Home    AECOM    Insight

AECOMs Emily Gepner reflects on accelerating progress

AECOM's Emily Gepner reflects on accelerating progress

 May 01, 2024

 Read time

Emily Gepner is a senior vice president and leads AECOM’s Enterprise Capabilities team, a global network of technical professionals based across seven countries who partner with AECOM teams to help deliver projects around the world.

Within AECOM's Enterprise Capabilities, the company endeavors to build more diverse and inclusive teams, examining every barrier and imbalance to address and eliminate inequities before they happen. AECOM does this by empowering its early career professionals and providing equal opportunities for them to develop. At the leadership level, AECOM carries out blind reviews when considering promotions.

Forging inclusive leadership

"I remember sitting in the back row of a generic, beige hotel auditorium many years ago. I felt pleased to be attending my first real executive leadership conference…but I also felt timid. Instinctively, I made a beeline for the back row – where I stayed for multiple days," says Emily. "At some point, I realized the men sitting with me in the back row were only making that choice because they were late. That’s when I looked around and noticed the demographics were askew and counted – five women in a room of ninety people."

Over the years, Emily gradually worked her way up the rows but only if she planned to sit by a colleague who made her feel comfortable – and to this day she's very thankful for those who did. 

These experiences impacted Emily's everyday approach to inclusive leadership. "I do not always get it perfectly by any means, but it has shaped the kind of leader that I strive to be – one who tries to be aware of barriers, bias, the importance of giving everyone equal opportunities and making people comfortable," she says.

Being included, respected, promoted and heard

AECOM International Women's Day

Like many women, Emily has felt the discomfort of being the only woman, or one of a few, at the infamous ‘table’. However, over the years she has also been included, respected, promoted, and heard by amazing male leaders and mentors, she attests.

Emily says she has mixed emotions on International Women’s Day. One of her favorite female leaders at AECOM uses the phrase, “I’m pleased but not yet satisfied” when measuring progress on various initiatives. Emily wholeheartedly agrees with this sentiment. "I want progress to be so consistent that the very idea of a special day would seem unwarranted," she suggests. "However, I know we just are not there yet, and that even as women our experiences and opportunities are not equal. I also believe that we can all take action to move us forward."

Salient advice for building an inclusive workplace

"Recognize that we all hold unconscious bias and ideologies," she says. "We can strive to recognize and learn, but we all still have blind spots. If you really want Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion to be more than just a slogan, push yourself. Are you being fair? Does your team have the diversity needed to be successful? Is the day-to-day culture open to diverse opinions? Blind reviews of promotions and performance ratings and pay scales are great tools to evaluate ourselves – assessing potential candidates without being influenced by bias and making the fairest selection."

Emily also suggests that organizations should deliberately implement systems and processes designed to prompt the right questions and recognize gaps, because they exist in pay, in opportunity, and in perceptions. "Actions plans need to be in place year-round. Not a day. Not a month. Until we achieve our desired outcomes," she explains.

Encouraging collaboration and mentorship is also key, according to Emily. "Collaboration and mentorship are powerful tools for fostering inclusion and supporting professional growth. We all have a role to play in fostering a culture where diverse perspectives are welcomed and celebrated. Later this year we will be re-launching our refreshed mentoring program to provide guidance, support and opportunities for advancement, helping to bridge the gender gap and empower colleagues to reach their full potential.," she says.

Accelerating progress is also another aspect cited by Emily. "At its core, equity is fairness and ensuring that the same resources and opportunities are available to all. If we want to accelerate the progress we’ve already made, building the systems and processes and starting early is key. That means focusing on our early careers’ professionals, mentoring, and empowering them by giving them equal access to tools, resources, and training opportunities, so they can build their technical and professional experience in a supportive environment."

Forging a legacy of inclusion

For Emily, every action in favor of equality is a step towards improving her daughters’ future experiences as she joins the next generation entering the workforce. "I want them to feel inherently safe at work, valued, paid according to their contributions, and given choices. Let’s not leave our pledges and actions to being solely amplified on International Women's Day. True progress lies in how we continue this conversation beyond this day and month. My hope is when my daughters walk into any room, they can confidently pick whatever chair they like and feel like they belong there."

Join impressive women like Emily working for AECOM

Work with AECOM and change the world.

AECOM believes that infrastructure has the power to uplift communities and improve people’s lives. A great purpose to be part of indeed.


Search jobs

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