Five Valuable Reminders from the NAEM Women’s EHS & Sustainability Leadership Roundtable

Igniting Your Passion with Red Shoes and Green Tiaras

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the Women's EHS & Sustainability Leadership Roundtable that NAEM hosted this past spring in San Antonio, Texas, which brought together an intimate group of passionate and influential professionals in the EHS & Sustainability space (a number of whom I’m lucky to count among my mentors, colleagues and friends). The conference sessions left us with several important lessons — or more accurately, reminders; because they were, for the most part, things we’ve known to do all along. Unfortunately, as leaders we tend to become so distracted by our hectic lifestyles and many responsibilities that we get caught up in being "busy" and don’t take time to think about all the things that matter most.

I left the conference with a new clarity and energy that has carried me through this summer. It also emboldened me to find my inner red shoes and to let my green tiara sparkle… more on that in a moment.

A President’s Advice Passed Down

The previous time this event was held (2012), our keynote speaker Susan Eisenhower shared a valuable lesson with us that stuck with me, one that she passed on from her grandfather, former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. She emphasized the importance of periodically stepping outside of your daily responsibilities to find a calm and quiet place to take an introspective look at what is important and what it means to be a good leader. Dwight Eisenhower used to go to a cabin in the woods alone for several days at a time to find this presence of mind.

A conference with 100+ women in a hopping city is certainly a contrast to the solace of a cabin in the woods. Nevertheless, the nature of the event forced us to pause while we remembered (and reinforced) the important principles of being a good leader and having a fulfilling career. So what does that have to do with red shoes and green tiaras?

Finding Your Inner Red Shoes

At this year’s conference, we had the opportunity to participate in an energetic half-day session facilitated by Mariela Dabbah, Founder and CEO of the Red Shoe Movement (RSM). Finding your red shoes means identifying your interests, strengths, and passions and aligning them with your career aspirations. A component of the RSM is recognizing some of the inequalities that exist for women in the workplace and making an effort to help them become better leaders. As a show of visible support the RSM encourages women to wear red shoes in the workplace on Tuesdays or whenever possible. Of course, the RSM is not exclusively a women-helping-women proposition. Men are also encouraged to lend support in the development of women in leadership, both in action and by wearing red ties to show solidarity.

Most of us have thought about our strengths and passions, and probably about our career aspirations, but likely in a disconnected manner. The 2015 Roundtable forced us to think about them together and how they align, while paying particular attention to what our individual journeys should be. I left with a simpler and clearer view of the type of leadership I strive to manifest in myself and cultivate for my organization, including the kind of support I can provide to the great women and men around me. I found my inner red shoes and was emboldened to take Eisenhower’s advice to set aside time to find my presence of mind more often.

Making Your Green Tiara Sparkle

During this year’s keynote session, Chief Sustainability Officer at Skanska USA, Elizabeth Heider, summed up her leadership opportunity in a way that resonated with all of us as EHS & Sustainability professionals who have approached our education and careers with a strong drive to have an impact on our world. She said her current position as Chief Sustainability Officer essentially gave her a green tiara, and it was up to her to make it sparkle. It was a fun analogy that we referenced throughout the rest of the conference.

It reminds me that in my role overseeing the impact of our product and our client partnerships, I have an opportunity with my team to help our clients be leaders in the protection of people and the environment. I feel a heightened sense of clarity in my drive to support them in their efforts, as well as to learn from them how we can become better in the ways we support them. It is my chance to make my green tiara sparkle.

Valuable Reminders

This year we were fortunate to learn from the experiences of many other accomplished presenters and panel speakers at the event, who all had EHS & Sustainability leadership excellence in common. The energy and inspiration that came through in their stories was infectious and formed an underlying framework for how to be the best leaders we can be, to lead fulfilling careers, and to pursue our common passion for helping to make the world a better place. Whether you want to call them lessons learned or reminders, here are five takeaways I feel are worth sharing from these two NAEM Roundtables.

1. Be Present

This is a recurring theme at the Roundtables; it’s something that is easy to gloss over and is commonly undervalued in context. To me, it means that even when the busyness of my professional and personal life consumes me, I strive to maintain a clear presence of mind about my goals, the vision of our organization, how each member of my team defines their success, and the importance of family and my personal well-being.

2. Nurture Your Tribe

Another notable theme that is commonly undervalued is nurturing your tribe. To me, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of my professional life, and commonly spills over into my personal life. Nurturing your tribe means taking care of the people in your career — in my case, customers, colleagues and professional contacts — and in your life in general. These are the people who support you, whom you support, and with whom you have things in common — be it shared goals, career paths, values or interests, or family ties.

When it comes to my tribe, the Women's EHS & Sustainability Leadership Roundtable  provided me with a remarkable opportunity to reconnect with some influential leaders and cherished friends, such as: Kym Fawcett, Manager of Safety & Social Responsibility at Enerplus; Sandy Nessing, Managing Director of Sustainability & ESH Strategy & Design at American Electric Power; and Carol Singer Neuvelt, Executive Director at NAEM. The conference also gave me an opportunity to make new connections and expand my tribe to include: Lisa French, Technical Director of Guidance and Practice at International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC); and Carol Cala, VP of Energy, Environment, Safety & Health at Lockheed Martin Corp.

And in the spirit of Red Shoes,  nurturing your tribe means recognizing that women in organizations across industries and in a multiplicity of roles are looking to maximize their potential, and we as leaders (women and men) can positively impact their efforts to find satisfaction in their jobs.

3. Pursue Your Passion for Sustainability

Granted, I am biased, but what could possibly be a more worthwhile goal than pursuing solutions for meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs? As individuals, we ALL, no matter our job title, have an obligation to achieve this, but the challenges are complex and often inconvenient. Fortunately the drive for sustainability is stronger than ever thanks to the growing number of people who have pursued their passion for change. As professionals in environmental and sustainability management, it is important — it is right — for us to embrace the opportunity we have to take care of our planet, a planet which one day soon will belong to our future generations.

4. Be What You Want to Be Recognized/Remembered For

Once you’ve gone through the exercise of identifying your passions and motivations, and determining how best to align those with your career aspirations, you should ensure your journey includes setting goals that help you be the person you want to be recognized or remembered for. If you’re on a path to do more and be better, it is important that you execute your goals in a manner that reflects the legacy you hope to leave behind. Are you the person who everyone knows they can go to about a particular topic? If you say you’re going to do something, can people count on you to do it? Have you made a positive impact on someone or something?

5. Find Time to Step Outside Your Daily Routine

As much as anything, this event again reminded me to find the time, despite a hectic schedule, to think about the bigger picture and my role in all areas of life. If we’re going to be authentic in our pursuits, then it’s important to actually step outside of the routine, find our “cabin in the woods” and give ourselves space to think and set intentions. Otherwise, it is easy to forget to put our attention on all the things that matter: to be present, to nurture our tribes, to pursue our passions, and to be the people we want to be recognized for.

Preparing for the Opportunities Ahead

I know these are not groundbreaking ideas, and that’s the point. Enacting them only requires us to give them our attention; and yet the value we can derive from doing so has the power to transform our lives both personally and professionally. If you have not had a chance lately to step back and reflect, I hope you will consider planning time for this. Maybe even at one of our upcoming NAEM conferences. As leaders, we need to continue learning and evolving, and sometimes something as simple as a red tie, a pair of red shoes or a green tiara can be the compass that helps us navigate the opportunities ahead.

About Laura Murphy: Laura Murphy is the Vice President of Customer Experience at VelocityEHS (formerly KMI). With 17 years’ experience in the EHS&S software industry, she is a passionate promoter of user‐centered design and data visualization best practices, and specializes in system design for incident management, audit & inspections, compliance, training and sustainability.

Note: The image at the top features shoes belonging to KMI Implementation Consultant Kate Even and KMI VP of Customer Experience Laura Murphy. Photo taken at the 2015 NAEM Women’s EHS & Sustainability Leadership Roundtable.