While Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Regional Director Randall Young usually takes the lead on this column, he has handed it over to me this month to highlight DEC’s successful Women’s Initiative. The initiative started three years ago after a group of women brought the idea to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who encouraged its creation as a way to provide new opportunities for professional growth and to foster career development for women in the agency.
Outcomes of the initiative include providing opportunities for the women of the DEC to connect with colleagues statewide through mentoring opportunities and a speakers’ series in which DEC staff participate as panelists on a variety of topics. These events are usually held during lunch hours and if staff can’t attend, the sessions are recorded to view at a later date.
Rachel Gardner, assistant engineer in the DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation, Region 6, Watertown, is an active participant in the WI online webinars.
“I think it’s great the DEC has created this initiative and an open environment where topics on family planning and gender discrimination in the workplace can be shared and discussed,” Gardner said.
Andrea Linton, public participation specialist in the DEC’s Division of Communication Services in Albany, is a member of the Women’s Initiative steering committee. She helps to schedule colleagues for a segment called, “Get to Know Your Coworkers.” Women share their personal stories of challenges and success across their careers both at the DEC and with other employers.
No one person’s experience is the same, nor is their definition of work/life balance. For some participants the balancing act focuses on dual careers with a spouse or partner, while for others it’s balancing careers and family life, with or without a partner. For other participants, it’s balancing one career and finding happiness through hobbies and social connections.
Participation in the speakers’ series is more important now than ever before as work/life balance has been affected by the pandemic. Like millions of New Yorkers, DEC staff have been challenged by feelings of isolation and learning new technologies to help better work remotely.
The Women’s Initiative speakers’ series is well attended and well received.
“I think one of the most important leadership qualities I’ve observed through the webinars is confidence,” said Linton. “Confidence in your experience, confidence in your profession, and confidence in yourself.”
In addition, the initiative has bolstered a successful DEC-wide mentoring program that is now in its third year. The mentoring program connects seasoned DEC professionals with staff newer to the agency. In 2020, more than 115 staff participated, representing eight regions and 14 divisions. New mentors for 2021 are signing up now to receive training with instructions on the commitment to participants over the year. During the program, mentoring partners exchange experiences, benefiting staff and the agency.
Molly Farrell, environmental analyst in the Division of Environmental Permits, Region 6, Watertown, participated in the mentoring program in 2019 as a mentee. Farrell was paired with a woman who works as an economist in the General Counsel’s Office in Albany allocating Natural Resource Damages funding.
Farrell said, “The mentoring program helps promote communication and ties across Regions and Divisions/Bureaus. Those relationships can be invaluable. You never know what someone can teach you when you least expect it. These conversations remind me that we all come from diverse backgrounds and bring different experiences to our work and those differences are important. Women’s Initiative conversations or mentoring opportunities remind me that it is important to always ask another question and to speak up when you feel you can contribute to the conversation. Your voice matters, too.”
As another year of the Women’s Initiative gets underway, DEC will continue committing to evolving as an organization with a culture that provides all employees with the opportunity to reach for their highest level of contribution and that recognizes and promotes valuable staff talents at all levels of career development.