Building a successful career, according to Kathrin Winkler, Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corp., is akin to a line she once read in a Japanese mystery: “The Gods will decide, but you have to put yourself in the way of the Gods.”
Her comments echoed those of fellow keynote panelists at NAEM’s recent Women’s Leadership Roundtable in San Antonio, where more than 100 EHS and sustainability professionals met to discuss the unique challenges for women leaders.
“You have to be aware of the [opportunities] that are surrounding you and be prepared to jump and take risks,” Ms. Winkler advised.
In fact, the very act of asking for what you want often makes all the difference, said Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Smart Power Initiative.
Ms. Roberto said she credits her successful career transitions, which include roles in environmental litigation and serving as the Commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, to having learned this lesson early on. Her pivotal moment came when she ran for student government at Ohio State University.
“I worked really hard, I was really qualified and I thought that was enough,” she said.
Yet she didn’t get the job.
After the election, her mentor pulled her aside to explain what happened.
“‘You didn’t get it, not because you weren’t the best,’” he told her. “‘You didn’t get it because you didn’t ask
For Kelly Wilmott, Manager of Environmental and Administrative Affairs at Amvac Chemical Corp., this insight surprised her.
“You’re thinking, ‘Oh, [for] all of these successful people, [success] is just natural to them,’ but actually they all had to make an effort to remember to ask for things throughout their career,” she said.
A similar theme emerged, she said, during the keynote presentation by Lionel L. Nowell, a retired senior vice president and treasurer of PepsiCo Inc., and a director on the board of American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Bank of America.
“He was saying, ‘Women don’t ask. Men do,’”Ms. Wilmott recalled. “If there’s a woman up for a job and a man up for a job and the man asks for it and the woman doesn’t, who are you going to go with?”
A related tactic for putting yourself in the way of success, the speakers said, is negotiation.
Aimee Taylor, EHS Director of the Southern region at Dean Foods, shared one of her first successes with negotiation during a breakout session facilitated by members of The Red Shoe Movement.
While interviewing for an earlier role in her career, she articulated the value of her skills and asked to be compensated for them.
“I can remember working myself up to have that conversation,” she said. “I stood up in ‘the Superman pose’ to stand up tall and be assertive.”
To her surprise, she got what she wanted.
“It was just one of the conversations where when it was over, I felt, ‘Why was I so nervous about that?’”
While this is a lesson she continues to apply to how she manages her career, she observed that it somehow seems harder to negotiate for oneself than for a work priority.
“A lot of EHS involves negotiation, so I’m not sure why it gets so uncomfortable to negotiate for things personally,” she said. “Sometimes we put ourselves on the back burner and it’s not okay.”
A good way to stay on track with career goals, the speakers recommended, was to build your own “tribe”. Remaining connected with your network not only introduces you to new opportunities but also helps you problem-solve in your current role, the speakers said.
Ms. Wilmott said she intends to follow the advice to dedicate at least 30 minutes a week to strengthening connections with others in the profession.
“Whether that’s having a personal ‘Board of Directors’ or working with your mentor, you’ll probably feel like you have more choices, more options when these situations arise,” she said.