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Article by  Mel Rees, Project Manager, JLL Technologies EMEA

Like many other people in the career they eventually choose, I fell into my own.

I work for JLL Technologies (JLLT), a division of JLL that helps organizations transform the way they acquire, manage, operate, and experience space. But I’m not a computer scientist, a software developer, or a data analyst. I’m a project manager.

Twelve years ago, I had just returned from maternity leave to my role as a marketing and events manager for a major drinks company. It was the first real career gap that I experienced, and I found it difficult to reconcile my new situation with the demands of the role. So, I left my marketing job and worked at a DIY retailer until I figured out my next step.

A new opportunity

One day, a friend called me and said there was an opening for a role as a contract coordinator in the company they worked for – Integral UK, a nationwide building engineering services firm. I knew nothing about engineering, but I was used to planning, managing and co-ordinating multiple activities, tasks and people to achieve the end goal required. That said, I understood that I was entering a traditionally male-dominated environment. As a woman and a non-technical admin in this space, I set out to learn as much as I could within an industry that was entirely new to me.

In my role, I looked after the critical infrastructure of a major bank. It was my job to ensure that the customer’s portfolio and flagship buildings had 100% uptime, which meant coordinating teams of engineers and scheduling works a year in advance as well as ensuring compliance for all qualifications, change requests and processes. I learned about critical power supplies, generators, and the kind of maintenance tasks Integral’s teams performed. I’d visit sites to see the infrastructure and equipment first-hand. This allowed me to speak to engineers confidently and gain their respect, mitigate risks and justify our decisions to the customer.

A second career gap

By this time, like so many other businesses in all sorts of sectors, building engineering was going through somewhat of a digital transformation. Historically, engineers did everything on paper, marking jobs as complete on spreadsheets and writing down meter readings. Ten years ago, some branches still used timecards for engineers to clock on and clock off. So, Integral formed Project Phoenix, a digitisation programme to move these systems and processes to the cloud, making engineers more productive, delivering a better service to the customer, and creating more revenue for the business.

Then, halfway through Project Phoenix, I was back on maternity leave and experiencing my second career gap. On top of everything, JLL had acquired the business while I was away. On my return, I struggled with confidence. With a new team, a new company, and a new corporate environment, where exactly did I fit into the bigger picture?

Luckily, I had an excellent management team supporting me through it all. Project Phoenix had an opening for a PMO and, with my line manager’s encouragement, I studied for a Project Management Association Qualification (APMQ). Twelve months later, I was finally a qualified Project Manager in my own right with the accreditation to prove it and the lead PMO for Project Phoenix.

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Find mentors 

During the digitisation programme, I was lucky enough to work closely with JLLT and went on to collaborate on numerous projects, including the rollout of a new digital on-demand service across 260 contracts, and the installation of IoT sensors and analytics tools in 1,000 sites for a major bank.

Through this work, I also found a mentor who has coached me for the past 18 months. Melanie Mack is the head of IWMS Solutions at JLLT. Her confidence in me and my experience with tech projects gave me the confidence to believe in myself and that I could transition my skills to a technology company – so, in March 2021, I made the switch and began a new role as project manager at JLLT EMEA.

Thanks to Covid-19, Melanie and I have only met in person once, but we feel like a close-knit team. It’s important to build your network. One initiative that has really helped me during the pandemic is virtual coffees every quarter. Our names get put into a hat and we’re matched with JLL employees all over the world for an informal chat, creating a real sense of community. It has also resulted in my joining the JLL global PM COE Committee (Project Management Centre of Excellence), discussing PM best practices and how we can support and standardise across the business.

Pay it forward

It’s no secret that STEM can be a challenging environment for women, whether they’re entering the sector or trying to progress in their career. Women make up just 19% of the student cohorts in STEM degree-level courses. There’s also a gender disparity when it comes to promotions.

I believe young women need positive role models. So, in my spare time, I help run a local Brownie pack. Through the guiding programme, we try to teach girls the skills they may need for their future as well as broadening their views on what they could aspire to be. Recently, we’ve even sent them on a few STEM-focused expeditions where they could look at satellites and learn about space.

Never stop asking questions

My advice to any women who worry about climbing the career path is to never stop learning. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re uncertain or seek support from your managers and colleagues – it’s likely that they’ve experienced the same things you’re going through.

Find mentors you admire and learn as much as you can from them. Even more importantly, don’t forget where you came from and the people who supported you on your journey – maybe you can bring them along on your journey and help inspire others, too.

Finally, it’s important to remember that technology is a growing sector that requires all kinds of skills, experiences, and diversity of thought. You don’t have to be a developer or a coder to thrive in this space. You can be a marketing professional, an administrator, a project co-ordinator, or even a project manager – like me!