Petra Barbu: Launching a Career in Corporate Responsibility As a Woman

Petra Barbu leads digital marketing at Sustainable Business Consulting and has experience in philanthropic public relations and social impact marketing. Below, she discusses her passion for corporate responsibility, the best advice she’s received, and going through life with the confidence of a mediocre white man.

  1. Why are you passionate about sustainability?

I think everyone should be passionate about sustainability because this is the only planet we have. The Earth provides everything we need to survive and more, and I want to preserve a beautiful planet for my children and their children. I was personally influenced by my family, as my parents left Communist Romania as refugees in order to create a better life for me. I feel indebted to pay back their sacrifices by doing something meaningful with my life, and I believe that protecting the planet is one of the most important challenges facing us today.

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

Though I am new to the SBC team, my favorite project so far has been the opportunity to join in a recent collaboration with the Seattle Sounders to help them become the first major league soccer team to become carbon neutral. It was a historic moment that I was grateful to be a part of, and it was amazing to see all the partners and stakeholders come together for the announcement.

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

I think there is a need for greater transparency across the board. Companies should be required to disclose the number of women they employ, the number of women in leadership positions, their gender equality hiring practices, their company strategy for reducing discrimination, and an ongoing plan to support diversity and inclusion for women and all disadvantaged populations. These commitments should go far beyond boilerplate and involve engagement from all stakeholders, creating an environment where women feel respected and supported to do their best work.

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

I am just starting my career, but I wish that I had known earlier that there is no one straight path to success. During my job search I had hundreds of coffee chats with leaders in the corporate responsibility space, trying to find their secret to success and the best way for me to enter the industry. What I found was that everyone had forged their own path, and their careers were as unique as they are. Chasing the issues you’re passionate about with the skills you want to build is the only way to write your own story.

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

Speak up for the women you work with and amplify their voice. If an insightful comment goes unnoticed in a meeting, highlight it. Offer women the stage and emphasize their expertise. If you notice yourself interrupting women, acknowledge it and turn the conversation back to them. Much of the administrative work and emotional labor at work and home often falls on women by default. Never assume that it’s someone else’s job to take care of, and don’t wait for someone to ask for help before supporting with these pieces. Extend your network and connections you think might be helpful to break up the “old boys club” mentality.

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

The women in my life are my strongest support group and my biggest cheerleaders, and I am so grateful for their endless support. Supporting other women means reminding them of their worth and greatness, encouraging them when they are exhausted, offering proactive support with connections, or even proofing an email. Professionally, I am so proud to work in an office that is 80% women, but am conscious that this is not everyone’s reality.

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

My mother always reminds me that no one wakes up in the morning with the intention to ruin your day. Although we may have different strategies to solve problems, at the end of the day, everyone is striving to do the best they can. Assume best intentions, listen completely, and remember that everyone is going through something.

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

People may be surprised to learn that English is my second language and I am Romanian. When I was younger, I hated my name and wanted to change it to something like “Jennifer” because substitute teachers always stumbled on it and I didn’t want to be different. Today, I love my name and am so grateful for my culture and family for grounding me and offering me the perspective of those who came before me.

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

I’m most looking forward to settling into a new life in Seattle, and diving into exciting corporate responsibility projects with SBC. I have relied and grown from the support and mentorship of many women in my life, and in 2019 I hope to be able to support other women in the same way.

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

Never doubt yourself. Many women I know, including myself, suffer from imposter syndrome, and feeling as though you constantly have to prove why you are in the room can be exhausting. Most women are born with confidence and a sense of self-assuredness, but lose it along the way. I encourage you to “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man” and never lose faith in who you are. I’m still working on it myself, but we can figure it out together.