Launched in 2019, we have celebrated male and female professionals who pro-actively inﬂuence and promote gender balance, diversity and inclusion in their workplace, project or sector. This can be a man or woman who has inspired other women to opt for a career or promotion in the sector; to overcome challenges they have faced or provided inspirational leadership and is recognised as a role model or someone who has provided inspirational leadership and is recognised as a role model.
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).
Nominations for the 2021 WiFCERM Awards closed on the 20th April. The winners will be announced at the Flood and Coastal Conference in June 2021.
Women in FCERM Awards winner 2020
Kellie Fisher, 2020 WiFCERM Award Winner
Job title – Flood and Coastal Risk Management Senior Advisor, Environment Agency
Qualifications – University of Portsmouth (BEng (Hons) Engineering Geology and Geotechnics), MSc Contaminated Land, Chartered Engineer with CIWEM
What do you do?
I work within the Coastal Partnerships and Strategic Overview Team in East Anglia 3 days a week and for the National Coastal Team 2 days a week. It’s important that I have a good knowledge of various types of flood and coastal erosion risk management structures and coastal management techniques utilised in East Anglia, as well as an understanding of the evolution of our coastline and how it is likely to change in the future. My role involves the delivery of integrated coastal zone management for the Environment Agency. I particularly focus on coastal resilience, transition and adaptation, in order to manage the impact of coastal change on communities.
What qualities do you have that make you good at your job?
I have good attention to detail and I like troubleshooting. At home, I’m always keen to find a solution to everyday problems, whether it’s fixing a fence or the lawnmower, I like giving things a go! At work, I also enjoy developing new strategies and improving processes. I’m working on several coastal adaptation projects within East Anglia, particularly focusing on issues that can be tackled through anticipatory and effective spatial planning. Therefore, the ability to plan ahead and inform effective planning policy is really important.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I love being on the coast. The East Anglia coastline is stunning, from towering coastal cliffs to seemingly endless sandy beaches, intricate saltmarshes and historic buildings, our coast has it all. The communities I work with are always passionate and dedicated to the coast, which is really inspiring. Delivering integrated coastal zone management is challenging but it’s definitely worth the effort!
How did it feel to win the WiFCERM Award?
It was an honour to win the Women in FCERM award for 2020, up against such brilliant colleagues from across the FCERM sector. I knew I had been nominated but I had no idea I was shortlisted, with such amazing competition too, winning came as a complete surprise! I remain very proud to receive the award and overwhelmed by all of the supportive messages I received from friends and colleagues.
I really enjoying mentoring, supporting training/CPD in the Environment Agency and promoting diversity, both at work, through STEM Ambassador volunteering and through various sporting initiatives in my spare time. Whilst it’s wonderful to be awarded for my effort, I don’t see any of this as ‘work’ as it’s so satisfying watching others succeed and grow. To be called inspirational is extremely flattering, as I’ve never seen myself this way, but it is wonderful to think I may inspire others within FCERM.
And what do you like doing outside of work?
I’m a STEM Ambassador and also deliver Royal Institution masterclasses with my Environment Agency colleague, Guy Cooper. During the pandemic we decided to produce online learning material for schools, focused on coastal management. We now have a range of learning products that are free to download, specialising in interactive practicals and demonstrations at KS3 and GCSE level. We know not all students can get to the coast so our resources aim to take the coast to them! https://www.tes.com/teaching-resources/shop/Coastineers At home, my husband and I have a smallholding in rural Suffolk. We have converted the old barns over the past 7 years and worked really hard to renovate the site. I spend most of my free time at home with my animals, two dogs and three horses, including one home bred foal. We love walks with the dogs in the Suffolk countryside and I’m also incredibly lucky to be able to compete my horses in eventing and dressage competitions.