Natalie McIldowie and Amy Bentley: WiFCERM Award

As the winner of the first organisation award, Jacobs is committed to improving gender equality in the flood risk management sector. Jacobs’ Director and Head of Water Catchment Management, Amy Bentley , and Jacobs’ Environment Agency Account Manager, Natalie McIldowie, share what this award means to them and the industry.


Tell us what you do, and little bit on your background

Amy: In my role, I lead a team of 400 staff delivering flood and coastal erosion management (FCERM) projects nationally. I have spent 19 years working across flood risk management in the UK and Australia, spending the early part of my career managing FCERM projects in the North West of England for the Environment Agency. I moved overseas to gain experience in FCERM internationally and managed the strategic review of hydrology and dam safety in Canberra. I have developed expertise in commercial and operations management since returning to the UK and have been working in leadership roles delivering our portfolio of projects with the Environment Agency.

Natalie: I have recently taken on the role of Client Account Manager for the Environment Agency as part of the Jacobs team. I am a civil/environmental engineer and project manager, and for over 20 years I have led environmental projects across infrastructure sectors, including land reclamation and water and wastewater utilities. I joined the FCERM community through the Environment Agency frameworks in 2018 and become the national manager of Jacobs’ extensive support across the frameworks that deliver the Environment Agency’s £5.2 billion capital programme.

What does it mean to win the WiFCERM Award?
Natalie: This award exemplifies the culture of inclusion and diversity that I passionately believe in. I have enjoyed a fulfilling career with Jacobs over the past 17 years and am extremely proud of our company values underpinned by “we live inclusion”. The commitment is visible at the top right through to my personal experience of working in the Water & Environment business in the UK. As a female leader in FCERM, I feel I’m making a positive impact, encouraging others to feel motivated and purposeful at work.

Amy: I’m really proud of the award and what it represents. Jacobs is making positive changes to foster a culture of inclusion and diversity and it is great to be a part of it. I have personally seen the commitment made across the business at different levels. As a female leader in FCERM, I hope others see the opportunities available in the sector and I hope I can actively support them to achieve their potential.

What does diversity mean to you and particularly gender diversity?
Amy: Diversity is a bringing together of people who have differences (backgrounds, experiences, gender, thoughts) and using that “mix” to get the best outcomes, and in this particular example, the best outcomes for working in FCERM. Gender diversity is just one part of this, actively encouraging people of all genders to contribute and take an active part in shaping positive outcomes in FCERM.

Natalie: For me, diversity is where people with different backgrounds and experiences are present, and inclusion is an environment where everyone participates fully as their true selves. My personal belief is that gender is a spectrum, and the aim of diversity in FCERM is to get the best out of a representative mix of social and economic backgrounds, cognitive strengths and behavioural attributes so that solutions are right for our diverse society.

What is it like working in the sector? Has it changed since you first joined?
Natalie: I really enjoy the variety of projects and people. I get a lot of job satisfaction from working with people who share my core values of doing what’s best for society and the environment. This sector is open to collaboration and by working together effectively towards a common goal we can create the best solutions.

Amy: I find it very rewarding. I love the diversity of projects I am involved with and the teams I get to work with. I feel privileged that I work in an industry where people value the environment and are constantly seeking ways to drive better outcomes for society. I have definitely seen a shift in the approach to working collaboratively. I believe our understanding of each other as people and our willingness to share experience and knowledge build a great foundation of trust and positive outcomes.

What more can we do in the sector to drive gender equality forward?
Natalie: We need to work harder to create an inclusive culture that sees diversity as necessary to create a more sustainable future for people and the natural environment. Leaders need to model strong collaborative behaviours, recognising that collaboration is not always easy, nor should it be. It requires finesse in facilitation, a skill that should be more widely taught and valued.

Amy: Be strong advocates and allies to our colleagues in the sector. Be very visible and deliberate in fostering an environment of inclusion. We should take time to invest and support our colleagues in the sector. That’s one of the reasons why the Women in FCERM Mentoring Programme is so important, and I support it so strongly. When I reflect on my career to date there are many times when people have put their trust in me or given me that extra stretch or challenge. I want to do that for others – “lift as you rise” (Bonang Mohale, 2018).

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