STEMM Profile: Helen Forster | Regional Director of Projects | Jacobs | Dubai | United Arab Emirates

“I work in Dubai and we have over 60 nationalities in our company, the cultural and language diversity means I pay attention to really understand what people are trying to say – and words may have different meaning depending where you are from, so I try not to assume and always check”

Helen Forster is a senior Civil Engineer and Project Director/Manager with nearly 20 years experience in the water, transport and built environment infrastructure industries. Helen has held numerous roles including Operations Director across Water, Transport and Infrastructure and is currently the Regional Director of Projects for Jacobs’ Middle East portfolio.

In her roles, Helen provides strategic direction within operations in terms of market requirements and capability matching. Helen balances the needs of clients, projects and people to achieve business outcomes. Helen has held profit and loss responsibilities within operations. Furthermore, her leadership has extended into significant contract and corporate risk management, being involved with the formation and management of Alliances and multi-party Design and Construct contracts.

One of Helen’s key strengths is an enjoyment of stakeholder and community engagement. Many of her projects have complex technical, environmental and community issues to be resolved which have necessitated substantial community education and engagement strategies.  Helen adapted these strategies throughout the consultation process to meet project needs. Helen’s work promotes resilient, positive team cultures with a focus on safety and wellness, respect and inclusion. This includes working with team to develop team charters and undertake team building in order to facilitate cohesive project delivery.

Helen as a chartered engineer, Fellow and Engineering Executive (EngExec) with Engineers Australia, Helen actively promotes the engineering profession and STEMM careers within the industry. Helen believes in helping people fulfil their full potential. In particular, she is an advocate for women in engineering and leadership. Helen is an active supporter of Jacobs Employee Networks and is the Middle East Regional Executive Sponsor for the Jacobs Careers Network.

Helen enjoys travelling with her husband, trying new cuisines, discovering a new comedy TV series to binge watch, and pottering in the garden under the careful supervision of her cat, Eric.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

Listening; really hearing and trying to understand where someone is coming from and what the issues are. Being able to see different points of view, or put myself in the other person’s shoes, and then being able to navigate through most situations. This is particularly important in my current role. I work in Dubai and we have over 60 nationalities in our company, the cultural and language diversity means I pay attention to really understand what people are trying to say – and words may have different meaning depending where you are from, so I try not to assume and always check.

What was the key thing that helped you get to where you are today?

For me, seeking out different challenges and opportunities and then saying yes to things particularly if I haven’t done them before has been key to getting where I am. I never knew what I was good at and what I enjoyed until I tried new things and took myself out of my comfort zone. It has allowed me to do things I enjoy whilst being challenged– like working with great people, solving problems, and living in a different country. I would never have imagined working in the middle east – it is fantastic!

What is the role of men in advocating/supporting/championing women in STEMM?

It is a reality that STEMM is male-dominated, so it is absolutely vital for men to champion this. I work in a fantastic leadership team that is 50/50 split – and it is honestly the most exciting team I have worked in. We have great conversation, challenge each other towards better ideas for our people and our business, and we laugh together! Support and advocacy is a choice and will take a little effort. But it will be rewarded with more creative solutions and a more enjoyable workplace. When our teams see us supporting each other, it makes it easier for them to do the same.

How do you cope with loss or rejection in your career (e.g. rejected papers, loss of personnel, loss of employment)? 

I once applied for a job I didn’t get. I didn’t take it well. I also didn’t take the opportunity to seek detailed and specific feedback. The feedback came to me over time as I reflected on my experience and working style. Over time I came to realise I was actually really glad I didn’t get the role – because if I had got it, I wouldn’t have been available for an even better one that came up a few months later. The whole experience made me realise the truth to the expression “when one door closes, another window opens”.

Do you mentor others? How do you manage your time to ensure you can efficiently and effectively mentor?  

Absolutely! I mentor many – some formally some informally, and some I don’t even realise I am mentoring until they come out and tell me! Mentors have always been important to me through my career, I mentor so I can “give back”. For my formal mentees, I like to set the ground rules up front – we agree how often we will meet, and they will get the best use of the time together if they come prepared with specific questions. Some even send me questions before hand. Seeing them leave our conversations with their heads up high and shoulders back with renewed confidence is truly wonderful.

LinkedIn: Helen Foster