Katie Secrist: A Sustainability Consultant on Gender Equality in CSR

Katie Secrist is a consultant at Sustainable Business Consulting, with over three years’ experience helping clients develop sustainability strategy, conducting and facilitating client and stakeholder engagement meetings, creating client reports and deliverables, conducting industry benchmarking and providing project management. Her work has contributed to sectors such as healthcare, retail, transportation and banking/finance. Below, she discusses her love for Outlook calendars, her journey with sustainability, and the importance of gender equality in corporate responsibility.

  1. Why are you passionate about sustainability?

My passion for sustainability was highly influenced by my upbringing, where my parents instilled a mindset of “less resources, less waste.” I learned early on about the benefits of gamification like could I manage a shorter shower than my brother, or who could clean up the mess of Christmas morning fastest and in the right bins. For me, it was about being responsible – and when I knew I wanted to go into business, I carried my standard for responsibility into my studies and into my career.

  1. What is your favorite project you’ve worked on for SBC?

I have met amazing individuals throughout my tenure at SBC. My favorite project was with a large retailer helping them understand, for the first time, the sustainability impacts of their business. One of the most rewarding things about our job is helping clients uncover those “wow” moments that catalyze change and generate a-ha insights for leadership. This particular project was full of those moments!

  1. If you could make one change to help women advance at work, what would it be?

I would introduce subsidized children’s daycare facilities in all places of work. I believe the bottleneck of women reaching leadership positions is partly caused by lack of access to reliable and affordable child care, and taking even a 3 to 4-year break in your career can take you out of the running for leadership positions.

  1. What do you wish you had known when you were first starting your career?

In relation to this topic, I wish I had known (or rather, believed) that the gender dynamic truly exists in the workplace – then I wouldn’t have been so let down when I saw it play out in front of my eyes. I had always been surrounded by men that empowered women and had not yet learned how to facilitate and navigate those power dynamics. Recognition is the first step to healing, right?

  1. What can men do to support women at work?

Dear Men: if you recognize an individual’s or an organization’s tendency to reward characteristically male behavior, speak up. The simplest of ways is to broaden your mind to the issues women face at work – they are both similar to and unique of the issues men face – and then be a voice for the women who do not have the space to speak up. If men tend to get more air time in meetings, create space by asking the women their thoughts on the subject. If men tend to get promoted faster than women, ask why? What’s causing this? By the way, this same philosophy goes for all underprivileged individuals.

  1. How do you work to uplift other women, personally and professionally?

In our office, women are the majority and all opportunities are equally available to every employee; however, we know that outside our four walls that is not always the case and we strive to support one another in client meetings or facilitations where the same respect is not being shown. Through our work, we explicitly push for policies and – even more so – practices that support women equality and advancement, while implicitly supporting our women leaders by delivering the type of work that is going to get them recognized and respected.

  1. What is the best advice you’ve received?

I have received masses of relevant advice from incredible mentors over the years, but one that has always stuck with me (and one that I’m always working on) is to not take work matters personally. Now, there are many situations where “shrugging it off” is the last thing you want to do, but if you are confident in your work product and yet you weren’t included in that meeting, or not CC’d in that email, don’t take it personally. Those thoughts can consume your mind and cloud your confidence – and as a woman in the business world, confidence is key.

  1. What is something someone would never guess about you?

Most people would find it hard to believe that I am a naturally forgetful person. Most people see me as the organized, on-top-of-it individual that I’ve had to become; however, it wasn’t until college that I became that person, having to rely heavily on Outlook calendars, to-do lists, and secondary (and tertiary) lists to keep things straight. By doing so, I have turned a weakness into a defining strength, having positioned myself as a reliable friend and co-worker.

  1. What are you most looking forward to in 2019?

Our business is growing, and we have added two new exceptional women to our team. I am looking forward to working alongside them, pushing and supporting one another to grow personally and professionally while working on transformational projects for our clients and contributing to the new meaning of business as usual.

  1. If you could say one thing to young women today, what would it be?

Find a mentor. Better yet, find several mentors and make time to meet with them regularly. Pick their brains, ask the tough questions, challenge each other to reach your goals. Mentorship can get you through experiences you don’t yet know how to handle and propel you into success. And for those of us at mentor age – make yourself available for young women. Your experience is more valuable than a college degree and there are few things more rewarding than helping fellow motivated women succeed.