A hydrogeologist Climbing the career ladder
Back in Australia where Sara Mehrabi started her career in mining, she had to put up with a somewhat old-fashioned view of women. Joining COWI she found herself more at ease: “I can go as high as my talent and capacity allow me.”
It was a recommendation from a former manager that brought Sara to COWI three years ago. Knowing very little about the company beforehand, she relied on her connection’s intriguing endorsement of the company.
And she has not been disappointed.
Looking around the organisation she sees women in leading positions, as senior vice presidents, vice presidents and heads of section. But to her, they are not just competent managers, they are role models, and that’s encouraging for a female Aussie who is used to a very different work culture – especially in tough industries such as mining and construction.
Today, she is not reluctant to recommend her work place to female friends:
“This is a company where you can easily dream of getting all the way up without meeting any obstacles because of your gender.”
In the cultural melting pot
Sara is a chief project manager and hydrogeologist. Groundwater is her thing – excavation, de-watering and mining.
Based in Doha, Qatar she was working on a large metro project. Following that, she started on a mega project: the King Abdul Aziz Road and Infrastructure project in Saudi Arabia.
Despite being used to harder-than-average working environments, Sara found herself faced with a new challenge in the Gulf region, where openly expressed aggression is commonplace in meetings.
“It’s been a new learning experience. Someone can be shouting at you for half an hour in a meeting, and then later give you a pat on the back, thanking you for an excellent job done. You just have to stop taking things at their face value,” she says.
“I learn every day from people from different cultures. I have learnt there is a big difference between being “instructed” and being “educated”. The former is evidenced by various certificates, while the latter is demonstrated by your general behaviour towards the world and your fellow beings.”
I learn every day from people from different cultures.
Just can't help being proud
Sara’s job is split into two parts. One of them is project management, which is process oriented, administrative and a matter of staying in control of budget, resources, risks and time. Sara calls it the repetitive part of her job. The other part is finding sustainable solutions to tough technical challenges. This is what fuels her energy.
One of her most vivid memories is of when a major tunnel-flooding event took place.
“With media attention and employer pressure, the stressed-out client came to us for a solution. I had emergency meetings every morning at 7 a.m. for a month, and the team was working non-stop to come up with options, implement them and finally save the day,” Sara remembers with a smile.
“And the best part is when recovery is completed. You think back and, despite the pain and the stress you felt at the time, just can’t help being proud.”
Thinking out of the box
The technical part is what gives Sara the most headaches, but also the biggest satisfaction.
“People come to you with a problem, which at first looks unmanageable. Then you start thinking about it, talking to colleagues from other fields. In the 21st century, we don’t have a lot of problems that one single discipline can resolve – you need to bring different perspectives together.”
“Thinking out of the box in a collaborative way is very meaningful to me. I enjoy doing some things differently from what other companies do, and at COWI we’re often looking for new ways to do better.”
In the 21st century, we don’t have a lot of problems that one single discipline can resolve – you need to bring different perspectives together.
No fear of flying
A few thousand feet above the ground, in a small Ikarus aircraft with herself in the pilot seat.
This is where Sara nowadays balances her demanding everyday life with a sound mental state of mind. She leaves the hustle and bustle behind, disconnects from problems and challenges and instead relishes the emotions of exhilaration and serenity.
“It makes me feel light and peaceful. It’s so serene up there and because I live a very hectic life, I need that.”
It makes me feel light and peaceful. It’s so serene up there and because I live a very hectic life, I need that.