an effort to display the opportunities available to women in the industry.

Kim tells us that working in (what is historically considered) a male-dominated industry presents many challenges for a woman. “I’ve had personal experiences in which my intelligence and decisions were doubted on the basis of being a woman. I think we must continue to strive and encourage more women to take up professions of a technical nature so that we can work towards creating an equal representation in the workplace.”

But Kim also points to her amazing mentors, including her male counterparts. “I’ve been blessed with some wonderful male mentors who worked for AECOM. They have greatly contributed to my current success because they believed in me. They supported me by extending an ear to listen to my challenges. In addition, they sometimes threw me in the deep-end and gave me great exposure to some wonderful opportunities. They saw the greatness in me when I couldn’t.”

For young women who want to pursue a career in the industry, Kim advises that “it’s always important to research the industry and establish if it is the one that you want to work in. This can be done by attending workshops or visiting companies, construction sites and fabrication warehouses, etc.

“Whatever your career path, if it’s your passion, you need to give it 100% determination and energy. You have to be strong and resilient and be willing to work hard and put in extra hours to meet deadlines. Be eager to learn and do not be afraid to ask questions, no matter how silly or simple it may seem. In my view, there is no need to display macho behaviour, let your brain power shine through.”

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