Quashing the STEM stigma for female talent: Charlie Weatherhogg, HRD, AECOM

Written by
Sarah Clark

28 Oct 2015

28 Oct 2015 • by Sarah Clark

About you and your role at AECOM

What does your role as HRD at AECOM entail?  

I report into the CEO of Europe, Middle East, Africa & India and lead the HR services across UK & Ireland, Continental Europe and Africa. 

My HR team is made up of 150 people supporting all aspects of HR service, including recruitment, relocation (global mobility), compensation, benefits, training, employee relations and administration.  

How many employees do you oversee over how many locations?

We employ about 11,000 employees across the regions that I manage, operating in 40 countries, with scaled hub locations in Madrid, London, Moscow, Frankfurt and Johannesburg. 

What drives you in your role and what are you passionate about? 

I am passionate that HR moves on from the traditional image that it has held for many years as passive and lacking in commercial thinking.

I am keen that HR professionals develop a deep understanding of the business’s issues and find creative ways to solve business challenges, balancing both legal parameters and the business need for swift resolution. In all we do, I want HR people to be able to sleep at night knowing that they have delivered with integrity and fairness.   

Tell me about AECOM. What’s the company history, what do they do and what attracted you to work there?

AECOM was created to design, build, finance and operate the world’s infrastructure. Whether we serve clients during one phase of the project lifecycle or throughout its entirety, our role is to apply creative vision, technical expertise, interdisciplinary insight and local experience to address complex challenges in new and better ways. 

We help our clients deliver critical resources and services, improve the places where people live and work, and sustain a world in which we can all flourish. 

I was attracted to AECOM as it’s a large, globally respected company involved with landmark construction and engineering projects across the world. It is exciting to see the concepts we design, shape and deliver evolve into finished products, like the London 2012 Olympic Masterplan and legacy development.

Addressing the challenges

Why is it important to have a diverse workforce? 

This is a real issue in the construction and engineering industry, which has for many years tried to move away from being predominantly white and male. There are many reasons why diversity is critical for a company’s long-term success, but fundamentally, it’s just the right thing to do. Three compelling reasons to have a diverse workforce are: 

  • Sustainable businesses need to have a workforce that appropriately represents the communities in which they operate; 
  • A diverse and inclusive culture creates a wider talent pool to select from, and will operate with a wider potential market share; 
  • Studies show that companies with female members on their executive boards are more profitable than those that don’t.  

What is the ratio of male vs female talent at AECOM?  

It varies by region, but for the areas I manage, we are about a third female, but improving and our new hires percentages have been encouragingly balanced since AECOM rolled out more conscious strategies to promote inclusive thinking. 

Why do you think there are such low numbers for women taking STEM subjects – what challenges are you facing in your HR team and how are you tackling this?

I have spoken on this topic a fair amount recently — the engineering industry has a branding issue, coupled with gender stereotyping that I believe happens during childhood. 

These factors together mean our industry is often not considered as a career choice by women. This is a real shame, as the breadth and impact of our work engages and inspires everyone. 

Tell me more about your mCircles initiative – what’s involved, what feedback have you received and what business results do you hope to see from it?

mCircles is a mentoring and networking programme that connects women across our business so they can learn from and support each other.

It’s one of a variety of initiatives we are driving as part of our diversity & inclusion strategy. In the knowledge that we have a wide geographical spread working in over 150 countries, these networks can help join up people and develop support networks across AECOM. 

What steps are taking to recruit more women for AECOM – how are you raising awareness and attracting female talent?  

We’re already doing a lot, but this is a sustained, long-term strategy. We’re working with schools to stimulate more interest at an early age, as well as targeting apprentice and graduate recruitment as a means of developing a balanced gender mix within our business.

We hire around 500 graduates/apprentices in the UK annually, so this strategy will work over time. We are also using positive action strategies to ensure more women are included in candidate lists for key positions. 

How is this differing across the different countries that you oversee?  

Generally, we are targeting an improved gender mix across the globe, but clearly there are greater cultural challenges in some countries than in others.

However, AECOM is a company that places strong emphasis on integrity, so we are always looking to cut through conscious or unconscious bias.

Building the business case

How can HR leaders help organisations educate and inspire more women into STEM careers?  

At a very simple level, they can talk about the issues more openly — to gain a greater understanding of the challenges and benefits.

As a first step, I would advise HR leaders to educate their employees so they understand that different forms of prejudicial thinking. Increasing awareness is an important means to mitigating the potentially negative impacts of biased thinking, especially as so much of our bias is unconscious. 

What’s the business case for getting more women into STEM careers – what are the key factors to consider, how do you present this to the board and get their buy in? 

Companies like AECOM need a blend of diverse talent available in order to be a great company. It results in better outcomes for everyone. 

What’s next for you and your role at AECOM? 

It’s never quiet in my role and the next year I'll be focusing on talent development at AECOM – to build engagement and therefore retention, as well as to drive more promotion from within, so that employees see AECOM as a company where they can build their careers.