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Want to Excel in a Competitive Industry? Follow This Advice from 4 Bold Women


From the widespread success of Wonder Woman and Mattel’s first hijab-wearing Barbie, to the announcement that women in Saudi Arabia gained the right to drive, 2017 proved to be a fantastic year for progress in equal representation around the globe. More than ever, we see women playing prominent roles in society and in the workforce. Consider your office or your hometown, and a strong female leader or colleague likely comes to mind. 

For example, in the United Kingdom approximately 61,000 more women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-focused careers than just a year ago. That’s incredible progress – yet, there is still room to improve.

But how, in competitive, historically male-dominated industries, can women excel? In honor of International Women’s Day, we talked with four bold Jacobs women to find out how they got to where they are today – at the very core of our promise to deliver a more connected, sustainable world.

NASA scientist Lisa Danielson; Lucy Brooksbank, a trailblazer shattering the status quo from the U.K.; Heather Wishart-Smith, a digital solutions leader; and Senior Program Manager Kim Daily share their best advice for advancing in competitive industries.

Explore as much as possible

The daughter of a mathematician and a software engineer, Lisa Danielson gravitated toward science from an early age. Her father’s astronomy hobby, and his copy of The Golden Book of Astronomy, ignited a curiosity about the universe that launched her career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Johnson Space Center. 

At the Johnson Space Center, Lisa built a lab that she would later manage, while continuing to expand research in terrestrial planetary interiors. In her role as the Basic and Applied Research Manager for our Johnson Space Center Engineering, Technology and Science (JETS) contract, she is developing a unique experimental facility to support deep Earth and planetary interiors exploration and synthesis of ultra-hard and other novel materials.

Finding a gap in available student and early career leadership and learning opportunities, she travels to universities and meetings actively recruiting students for internships and new positions within her division at Johnson Space Center. She also founded a grassroots women’s career and outreach organization, Supporting Women at NASA. This year, Lisa received the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ Graduate College Alumna of the Year award, which recognizes leaders such as Lisa who are making a positive impact in the world. 

“Fully engage with what you’re doing,” Lisa advises those looking to follow a similar path. “Everything you do can be a learning opportunity. You have one day – make it count.”

Her career is full of exciting moments – including standing in the dish of a radio telescope, dodging snakes during record high temperatures in the Mojave Desert and field trips to collect mantle xenoliths in the Bohemian massif – and serves as an inspiration to girls and women (and everyone!) 

 “Go explore as much as possible,” Lisa adds. “Take opportunities in different fields and/or sub-disciplines. Build your skills and find out where your interests and talents lie. It’s not all about inherent ability – much of success is hard work.”

Embrace your strengths and differentiators to become the best version of you

With an ability to see (and deliver) the bigger picture, Lucy Brooksbank, CEnv, serves as the Executive Director of Jacobs’ Energy, Chemicals and Resources business in the United Kingdom – and is a rare female director among her same-level peers.

In her previous position as Jacobs’ Head of Operations for Major Projects-PM/CM within our Buildings and Infrastructure business, Lucy directed a team of 350 professionals across the U.K., Qatar and Abu Dhabi, holding responsibility for both business growth and staff development. 

A Chartered Environmentalist and full member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, Lucy has a technical background in environmental assessments, both within the U.K. and globally – from management and coordination of Environmental Statements, to waste and flood risk management, land use planning, transport infrastructure and mining. 

Her more than 20 years of experience in cross-sector account ownership, operations management and collaborative style make her an intuitive leader and a great example of how to harness a drive for excellence that sets you apart in any field. 

Lucy attributes much of her ability to flex and adapt to these different roles to her formative years in South Africa which provided a multi-faceted perspective on how progress and success can be achieved in an environment of imbalance. She also believes that it has given her a different outlook on life that she brings to her roles and the workplace.

“The fact that we are each different is a big part of what sets us up to succeed,” Lucy says. “Take the time to learn from those around you and their challenges and successes, but at the same time consciously map those observations back onto your own strengths and differentiators to be the best version of ‘you’.”

Network! Find and be a good mentor

Former U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps officer Heather Wishart-Smith, PE, PMP, LEED AP BD+C, never backs down from a challenge – that’s why leading the implementation of Jacobs Connected Enterprise (JCE) throughout our global Buildings, Infrastructure and Advanced Facilities business is one of her favorite roles yet. 

Harnessing technology and digital solutions to solve our clients’ most pressing challenges, she guides JCE to deliver digital solutions – from virtual and augmented reality and connected and autonomous vehicles, to additive construction (3D printing of buildings and infrastructure), drones and more – to help clients make more intelligent decisions, improve safety, security and sustainability and simply, grow stronger.

Adding to earlier accolades, including listings on ENR Mid-Atlantic’s 2013 “Top 20 Under 40” and Eno Center for Transportation’s 2016 “Top 10 Women to Watch in Transportation”, a committee recently selected Heather to become National Vice President of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), in which she is also a Fellow. This month, she will receive SAME’s Gerald C. Brown Mentoring Award and become a Fellow in the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Whether serving at the Presidential Retreat, Camp David, as a sales executive, as Mid-Atlantic regional manager or as a manager of multiple large, full-service design and consulting programs for Jacobs’ U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force clients worldwide, Heather’s career has been anything but boring, and that’s something she hopes to get across when she mentors younger professionals. 

Each year, she speaks to elementary school classes about engineering and leads a Girl Scout troop where she emphasizes STEM concepts. One of her best tips for success?

“Take charge of your career by networking and finding a mentor. Rather than feeling assigned or forced, mentoring should be a symbiotic relationship where both parties feel an affinity and benefit from the relationship,” she says. “As you build your network through professional organizations, look for role models whose opinion you value and look to grow a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship, and then ‘lift as you rise’ by finding others with promise to help them develop to their full potential, while learning from them along the way.”

Be respectful, accountable and stay true to yourself

Being named one of North America’s top 90 women in any area is impressive, considering there’s approximately 176 million women in North America. In an industry such as Public-Private Partnerships (P3), where globally women hold less than 10 percent of top executive positions, it’s even more impressive. Meet Jacobs Senior Program Manager Kim Daily, PE.

Listed by Public Works Financing as one of the Top Women in North American P3s, Kim has managed the delivery of more than $10 billion in P3 transportation projects and $5 billion in transportation design-build projects for some of the most complex, large-scale programs in the U.S.

Kim’s impressive resume includes successful P3 express lanes projects in Texas such as the North Tarrant Express Segments 3A & 3B project, which reduced travelers’ congested time in general-purpose lanes by 60-73 percent, while increasing average speed by 10-15 percent – providing much needed relief for Dallas and Fort Worth area commuters.

P3s are becoming a more common way for public agencies, such as Departments of Transportation, to team up with an entity from the private sector to fund and deliver critical maintenance and modernization projects for the infrastructure we depend on in our daily lives – yet, for much of the world, a thick glass ceiling remains for women wanting to reach the top.

Kim and her fellow Top 90 Women in North American P3s are demonstrating a positive change to the narrative. She shares that standing out and advancing in notoriously competitive environments like the one she’s thrived in starts with treating those around you respectfully. “Everyone on the team has a role and responsibilities – treat everyone on the team as if they are the very best person for performing in that role and eventually, they will be,” she says.

She adds, “Don’t over-complicate things. You may be the most clever person in the room, but if the team doesn't understand what you mean, then it doesn't do anyone any good.”

Above all, she says, “Stay true to yourself and what you believe in. Be honest and always do what you say you're going to do.”