As the Director of Global Retail Environmental Health & Safety at The Estée Lauder Companies, Drena Howard’s passion for her work and leadership savvy have made her a rising star in the EHS&S profession. In the following interview, which also appeared on CSRwire’s Talkback blog, she described the skills in her toolbox and how she invests in her professional development to advance her effectiveness.
NAEM: Why did you choose to pursue a career in EHS&S management? Does that same reason keep you engaged in your work today?
DH: If I’m being honest, I actually stumbled upon the EHS&S profession. While in graduate school I took a course on industrial ecology, focusing on the life cycle of a product through a manufacturing facility. Most of the people providing insight on the process were EHS&S professionals and I thought it was so cool to have a career that worked to protect the environment and people!
I stay engaged in my work because people need to make a living to support themselves and their families. I look at my role as someone who works “behind the scenes” so that they can perform their duties and not get injured. I also implement programs to protect the environment and it is engaging to be an environmental steward within an organization.
I can’t say that my motivations have changed but I do have a bit more clarity and purpose behind them. I want programs around safe lifting and energy conservation at work to translate to safe lifting and energy conservation at home. EHS&S shouldn’t stop when you’re off the clock.
NAEM: Could you briefly explain the impact of the work you do as an EHS&S manager?
DH: Impact. That’s a very strong word but appropriate because I do think my work as an EHS&S professional can flex from persuading others to participate in the programs I create, to inserting myself into the decision-making (even when I wasn’t initially invited). But more often than not, I’m influencing. At the core of environmental or safety issues are individual and collective decisions. Regardless of the controls, programs and procedures in place, my work is the most effective when I am helping to shape how people behave– influencing the way people actively care for themselves and others.
We are rapidly approaching a leadership transition between those who built the profession and those who will define it going forward. What worries you about this transition?
When I first started as an EHS&S professional I expected to be the youngest person at a conference or tradeshow. After a decade or so later, however, I am worried to see that I am often still one of the youngest people there. It is critical for this hard-earned knowledge to be passed on, and that the next generation of talent have the same opportunity to build the peer network they will need to benchmark their programs.
NAEM: How do you define career success? What are some of the strategies you’ve used to pursue that vision for yourself?
DH: I define career success by the harmony my career creates in my life. To pursue that vision I check in with myself to evaluate my personal and professional goals. How can I stir up a healthy mix of both? I’m not looking for balance—just a healthy mix. I would just urge everyone to remember that career success is your personal definition so stand in your success regardless of how others might view it.
NAEM: If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what are some of the core skills or training they should pursue?
DH: That’s a tough question. The EHS&S field is very broad so there are a variety of health, safety or environmental disciplines to study. One key skill I would recommend, however, would be to focus on communication and writing skills. You have to be able to translate complex systems and ideas into easy-to-follow ideas that influence people’s behavior. You also need to be able to communicate with a variety of audiences, from the most senior executive to the newest employee on their first day on the job.
The other core skill set I would recommend is perseverance. Things do not happen overnight, and there are times where a program you are looking to implement will take a very long time (I’m talking years, people). You need to have the tenacity to keep the program moving forward through the various setbacks you will experience.
EHS&S is not boring and there are always new ways to continuously improve and develop yourself in the profession. Find a lane or change lanes as your interests evolve; the options are limitless—just keep learning and exploring new approaches.
To learn more strategies for cultivating a successful career in EHS&S Management, join NAEM for its 2017 Women’s Leadership Conference on June 20-22 in Portland, Ore.