Inclusion and Diversity: The Keys to Unlocking Great Ideas
Insight “We’re never reinventing the wheel. We are always getting better, every time.”
Clever engineering is designed to connect — whether invisibly, like pipes running underground through a city or openly inviting, like a bridge stretching across a river.
Today’s complex issues require creativity and ingenuity. Leading professional services firm Jacobs values inclusion and diversity at its core and believes the best ideas are realized through smart recruiting and inclusivity. The company actively welcomes and respects the different backgrounds, skills, and experiences of its employees, industry partners, and clients around the world.
With global expertise in fields as varied as energy, mobility, security, infrastructure, water, and exploration, Jacobs teams are behind solution-driven projects such as Toronto’s Basement Flooding Protection Program (BFPP), the light rail in Los Angeles, and Scotland’s Queensferry Crossing, which is the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge.
This same collaborative culture is what attracted civil engineer Laurel Murphy to the company. As one of a handful of women in her university engineering classes, Murphy said she immediately noticed the number of women in leadership roles at Jacobs. “It was substantially more than anywhere else I’ve worked,” she says.
Good ideas always win
Despite improvements within the industry, the overall proportion of women working in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — remains less than one in four. According to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, women represent only 23 percent of the natural science and engineering workforce.
“At Jacobs, we have female senior mentors and leaders, and this encourages younger female employees to grow into these kinds of roles,” says Murphy, who is now working in the company’s Toronto office as the Canadian Director of Solutions and Technology for the company’s Buildings, Infrastructure, and Advanced Facilities (BIAF) line of business. “Good ideas always win, and they don’t need to come from the highest person in the organizational chart,” she says.
For example, a recent project brainstorming session was dedicated to the design of construction access to a sewer in a heavily wooded area. It was a recent graduate who came up with an innovative solution to address the challenging problem.
When a local team requires additional support, they reach out to the extended global network for advice. As the Canadian liaison in a group of global experts, Murphy can connect with her colleagues and seek advice for a biogas treatment facility design, for instance, receiving input within minutes. This kind of collaboration means the company can always find a route to success. “We’re never reinventing the wheel,” she said. “We are always getting better, every time.”
From punch cards to 3D modelling
When Senior Structural Engineer Azita Azarnejad started her education in Iran, only 10 of the 100 students in her classes were women. When she arrived in Edmonton for her Ph.D. studies, there were only two women in her class.
“When I came to Canada, I expected to see more women, but that wasn’t the case,” Azarnejad says. The students, however, were from diverse backgrounds. That continues today at Jacobs, where everyone on Azarnejad’s team has a different origin. “In the workplace, we have very good diversity,” she says.
When Azarnejad started her studies, many calculations were still done by hand, and computer programming required punch cards. Today, the same design considerations are captured by 3D modelling, and engineering projects now include digital data maintenance for municipalities.
What hasn’t changed, however, is how good, sustainable design affects everyone. While Azarnejad loves the intellectual challenge of a complex bridge design, she’s thrilled by the community impact of a project.
For example, the completion of bridges in areas with traffic congestion means motorists on a city’s busiest thoroughfares can finally get to work on time. “People were actually cheering and clapping,” Azarnejad says, recalling her interaction with community residents at one of her bridge projects in Calgary. “In my work, you see the outcome.”