MY PARENT IS... ASEEL KHALAILI

Our Principal Architect, Aseel Khalaili shares how women in engineering can follow their passion and bloom wherever they’re planted…

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role?
My name is Aseel Khalaili and I have over 15 years of experience in architectural works. My role as a principal architect at WSP in the Middle East within the IPD & Architecture team diversifies into project management, site supervision, design coordination, and authority approvals.

In the last 4 years, I had extensive experience in different project types such as hospitality, governmental, offices, residential, retail, and mixed use.

While I believe that personal development and contribution is as important as the professional input, I have had great opportunities within WSP to prove that by completing the Early Career Leadership Program and being a member in the steering committee of WSP Middle East’s Women in Professional Services network to support gender balance, diversity and inclusion. In 2019 I was a member of WSP TaskForce team, and I became a certified facilitator to Google’s “IamRemarkable” initiative. In 2020 I added two new achievements by becoming a certified Mental Health First Aider and an internal coach in WSP coaching academy.

This is my story so far – to be continued….

Can you tell us about your proudest engineering milestone/achievement?
The du headquarters was a proud engineering milestone from an Architect of Record perspective. This was a rewarding achievement, especially since the project authority approvals went smoothly and the client was very satisfied with our work.

The Expo Mobility Pavilion is another proud milestone for me. While the project is nearly finished, and the site resembled a beehive, I feel the joy of participating in this remarkable project which will be always notable.

Have
 you witnessed or experienced gender bias in your career?
While attending some job interviews in the past, I have had one recurring question: “Are you planning to have more kids in the future?”. I always asked myself why should we defend our natural rights? Another example is when I used to go to sites and there was no female restroom available.

While the frequency of gender bias has decreased, it remains present. I believe that our society and industry now have a greater awareness to the negative impacts of biased thinking, especially since much of this is unconscious. Nowadays we can see more efforts implemented towards gender balance, diversity and inclusion, however we still have room for improvement.

Where do you think we are as an industry in relation to gender balance?
Gender balance has become the trend now. However, the question always will be how fast we can change peoples’ mindsets and influence policies to support this shift.

Despite a number of initiatives, there still aren’t enough women entering the engineering profession. Even though engineers are renowned for their problem-solving skills, there is one problem the industry has to crack: ‘How can it attract and retain female engineers?’

For me when you have a big ‘why’, the ‘how’ is less important, so we need to keep it very clear why the industry needs to hire more female engineers. Greater awareness is the key in this process.

To be honest there are no easy answers and, as an industry, we have a long way to go. However, I believe that we achieve gender balance when we mention “gender balance” and people ask for explanation if we are planning to increase number of men or women in the business.

How can we hold ourselves accountable as an industry when it comes to Gender Balance?
I think that we already are. However, this should be maintained and developed by involving more women in leadership positions across the business mentoring their female colleagues, covering various career stages, sharing female’s success stories, empowering women and allowing their voices to inspire the new generations and show that engineering companies are attractive and inclusive places to work.

What do you think the future of engineering looks like for women?
As the author, Robin Sharma once said, “change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end”. I believe that we are still at the beginning, we should enjoy the journey, accept and learn from the challenges and celebrate the opportunities behind it.

I feel very ambitious when I see the efforts made to enable and empower women in our field. However, we still need to sow more seeds, by encouraging young girls to explore their interest in STEM fields, and by having more women in leadership roles. Lastly, I think we should create a beneficial work-life balance, as many women quit their jobs when they have children.

What would you like to share with the next generation of women considering a STEM career?
There are challenges, but support is out there. Find your mentor.

Know your value, celebrate and appreciate your differences, and look for companies who had the same vision as you.

Be prepared, speak up, and stay curious.

Follow your passion, and bloom wherever you’re planted.