40% of WSP’s Advisory business in the Middle East region are women forces; showing up, every day, to execute projects, to work on deliveries, to embrace different competencies and to celebrate achievements & success stories. In light of International Women’s Day (IWD), we honour our very own, fierce forces who possess passion, expertise and skill…. leading the way for us all.
“I am very proud to lead a diverse team with such a wonderful combination of different capabilities, expertise and backgrounds. The success of WSP’s Advisory Services business in the Middle East has only been possible because of the great talent we have chosen to nurture and represent us in front of our clients every single day. For us to continue to succeed as a business, I believe that it is vital that we maintain this inclusive and diverse talent base across all our service offerings and roles.” says Kathleen McGrail, Managing Director, Advisory Services
In this article, we have spoken to a few of the women in our Advisory team about their journeys, experiences, and highlights. Meet them below!
Planting the seeds for sustainable growth in the Middle East
“I always had a passion for science, biology, and environment; which I specialised in; even though this space was barely existent in the Middle East. Consulting is a space that I really wanted to step in to as well, and I’ve been in it for over 20 years already. Around 2009-2010 it was the start of the visionary, protection, conservation of resources and Estidama. The growth continued, and the change in trends from Environment to Sustainability to ESG to Climate change, has kept me challenged and interested,” says May Faraj, Head of Environment & Sustainability, WSP Middle East
May’s key highlights are being a leader in this space, maintaining consistency throughout her career with the same unwavering passion that never changed for being a consultant since the start, and being a part of the change, including being a part of building important codes and guidelines, such as Estidama.
“In order to grow & make a difference, everyone needs to have fair opportunities as well as a safe space to thrive & grow, and just the right challenges. I tie this back to recruitment. Each organisation should take it upon itself to ensure inclusivity, awareness, and behavioural perspectives. WSP has always been forward thinking on the diversity and inclusion agenda.”
To the young leaders of tomorrow, she says “Be yourself! Have the right balance of confident & humble. Be a driver of change, take it upon you.”
Piloting positive change in the region's aviation industry
“I was sold a lifetime opportunity to manage the merger of two airlines and to be part of making a change in the country’s aviation industry. I thought it was a safe job and fell in love with aviation. 15 years later, today I advise major airports in the Middle East region. One of my main career highlights is walking through airports that I have built & improved over the years,” says Karuna Singh, Senior Manager, Strategic Planning – Aviation, WSP Middle East
One of WSP’s values is flexibility and giving the space for mothers to attend to their families. Karuna shares, “Motherhood is a pivotal point for many, and I am no different; life changed for the better with the addition of two stakeholders in my life who demand that I adhere to their ever-shifting timelines and scopes, which leaves me no alternative but to up my game at work! I close my laptop, satisfied that I made a difference.”
Karuna defines equity as the patience to be heard. “Developing equity is not just about providing opportunity but also creating the space to be the best version of ourselves. Embracing equity for me is to welcome an individual for their sum total. What they bring to the table is just a question of perspective. Perspectives, individuals, and competencies change over time, be patient with people. People are not machines; a machine can mix three colors accurately a billion times with the same result. A human however will mix it such to make a masterpiece!”
Advice to the next generation of women advisors, Karuna says: “Most of my career, I have been that little girl in the room of big boys. Enjoy your day, enjoy what you do and trust the most important person in the world: 'You', you’ve got this; despite all traditions, biases, systems and the challenges this world has, there is only one 'You' and you are more than enough…”
Powering success and smart cities with a passion for learning
“When I started my Information Security Consulting journey, I got the chance to engage with governmental organisations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. When I joined WSP in 2018 as a cybersecurity consultant, I also began assisting with projects related to Smart cities and digital advisory. I ensured to continue upskilling myself by acquiring relevant certifications. I am fortunate to have wonderful leaders who are there to support and guide me,” says Deepthi Sunath, Manager, Digital Advisory, WSP Middle East
Deepthi is most proud when clients appreciate and value the work she has done for them. She was once awarded “the best employee for outstanding dedication.”
To the next generation, she shares encouragement: “You are capable of achieving great things. Believe in yourself, stay focused on your goals, and don't be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. I was mentored by an inspirational leader who advised me not to worry much when you make mistakes because that's how you learn. Remember that success is not always a straight path, and setbacks are a natural part of the journey. Don't be discouraged by obstacles or doubters; use them as fuel to drive your determination and perseverance.”
Embracing resilience and always growing her expertise
“I’ve been passionate about environment and sustainability from the start of my career as it gives me a sense of higher purpose and meaning. The social element always stood out for me due to the large focus on occupational health & safety. The more projects I worked on in this space, the more I decided to grow in it. As humans, we all have the right to feel safe and healthy in our working environments and I hope to contribute to bringing this to the clients we serve,” says Shefaa Mansour, Senior Behavioural Safety Consultant, WSP Middle East
Shefaa’s career highlights are the ones that have tested her with pressures, as they gave her the opportunity to grow. “I am most proud of not letting these challenging situations drive me to quit but rather taking them with a pinch of salt and embracing the resilience they have built in me,” she says.
When asked about equity, the first thing that comes to Shefaa’s mind is the need to embrace people’s differences. How so? “By providing them with the required support for their specific needs and unique situations rather than providing everyone with the same level of support. It’s learning not to compare people as everyone has a different value to add.”
“WSP does a really great job at this compared to others. This needs to be driven with a top-down approach which I’ve observed in our leadership; constant emphasis on the need to embrace the added value people bring to the table and the need to avoid equal expectations from everyone. And to add, we have exceptional leading women in our advisory team, such as Kathleen and May, who give advisory a very strong foundation.”
Shefaa’s advice to future advisors is: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, learn to brush off the dust and keep moving. Don’t shy away from learning – you will never gain experience from books as much as you will from an experienced person. Learn from those who have been there before you. Finally, always set a purpose for the work you’re doing so that whenever it feels like a lot (as is the nature of consulting), instead of quitting, remember why you started.”
Carving the path to creating a brighter future
“At a very young age, I was fascinated by buildings & the built environment, so I majored in Architectural engineering at Alfaisal University. I joined PPP because it gives me a wide lens of exposure. For example, I am now working on a district cooling project which has a heavy mechanical engineering angle to it so there is lots to learn in different areas,” says Nora Binhassan, Graduate Consultant, Public & Private Partnerships, WSP Middle East
Nora explains one of her highlights was her capstone project, where she designed an innovative building that is resilient to change. Upon joining WSP, when she learned about Future Ready this sparked an interest in her, and brought her closer to an organisation that fosters an idea she sees a future with.
Equity to Nora, is diversity. “How can you support a person to be the best version of themselves? By understanding that not everyone comes from the same background, and we all have our differences.”
Nora would give other graduates the following advice: “Learn as much as you can! Be a sponge in a room and learn from your seniors. Push yourself. Get out of your comfort zone.”
Taking responsibility for creating inclusivity
Equity is not a feminist or women’s issue. It is a basic human right that should be a shared responsibility of everyone to move towards a gender-balanced world.
“I’ve always focused on hiring the best talent and on creating an inclusive work environment; this in turn has resulted in a gender and culturally diverse team.” says Rob Davies – Operations Director, Advisory, WSP Middle East
He adds: “I’ve always focused on hiring the best talent and on creating an inclusive work environment; this in turn has resulted in a gender and culturally diverse team.”
Rob emphasises the importance of providing conditions that ensure a flexible work environment that allows team members to find the right balance to suit them throughout various stages of their career (and life).
He says: “You don’t need to compromise on your career and life goals within the right work culture. Upfront and regular dialogue with your manager(s) and setting KPIs early, is key. This will ensure there is clarity around both you and the company’s needs & objectives.”