WIE Blog Post Challenge!

Rachel McDermott and Rachel Morgan

The Challenge:

Rachel Morgan and I (yes – team Rachel!) have decided to give you all a little challenge. The women of WIE are diverse, each with unique experiences and advice that can inspire and enlighten others. We challenge you to accept our invitation to share your story on the WIE blog in a new Member Highlight series. Read the directions below to learn how to participate! And if there’s a particular woman in environment that you’d love to read about, let her know!

 The Directions:

WIE is full of fantastic women with interesting stories and sage advice, and we love being able to shine the spotlight on our standout role models – like you! Please choose at least three questions and respond to each in at least 100 words (which is approximately the length of this prompt). There is a list of questions below. You are welcome to come up with your own questions or structure your post differently – the purpose of the questions is merely to help make this task easier. Thank you for allowing us to highlight you on the WIE website!

 Send your completed self-interviews to rachel.m.mcdermott@gmail.com

 Please also include the following information in your response:


Current Company:

Current Position:

Years of Experience:

 The Questions:

  • What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time 5 years? 10 years?

  • Who is your role model, and why?

  • What project or accomplishment do you consider to be the most significant in your career thus far?

  • What was the most significant obstacle you have faced in your career?

  • What motivated you to choose the career you have today?

  • What activities do you enjoy outside of work?

  • What advice do you have for achieving a work life balance?

  • What is a recent book you have read?

  • Have you seen or experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace? What are ways you combat discrimination and harassment?

  • What has been your experience with WIE?

 Did you think we would challenge you and not try it out ourselves? Never! Rachel Morgan stepped up and tried out the self-interview.

 Rachel Morgan works in the Bay Area at Kennedy/Jenks Consultants as a Staff Environmental Engineer. She has five years of experience in the environmental field. Originally from Washington, she attended WIE events in Seattle prior to moving to the Bay Area. Not only is she a brave interview taker but she is also a member of the WIE board of directors and serves on the Bay Area Mentoring and Education Committees.

 Question: What advice do you have for achieving a work life balance?

The best advice on work/life balance I have received is that if I don’t enforce my own boundaries, no one else will. I’ve seen it happen to many people – including people who have decided to formally reduce their hours and accept the pay cut, but end up regularly working 40+ hours anyways. Things happen and sometimes those extra hours are necessary and worthwhile, but other times it’s ok to finish the task tomorrow and make time for that gym class, family time, WIE event, or other event. Admittedly, I don’t always follow through on this, and I don’t have pets or children to really push that advice to its limits – we’ll see how it stands the test of time.

Question: What is a recent book you have read?

I’ll highlight a fun one and a more serious one. With my WIE mentoring group, we recently read Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It presented issues I’ve encountered in a new light and shed light on situations I hadn’t considered previously. It was a very thought-provoking book that led to great group discussion. I also recently read Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s the end of the world, Final Judgement is coming… but the angel and demon stationed on Earth like it here and decide to work together to save it. Unfortunately, they’ve lost the Antichrist. It’s snarky and fun in a totally unique way.

Question: What has been your experience with WIE?

At every WIE event I’ve attended, I’ve always felt welcome. In my experience, WIE fosters a fantastic environment that really encourages event attendees to stray from their safety net of co-workers to meet new people. It’s also an environment that allows women to relax and enjoy the event, yet welcomes productive and frank conversations about struggles and obstacles they’ve experienced. I’ve yet to meet anyone not excited to be in the room. I’ve attended events and participated in the mentoring programs in Seattle and now in the Bay Area and the positive energy is ever-present. It’s unlike any other professional group I’ve ever participated in, and it keeps me coming back and volunteering time.

Thanks for your answers Rachel, you made it look easy! Answering the questions took her about 30 minutes, and she reports that it was a welcome reflection on her career thus far. Now that Rachel has shown us how it’s done, we look forward to reading and posting your answers soon.

I Like my Coffee Like I Like my Career... Environmentally Conscious

Rachel McDermott


Coffee–it’s the first thing on our minds when we wake up.

On hectic days, it feels like pouring a fresh cup of coffee is the only justifiable reason to break eye contact with the computer screen.

The social center of any office is near the coffee pot where co-workers gather to discuss, what else, coffee (As anyone in a traditional office setting can attest, the ubiquitousness of coffee talk among co-workers is second only to weather talk).

While our lives, or at least our work lives, are so vastly impacted by this magical bean-water drink, do we ever stop to think about what its other, greater, impacts might be? As professionals working in environmental fields, it is only natural that we ruminate on the environmental consequences of coffee.

Globally, coffee is consumed at a rate of 400 billion cups per year and this goliath of an industry has a major environmental impact. Truth be told, my knowledge of coffee supply chain is limited to what I glean from squinting at the miniature array of certification logos on the coffee bags lining the shelves at New Seasons. Hmm, this one has a smiling tree frog logo, so it MUST be good. Luckily, I know a sustainable coffee expert.  My good friend Sara Becerra recently visited the Pacific Northwest to attend the Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle. Sara was born and raised in Colombia, a country famous for its coffee. Sara and I met in graduate school where we both majored in environmental science. Currently, she resides in El Salvador where she works as Assistant to the CEO at CLAC, the Network that gathers and represents all Fairtrade certified small producers’ organizations and workers associations in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

Sara (blue jacket) conducting a bird survey in Celaque, Honduras

Sara (blue jacket) conducting a bird survey in Celaque, Honduras

Sara and I met up in Portland over a cocktail to discuss Fair Trade certifications and the environmental impacts of coffee (in retrospect, I realize it would have been more apropos to have this interview over coffee, but when college friends are in town, you cocktail!).

Rachel: What is Fair Trade?

Sara: Fair trade is a global social movement that promotes responsible and sustainable production-trade patterns and development opportunities for small farmers. It is a business model that centers human life, as well as social, economic and environmental sustainability of societies.

R: What is the importance of coffee for small farmers?

S: The majority of coffee producers are small farmers from about 80 countries in Latin American, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. For most of these farmers, coffee is the main source of income.

R: What impact does the coffee industry have on the environment?

S: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coffee harvesting result from deforestation (mainly in the case of big plantations, not small producers) and poor agricultural practices. Poor agricultural practices can increase the water footprint, in terms of both quality (because of the use of nitrogen fertilizers and chemical pesticides, for example) and quantity (when coffee is not planted in the shade and thus requires more irrigation). Likewise, many farmers do not manage the soil well, causing permanent degradation of the land. It is important to look at the global supply chain when considering the environmental impact of coffee.  Transportation, trading, processing of the green coffee beans, catering, retail, and consumption also produce GHG emissions.  Furthermore, the international markets, rather than the countries growing the coffee beans, are ultimately the main drivers of the demand for coffee.

R: What can everyday people do to consume coffee more sustainably?

S: There are many Fair Trade products at local stores. Don’t just buy any coffee, make sure to check the labels in the back and have an understanding of what they mean: some promote bird-friendly, organic and environmentally friendly products; others, such as the Fairtrade organization, focus on human life, in addition to the social, economic and environmental sustainability, dignifying work, respecting the environment and promoting responsible and sustainable management of natural resources. Also, try to support and consume coffee at local coffee shops, which typically source their coffee from traceable supply chains. For example, at a coffee shop in SE Portland, I noticed they listed the producer’s names right on the back of the coffee bags. I thought that was wonderful.

My takeaway is: Coffee impacts so much of what we do at work, why not apply the environmental thinking we use at work to our coffee selection? Perhaps the next coffee conversation at your office could be about where your office is procuring its coffee and if your team is willing to switch to a brand that is Fairtrade certified. The environmental impact of each cup of coffee can be changed by choosing ethical sources. Many thanks to my lovely friend Sara Becerra for “talking shop” with me on her vacation time!


Ruminations on WIE's Panel Discussion on Mentorship

Rachel McDermott


Coffee mentor.jpg

Think back to the first mentor you ever had…

For me, it was a professor. He led a fast-paced science writing class and was a ruthless grader. “You’re not going to like me after this test,” he would announce gleefully to the class while handing out pages of questions stapled into packets as thick as a turkey sandwich. He was the type of professor that would hand back a submitted essay with red marker corrections seeming to fill every millimeter of margin space. As overwhelming as the crimson-colored essay would be, I would also be appreciative. All the time he spent writing those thoughtful corrections led me (or perhaps dragged me) to become a stronger technical writer.  I will forever be thankful he was such a dedicated grader and fervid professor.

Mentorships take many forms, and it can be hard to define what makes someone a mentor, as opposed to a simply a good manager, coworker, or friend. However, when asked who our mentors are, most of us will identify just a few people without hesitation. For some of us, mentors are people who listen and offer advice over coffee on a regular basis or managers who deftly steer us through the labyrinth of professional development and advancement. For others, mentors are people who inspire us or, like my professor, give us the feedback we need to grow. At the heart of the best mentor/ mentee relationships are personal connections between the mentor and the mentee.

It is easy to see how valuable mentorships are. However, while some mentorships grow very organically, starting a mentorship can be challenging. Furthermore, starting a mentorship in the professional sphere, especially in your own office, can be intimating. For instance, everyone may be busy at work, so it may feel uncomfortable to ask for someone’s personal (and in the consulting world, non-billable) time.

This winter, WIE’s Krista Koehl Professional Development Series included a panel discussion entitled “From Mentee to Mentor, Ideas for Making Mentorship Work for You” in downtown Portland. The panelists were John Ashworth, Attorney, Partner at Kell, Alterman & Runstein, LLP; Karen Beattie, Vice President, Northwest Business Unit Leader-Environment at AECOM; and Jessica Hamilton, General Manager, Portland Harbor Environmental at Port of Portland. The Panel was moderated by Sheila Sahu, Senior Project Manager at Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, Chair of the Mentoring Program, and Member of the WIE Board. The panel led a thought-provoking discussion on the benefits, as well as the challenges, of being a mentor and/or a mentee. The following ideas from the panel discussion stuck out as particularly useful:

To mentees:

  • A mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way street. Hamilton pointed out that mentees can (and should) offer something to the relationship since no strong business relationship can be completely altruistic. It is generally understood that mentors do give more in the mentor/mentee relationship. Thus, it is important for a mentee to be respectful of their mentor’s time. Mentees also must follow through with any assignments given to them by their mentor.
  • While speaking with a mentor, the mentee should ask open-ended questions.
  • Mentees should do their research about the person they want as a mentor. They should know the mentor’s organization and be familiar with the mentor’s role within that organization.
  • It is beneficial for a mentee to find a mentor within their company. Internal mentors will be able to provide insights on company politics and other workplace-specific advice.
  • Ashworth recommended that mentees cherish honest feedback. Even if it is tough to hear the advice, it is for the mentee’s own good and does not need to be sugarcoated. (Sounds like he would have liked my first mentor!)
  • Beattie pointed out that mentees do not always need to have a formal mentor relationship. In fact, a mentee doesn’t even have to tell someone that they consider them a mentor. A lot of knowledge can be gleaned just from observing how a successful “mentor” operates day-to-day in their business.

To mentors:

  • When looking for someone to mentor, mentors should find someone just coming up in the field/business and who has a spark or has something that makes them standout.
  • Mentorships that start and grow naturally are generally the most comfortable and most sustainable. As in any relationship, trust and understanding take time to grow. The mentorships will strengthen from continued contact and meetings.
  • Ashworth suggested that mentors pick and choose a tutor-tutee relationship that is aligned with their personal style and preferences. There is no one-size-fits-all mentor/mentee relationship.
  • Becoming a mentor can help ease the pain of the next generation by ending a culture in which junior staff is expected to “sink or swim”. A great motivator for mentors is the drive to create a mentor/mentee relationship that would have been invaluable had they had it in their own early career.

The panel discussion brought up these memorable ideas along with other interesting advice about mentorships. Thank you to the WIE Mentoring and Education Committees for bringing this panel together. To become a WIE mentor or mentee in Seattle, look out for a sign-up sheet at all of Seattle’s networking events. Seattle’s next mentor/mentee cycle will begin in September. To become a WIE mentor or mentee in Portland, be on a lookout for an interest survey that will be sent out via WIE’s new email system this spring.

Meet Heather Brunelle: Entrepreneur, Mentor, and Founding Member of WIE

Rachel McDermott


Welcome to the first in a soon-to-be semi-regular feature of the WIE Blog: Interviews of Women in Environment. Starting us off is Heather Brunelle. Heather has over 18 years of experience working at Portland-based environmental consulting firms. This year, Heather started her own consulting firm, Brunelle Environmental Consulting LLC . She was also invited to participate in an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) technical work group which is considering revisions to the state’s ecological risk guidance.

Heather is a founding member of WIE. In fact, she helped draft the non-profit’s mission statement and served as WIE’s first president of the board (2010-2012). Since that time, Heather has stayed involved in WIE in various capacities, including treasurer of the board and as a mentor. Naturally, she was an easy choice for the WIE Blog’s first interviewee.


Heather Brunelle

Heather Brunelle

Heather Brunelle

RM: What has been your experience with WIE?

HB: What I love about WIE is the diversity of professionals who are attending WIE events. It is a great mix of women at different stages of their careers, including experienced professionals and industry leaders, as well as students just entering the field. Everyone is welcome and everyone mixes in the conversation. WIE promotes a welcoming environment for women to meet and support each other. I just think that’s really exciting.

I have connected with some wonderful people during my time at WIE. I want to talk about Krista Koehl’s contributions to WIE. Krista was on the original steering committee and board and was involved with WIE before she passed away in 2013. She was somebody who was very confident and involved… she was inspiring to so many of us in the community.

(WIE’s professional development series was named in memoriam of Krista Koehl)

RM: You recently started your own business, what is that like?

HB: It’s been good. It’s nice to build on the support of the professional community here in Portland. Starting my firm has meant evaluating my personal strengths and weaknesses. Being an entrepreneur requires a person to be extroverted and to be able to promote your abilities. This is a struggle for me. I’ve always been a worker, not a seller. Now I have to be a seller and what I am selling is myself. I want to give a shout out to the audiobook Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus. I have been listening to it and it has helped me with this.

RM: Should women see each other as competition or comrades in the workplace?

HB: Especially if you are both working at the same work pace, it should never be competition. Actually, something that I’ve struggled with is I am [not competitive about] anything! Ha. I think it’s good to bring out each other’s strengths. [Knowing your own strengths] can be difficult. For me, and a lot of people, it’s easy to be in a place of self-judgment rather than self-promotion. I am better at giving positive feedback than tooting my own horn. Women need to help build each other up. We already live in a competitive environment, so work towards building a stronger team. As co-workers, you have a common purpose to achieve positive outcomes.

RM: Is there a glass ceiling for women working in the environmental field?

I don’t want to acknowledge there is a glass ceiling preventing advancement. In Portland, there are amazing examples of women who have had tremendous amounts of success. The glass ceiling may be more internal than external. The limitation might be the inner voice that is discrediting you. This inner voice may have been influenced by feedback received from others during past events, which can be a cultural influence. Friends, colleagues, and family might help you break your inner glass ceiling so that you grow and be successful.

We, as women, need to be better advocates for ourselves. We need to be assertive, have our voice heard, and stand up for our ethics. We as WIE members can help each other with this.

RM: What do you think is the most important lesson you have learned in your professional career?

HB: One thing critical to success is communication. Be able to articulate your ideas and express confidence in the information you are verbalizing. The one way to build this skill is through practice, like joining a Toastmasters group.

In communications, sometimes less is “more”. Don’t make it unnecessarily complicated, focus on communicating the information well and understanding the audience. Always be polite to the audience and focus on positive communication. When presenting, share the critical message first then add your supporting points after - don’t make [the audience] wait for the most important part.

I like to paint watercolors of nature. Once I was talking to a homeowner who had contamination on his property. I started describing a conceptual site model out loud to help him understand what was happening with the contamination. The [home owner] turned to me and said, “What you are describing, it’s like an artist painting the picture in my head!” That’s why I like volunteering teaching art. Making art helps change the way you see the world. Observational skills are heightened. These observational skills helped me to visualize and communicate my work in the environmental field.


Heather Brunelle’s painting of her friend’s daughter (a young scientist!) exploring a creek.

Heather Brunelle’s painting of her friend’s daughter (a young scientist!) exploring a creek.

RM: What do you do to break the ice at networking events?

HB: I like to hear about what others do. To break the ice I introduce myself and then start asking questions. [I ask] “Tell me about yourself?”, “What do you do?”, and “why are [you] excited to be at the event?” I especially try to look out for women who are by themselves, approach and engage them, then introduce them to people I know. This approach is in part because I am more of an introvert than extrovert, though also because it is really fun to get to know and support others at WIE events.

I met Heather earlier this year when I was assigned to her WIE mentoring group. One of the first things I noticed upon meeting Heather is her depth of knowledge in the environmental field. Within the first few minutes of sitting in the mentoring group and hearing about the depth of her experience, I was already thinking, “Wow, I hit the jackpot when I was assigned this mentor.” The second thing I noticed is how kind she is. A great example of this is that during this very interview, I mentioned to Heather I was in the process of moving. A few hours later I received an email from Heather offering to help me move. SHE. OFFERED. TO. HELP. ME. MOVE.  (For readers who do not move as much as I do, please take a moment to remember how terrible it is to move. About 1/3 of the way into any move, I am overtaken with the urge to lay down flat on the floor (a la Mindy Kaling ) and watch the ceiling fan oscillate in a wide-eyed state of existential crisis. On top of that, having to help people move is literally the worst part about having friends. Yet, Heather was more than happy to offer up her Sunday to help me – it seriously does not get any nicer than that!). These two traits shine through in Heather’s answers to the interview questions.

Many thanks to Heather for taking the time to sit down with me and answer these questions! For WIE members, you now know one more friendly face in the crowd at WIE networking events. Please continue the conversation: If you have questions that you would like the next interviewee to be asked or have suggests for the next blog post please comment or email me at Rachel.M.McDermott@gmail.com

Representation Matters

Rachel McDermott


Trending last month was a photo of Kristen Wiig at the premiere of the Ghostbusters movie. What made the photograph so compelling was not the talented actress but rather the beaming faces of her fans. Specifically, two young girls decked out in the movie’s signature canvas jumpsuits. “This Ghostbusters premiere photo shows why representation matters,” declared a BuzzFeed post.  Indeed, enthusiasm over that photo seems to be rooted in feminism. Facebook and Twitter users praised Hollywood for finally producing movies with strong female protagonists. The impact from the movie was nearly instant. As seen in the photo, young girls were quick to admire the power and autonomy demonstrated by Wiig in the action-packed adventure movie. The young fans seemed eager to mimic a stronger persona than the mainstreamed helpless princess.

Photo credit: Eric Charbonneau / AP

Photo credit: Eric Charbonneau / AP

Why in the world am I talking about a Ghostbusters movie in a blog written for a women’s professional group? I bring up the movie premiere photo because representation does matter, not just in Hollywood, but also (especially) in the workplace. However, in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries, women are being underrepresented. The disparity is significant; women make up less than 30% if the workforce in STEM industries. The gender disparity is even greater for C-suite positions (i.e. CEO, CFO, COO, etc.). Similarly, women make up just a third of legal professionals in the United States. In private law firms, less than 22% of partners are women. If seeing is believing then how can we expect women to feel empowered to become the next environmental leaders with the gender gap?

"Women make up less than 30% if the workforce in STEM industries...[and] just a third of legal professionals"


Here is the kicker - The Journal of Psychological Science found that the root cause of the gender gap in STEM industries is the lack of female role models. A role model allows women starting out in the field to aspire to C-suite positions. Furthermore, female executives demonstrate the skills and personality traits needed to become a successful leader. For women working at companies where every C-Suite member has a Y chromosome, such attributes can be an enigma.

Representation can be tackled at an institutional level but organizations in the environmental field need to make diversity in their leadership structure a priority. This may mean different things for different organizations. Diversity strategies include updating hiring policies to ensure more women are joining the organization and ensuring women are included in training opportunities. For all organizations, any existing discriminatory attitudes towards female executives need to end. Bottom line is that C-Suites membership needs to include men AND women. “Should we really change company policies in the name of ethics?” you ask, “we are trying to make a profit after all...” Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes AND practices to elevate women into leadership positions are not only ethical but also improve the bottom line. A global survey of 22,000 companies conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that companies that went from having no women in C-suite positions to having women make up 30% of C-suite positions increased their profitability by an average of 15%.

Companies that went from having no women in C-suite positions to having women make up 30% of C-suite positions increased their profitability by an average of 15%.


Feel like you would rather watch paint dry than wait for any instructional changes on diversity? Stay away from those paint VOCs (we are environmentally conscious too, after all) because you do not have to wait. The issue of representation can also be tackled at the group and individual level. Empower your female co-workers by complementing their leadership skills and help that friend you met at the last WIE event to proof-read her resume. Also, an excellent way to promote female empowerment in this industry is via mentorships. WIE has developed a mentorship program which connects senior female environmental professionals with women starting out in the field. If you are interested in being a mentor or a mentee, please contact wiementoringpdx@gmail.com.

I went to a WIE Networking Event and This is What Happened

Rachel McDermott


If you’re reading this then you’ve heard of Women in Environment (WIE) and likely, you are looking to (buzzword alert) “network”. WIE’s Linkedin Group has more than 1,000 members as of April 2016 (*slowclaps*). That is 1,000 environmental professionals mostly located in the Portland and Seattle area whom you can interact with online – but what about offline? WIE’s greatest strength is that it provides a platform to network with these members in person (you remember what “meeting someone in person” is, right? Hint: It’s that thing you did before Facebook)


WIE has networking events, lecture series, and a mentoring program all of which provide opportunities to meet WIE members. Attending a networking event is a great place to start. Never been? Give them a try! I went to my first networking event last fall. I’ll share what it was like.

20 minutes prior to the WIE networking event - Anxiety level: 6

I nervously scan my emails confirming the location of the WIE event. I secretly hope a work emergency will come up so that I have a good excuse to skip the event altogether. No such luck. I grab my business cards and realize my outfit has no pockets. I guess I will hold them. Before I leave the office I do a last call to my co-workers to come with me. They all have tight deadlines tonight; I go alone.

Arriving at the event - Anxiety level: 8

There are a lot of members already at the event when I arrive. More members walk in behind me. I note that WIE has a strong following. After attaching the adhesive backing of a nametag to my shirt, I wonder what to do next. At the center of the room is a table full of cheese, crackers, desserts, and wine. I make a beeline for the plates. Holding my business cards becomes difficult as I try to balance a wine glass and a plate of cheddar in my hands. A woman by the brownies smiles at me. “Where do you work?” I ask. We start talking. Fun fact: Everyone one is here to network – don’t be afraid to start conversations.

Half hour into the event - Anxiety level: 2

Networking is proving easier that I thought. I have ditched my small pile of business cards on a back table so I am more comfortable as I maneuver around the room. More WIE members have arrived and the room is loud with voices and laughter. WIE board members welcome everyone. Afterwards, small groups of WIE members organically form. These groups aren’t cliquey; I shuffle up to one circle and quickly the members shift to make room for me. We learn names and chat.

End of the event - Anxiety level: 0

As the meeting winds down, I feel proud of myself. Not only did I finally commit to going to a WIE event (alone!), I also had great conversations with a dozen professionals in my field. I tell myself that I won’t be as nervous for the next event – and I will wear an outfit with pockets for my business cards.

So here’s what I learned…

I had feared the WIE event would be full of awkward eye contact and two-sentence- long conversations, which was not the case at all. I was able to have meaningful conversations with women in the environmental field who I hope to be in contact with in the future. It can feel a bit uncomfortable striking up conversations with strangers but the more you do it the easier it gets. Just remember everyone at the WIE event is there to meet people.

Come to the next WIE networking event and see for yourself.