The environmental services industry faces a persistent challenge: achieving true equity and advancing women's careers. To address these issues and discuss strategies for skill development and leadership growth, we invited experts in leadership development, human resources, environmental consulting, and non-profit advocacy to a panel discussion entitled “Women in Environmental Services: Strategies for Skill Development and Leadership Growth.”

The experts were Sarah Babcock (VP, EA Engineering, Science, and Technology), Chris Kimmel (President, Puget Sound Chapter of Women in Environment), Aimee Cohen (President & Founder, On Point Next Level Leadership), and Ken Moses (Chief People Officer, Cascade Environmental), moderated by Sue Bruning (VP of Client Experience & Sustainability, Cascade Environmental).

This blog features key insights from the panel

discussion. To hear the full conversation, including audience questions and detailed answers from the panelists, we encourage you to watch the recorded webinar.

Watch Recording


Are we doing enough to support women in our industry?

Sarah: We've come a long way, but we still experience gender bias and a significant pay gap. Women are still paid only 82% of what men are paid on an annual basis. Younger workers, between ages 25 and 34, are earning 92% of their male colleagues’ salary, showing some movement in the right direction. True equity in the workplace is still an issue, and supporting women remains crucial.

What can companies do to better support the women in their workforce?

Ken: Cultivating an inclusive workplace culture is vital. Solicit feedback from female employees, create support networks, and implement mentorship programs. Address the pay gap and provide career development opportunities. Health and wellness programs can also play a role. Training on harassment and discrimination is essential in our male-skewed, blue-collar industry.

What resources are out there to support women in the environmental services industry?

Chris: Engage with effective organizations early in your career. Find groups that enhance technical relevance, leadership skills, and softer skills like communication. is one such resource among many.

How can communication and empathy play a role in effective leadership?

Aimee: Emotional intelligence accounts for over 85% of overall success, emphasizing the importance of empathy and communication in leadership. Customizing communication to connect with each team member can be transformative.

How can organizations create effective training programs for leadership development?

Ken: The key is having a passionate sponsor or champion to drive the initiative. If your company values learning, you're ahead of the game. Otherwise, you'll need to demonstrate the value of leadership development to executives, ensuring it aligns with the company's mission, core values, and growth strategy.

You may choose to build a leadership development program in-house or partner with a third party. To persuade the company to invest in leadership training, you need to determine the return on investment.

Performance reviews also provide opportunities to focus on leadership development. We have employee-led career discussions with HR-reviewed action plans and a succession planning process to identify and nurture future leaders. This approach embeds leadership development into our organizational culture.

What challenges do organizations face when creating mentorship opportunities, and how can those be overcome?

Aimee: One of the greatest differentiators between male and female success is mentorship. But mentorship programs often lack structure. Participants may be well-intentioned but without a framework, the program will go nowhere. Another challenge is that organizations often pair a mentor and mentee because they're in the same business function or have some other qualities or characteristics in common. But for the relationship to succeed, you cannot overlook the importance of an organic fit, that all-important connection between the two.

How can individuals seek out and create opportunities for growth if their organizations lack programs?

Aimee: Treat your career like a business. Invest in yourself through external programs, professional associations, and executive coaching. Build a network of champions, cheerleaders, allies, advocates, sponsors, and mentors.

What advice do you have for a young environmental consultant navigating office culture that is dominated by males and lacks women leaders?

Chris: Address derogatory comments directly but respectfully. I was in a meeting recently where a male co-worker put me down with derogatory comments. I didn't say anything in front of everyone, but I did have a conversation with him shortly thereafter. I told him that I don't appreciate being put down. I said that I hoped we have worked long enough together and closely enough together that we can respect each other, and if he has an issue, to please bring it up with me privately, not in public. And he respected that.

Sarah: My advice is to put your hand up for that position that feels like a reach. Studies show that many women will only apply for a job if they meet the criteria exactly, whereas men will apply even if they only meet half the criteria. By being brave and stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll have the opportunity to grow. And sometimes just expressing that interest might open doors that you wouldn't have anticipated.

How can allies, especially male colleagues, actively support women's advancement in environmental services?

Sarah: Allies can find ways to raise women's voices and expand who is heard. For example, if you're a project manager and a female staff member did most of the work, have her present in front of the client. Be brave. Speak up when you see something wrong. I know it can hard to say, “That's inappropriate,” but women cannot carry the burden of changing the culture.

Aimee: This speaks directly to how important your network is when it comes to career management, regardless of where you are in your career. Be active and strategic about building those relationships. You should have champions, cheerleaders, allies, advocates, sponsors, and mentors, many different types of relationships to help you drive your career. This doesn't just happen naturally, it takes effort. But then you have resources when challenges arise and when opportunities open up.

What can leaders do to foster a more inclusive leadership landscape?

Ken: It starts with culture. Develop a culture where employees feel valued and respected. Lead by example and hold everyone accountable for inclusive behaviors. Educate on DE&I and address systematic biases.

How can we be visible leaders ourselves and help others to gain visibility?

Chris: For women in leadership roles, the most important thing we can do is to advocate for others. Look around for that more reserved person who hasn't quite found her voice, maybe isn’t comfortable speaking out in front of people. Ask them to go out to lunch and start making that connection. Help them develop their own tools that they can use to feel comfortable.

If you’re starting out, I hope that someone in your own organization can provide that support, but if not, keep searching in your community for those networking opportunities. Networking is the most powerful tool that you can have at every stage of your career.

Why is it important for women to promote themselves?

Aimee: I wrote a book called “Woman Up, Overcome the Seven Deadly Sins that Sabotage Your Success.” And one of the deadly sins is what I call the undervalue epidemic, meaning as women, we downplay, we dismiss, and we diminish our accomplishments, our value, and our contributions to the workplace. Get yourself a brag book, whether it’s an actual notebook or a computer file, and keep track of every positive email, performance review, projects that you delivered on time and under budget, every bit of good news. The brag book catapults your confidence when you need it. Bring the book to meetings where you’re the only woman in the room. Bring it to performance reviews with your manager. In fact, don't wait for that performance review. The brag book helps you point to the things that you’ve done, and to become more comfortable saying these things out loud.

As female leaders, one of the greatest things that you can do for your team is to require every single person to keep their own brag book. And start every meeting by sharing wins to normalize that idea of self-promotion.

Key Takeaways:
While progress has been made for women in the environmental services industry, there's still significant work to be done. Building strong connections within and outside your organization is essential for career advancement. Be proactive in advocating for yourself and treat your career as a business, investing in your own development. Utilize available resources, seek out mentorship opportunities, and foster a supportive network. Continuous learning and emotional intelligence are crucial for effective leadership. Remember to celebrate and share your achievements to build confidence and visibility. Most importantly, actively invest in your growth and seize opportunities to lead.

Get started by networking with like-minded professionals in the LinkedIn group, Women in Environmental Services.

Watch the recorded webinar to hear the full conversation, including questions from the audience and answers from the panel.

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