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AECOM President Lara Poloni says diversity cant be ignored

AECOM President Lara Poloni says diversity can't be ignored

 July 17, 2023

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Having risen from urban planner to become president of Dallas-based construction giant AECOM during her nearly 30-year career, AECOM President Lara Poloni has witnessed major shifts in how contractors design, manage and build projects, including increased emphasis on sustainability, technology, resiliency and diversity.

The ability to shape stronger, more liveable communities was what drew Lara to her early roles in planning, and it is still what excites her today as president of AECOM.

Lara spoke with Construction Dive, sharing some salient advice for young women professionals and discussing the many opportunities of the sector. 

Reflecting the communities served

“At AECOM, we’ve long recognized the importance of our teams reflecting the communities we serve and, like the broader sector, have seen encouraging progress in driving equity, diversity and inclusion across our global business,” explains Lara.

“What excites me most is seeing the benefits of this focus through our people and what we’re able to deliver for our clients.”

The role of women in construction has changed 

"The industry I joined 30 years ago is almost unrecognizable today," suggests Lara. "We’ve made good, hard-won progress in creating a more diverse industry, and a more inclusive mindset, but we still have more work to do."

Reflecting on her early career, Lara suggests that recognition of women was limited, and that wasn’t just because there were so few women to recognize. "It was disheartening to see how few women held leadership roles and, frankly, it was also a waste. So much amazing talent was left underutilized. Today, that’s changed to an extent," says Lara. "While women are being acknowledged for their many contributions, from leading megaprojects to running entire firms, the historical gender imbalance does persist. While the industry culture is changing, more progress must continue."

"A career in infrastructure provides a world of opportunity," suggests Lara. "Even as a student, I always had a keen interest in cities and what makes them liveable, and, by extension, the infrastructure that serves them and the social and environmental factors that shape them. Few other fields offer the chance to see your work come to life so tangibly and its impact to be so broadly felt."

Lara suggests for the next generation of infrastructure to be equitable and sustainable, diversity can't be ignored. "We must embed as many perspectives as possible into our work. That will be essential to our success," she says.

Start saying 'yes'

Offering advice for young women considering construction as a career, Lara says: "I am asked this question often, and I always encourage women, regardless of their career level, to back themselves and to start with saying “yes” to opportunities when they arise, even when it’s daunting and the immediate reaction is to say “no.” I also tell them that they need to take control of their career, like they would manage a project."

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