How did you get to where you are now? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
For A-Levels I studied Biology, Physics and Maths. I have always had a mathematical brain and found it an easy subject however I am dyslexic so I found subjects with a lot of writing much harder. I love practical experiments and understanding why things work and operate and respond the way they do which led to my interest in engineering. I didn’t know any engineers which was a bit daunting but I looked at all the different engineering courses and decided that I would study Aeronautic engineering with the idea I might become a pilot after.
I went to the University of Bath to study Aeronautical engineering, where they have a common degree for the first couple of years before you specialize. In the summer of my second year I did a 3 month placement at Westland Helicopters (GKN) which was great in giving me an understand on what an aeronautical engineer would involve and the level of specialist knowledge needed. I realized I preferred to be more of a generalist and so switched to study straight mechanical engineer for the final two years of my degree.
After university I went to work for a fairly small Nuclear consultancy which was then taken over by AMEC. It was a very interesting area to work in and I enjoyed a secondment to Torness Power station. The intellectual challenge of decommissioning nuclear laboratories was really interesting however I was young and wanted to work in a faster paced environment so I transferred to working in construction and asset management. I joined Scott Wilson 17 years ago which has been taken over by URS and then again by AECOM. I have held lots of different roles, starting as a mechanical design engineer, transitioning through project management, framework management, business unit management.
Three years ago I realized what really excited me was decarbonizing the built estate and supporting clients in reducing their operational carbon footprint. I set up a new function with AECOM working on Estate decarbonisation This was really successful with the rapid increase in concern around and interest in carbon footprints. I now lead on Net Zero for Europe & India for the buildings part of AECOM.
What does your Senior Role at AECOM actually involve?
AECOM is a consultancy and so we earn our money by winning work with clients and charging our time to projects. A lot of our business is from our existing clients as repeat business but we are also always looking for great new clients we can work with and support.
My role includes setting strategy within AECOM for growing our net zero offer. While most of my role is within Europe & India I also help set strategy at a global level, this is really exciting learning how my international colleagues are delivering projects but also involves some antisocial hours to cope with everyone’s time zones!
I spend a lot of my time communicating, I share best practice within AECOM, I tell our clients about the interesting work AECOM is delivering and I also speak at a lot of industry events to share our expert knowledge and help organizations start their decarbonization journey. I also listen to teams and try to create solutions to make their roles easier and more fun.
It can be hard if you don’t see a clear role model for yourself but remember you can be the role model for the next generation coming behind you.”
My name is Helena Rivers, I'm 42 years old and I've been working within the industry for 20 years now. Currently, I am:
The Net Zero Lead Europe & India at AECOM
- The VP at Institution of Mechanical Engineering
- A Director at Clear Futures
I want to use my engineering knowledge to maximize the positive impact I can make to reduce the climate change we cause.
What is it like being a woman in a Senior position and how does it feel? Especially as overall, the Construction Industry is still male dominated in senior/boardroom positions…
I have never been particularly sensitive to being a woman in a male dominated world. Some of my bosses in the past found it very strange having never had a women in their team until me but there are a lot more women now which is great. Still a long way to go until we get gender parity but great to see the progress being made.
I do feel a sense of responsibility to be visible so that I can be a role model for those coming behind me. I am very lucky that the President of AECOM is a women as is the CEO of ImechE so I have very visible role models to look up to, I hope that by making myself more visible I can be a role model to as many aspiring young engineers as possible. It’s much easier to dream big when you can see someone else who’s done it before you.
As someone in your role, how do you deal with challenges (personal and work role related)?
One of the biggest challenges I face is being able to stop. It would always be better for others if I could fit in more work. There is always something really useful that I could do at the end of each day and as I am passionate about my job I would love to do it. But I am a person as well as an engineer. I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter and a fiend. I find it very hard to get a good work life balance, there is never enough time in the day but I think that probably means I’m squeezing as much fun into life as is possible.
Staying motivated is easy for me, I meet interesting people with interesting challenges each day that I am keen to help them solve. I believe it’s very important that we do all we can to reduce our carbon emissions and I feel very privileged to be helping that
"I love the fact that my work makes a real difference in the world that I can see, people I live and work with benefit from the projects I’ve delivered and that’s a great feeling."
What advice would you give a young woman aspiring to progress to senior level in the industry?
We have a need for more young women to move into senior levels within the industry. We have made some good progress in addressing the gender balance within construction but with most success at junior levels. You will always be able to bring different perspectives to leadership teams due to you gender you will have had different life experiences and this is really valuable in the way you tackle and resolve problems. It can be hard if you don’t see a clear role model for yourself but remember you can be the role model for the next generation coming behind you.