A Path to the Top: Women in the Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Industry

The EHS industry is dotted by opportunities of all kinds, and women should explore them. Encamp specializes in environmental compliance and EHS management software, for instance, and nearly half of our staff are female. Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also employ thousands of female EHS professionals.

(For Black History Month, in fact, Encamp just celebrated Lisa Perez Jackson as the first Black administrator of the EPA. She led the EPA from 2009-2013 and is now Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives.)

Many companies in manufacturing, agriculture and farming, healthcare, engineering, and other industries likewise maintain their own dedicated EHS teams, employing environmental scientists, regulatory specialists and other EHS staff. Such teams are responsible for things like EHS operations and planning, hazardous materials management, EHS regulations, EHS compliance, and annual compliance-based Tier II reporting. EHS management consulting is additionally a multi-billion-dollar a year industry.

Right now in the EHS field in the U.S., however, men outnumber women by 4 to 1 — at least according to the 2020 EHS Salary Survey by Safety + Health magazine. Of more than 9,200 survey respondents, just 19% were women. The survey offers one of the most comprehensive reflections of the EHS industry each year and is well-regarded throughout the EHS sector. Results of the survey were published in the magazine’s November 2020 issue.

EHS management ranks, signaling a trend?

Despite the low percentage of women tracked in the survey, 23% reported they are EHS directors, managers, chiefs, or department heads. Another 36% said they directly supervise other staff. The average industry tenure for these women is 13 years. What the numbers tell us is that many women have made their way in EHS circles and are really making waves.

By comparison, 28% of men who answered the survey were in management roles, and 49% supervised others. Their average tenure in the EHS sector is 15 years.

Going by the percentages of women who hold EHS leadership positions and their length of industry tenure, it’s somewhat surprising that more women haven’t made EHS their career — although that appears to be changing. Many of the women in EHS we’ve spoken with have said they’ve noticed more females entering the field.

“I think the EHS space has been improving (for women),” said Julie Mouton, a sustainability and environmental consultant with the Antea Group. “Since I’ve been with the company, we’ve grown to the point that 50% of our staff is female or identifies as female. I think that speaks strongly to the trend that more women are getting into this field and being given opportunities.” 

For more than 15 years, she has specialized in water stewardship, corporate ESG strategy, operational risk assessment, environmental liability management, and environmental compliance. Curious to hear more of her insights? Watch the full interview here.

For other women like Julie who’ve already blazed an EHS path for their career, they know they’re making a difference. They continue to set a broader course for the industry and give it diverse voices and perspectives. But they also know challenges still exist.

Setting an example

Encamp gives businesses a modern, first of its kind software platform to tackle EHS regulations more easily and simplify EHS compliance reporting. Our technology has already disrupted the EHS industry and continues to transform how environmental compliance works. It has also made Encamp the largest third-party filer of EPCRA Tier II compliance reports in the country.

Beyond technology, though, we have to thank the women who occupy some of Encamp’s most strategic roles for our success. Our director of compliance, director of environmental solutions, and core group of senior environmental scientists have all helped make our company what it is.

They’re also the driving force behind Encamp’s Women of EHS initiative.

Women of EHS

Encamp launched Women of EHS last year to give women throughout our industry a forum to tell their stories. In individual video interviews, women who’ve joined the initiative discuss their careers, how they got where they are, and environmental and societal issues they’re passionate about. And as we say on our Women of EHS web page, their stories are candid, compelling, illuminating — inspirational.

Another aim of our initiative is to encourage more women to make EHS their career. Of the women who’ve joined our Women of EHS effort thus far, they talk about how and why they got into this field — and why other women should, too. They discuss some of the hurdles they’ve faced in their positions and how they overcame them. And they offer their thoughts on how the industry can improve for women who choose EHS as their profession.

A passion for the environment

Not surprisingly, these women all share a passion for the environment. It’s why they got into the EHS industry. That was especially the case for Sarah Gundrum, who holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and is now working on a Masters’ in Environmental Geology. She’s currently a quality assurance compliance specialist at Belmark, which manufactures sustainable packaging products for various industries.

“I believe we need more advocates for the environment.” Sarah said in explaining what drew her to an EHS career path. “We need more people who understand the actual science of what’s going on with climate change, and I’m just trying to make any contribution I can.” Once she completes her Masters’ degree, she’d like to work as an environmental consultant or for the Department of Natural Resources.

Megan Walters is Encamp’s director of compliance and has taken a similar path. She started by getting her B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Science from Purdue University — although an EHS career wasn’t her initial choice.

“I was in the pre-med track (at Purdue), majoring in Biology,” Megan said. “But I realized environmental science was more interesting and that it aligned with my passion for the environment.”

The change in course was a good decision. Along with her director role at Encamp, Megan’s career has included stints as a senior environmental scientist and an environmental manager. She’s additionally a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM) and a Certified Environmental and Safety Compliance Officer® (CESCO).

Other EHS career starting points

What best describes how you entered the EHS field? It’s one of the questions from Safety + Health magazine’s 2020 EHS Salary Survey, and the responses tell us people get into EHS via different avenues. (A couple caveats: This part of the survey does not distinguish between female and male respondents. It also encompasses the health and safety aspects of the EHS equation, not just environmental. Still, it’s a good snapshot.)

In general, nearly a third of the survey’s respondents said they entered EHS after they got their degree in the field. Other respondents said their employer had asked them to “handle EHS matters,” or that they “volunteered” to do so. Other respondents said they simply applied for an open EHS position in their company even though they had little or no experience.

There also was this. “A friend or colleague worked in EHS and encouraged me to pursue this field.” In our own Women of EHS orbit, we’re hoping to see more women become such ambassadors.

Breaking down barriers

“We need to stop stereotyping women in our industry and putting them in certain boxes,” said Julie Ragains, director of environmental solutions at Encamp. “For example, the note-taker in a meeting doesn’t always have to be the female in the room. Anyone feel me? We can bring anything that our male counterparts can to the table, and my hope is that we continue to break down these barriers.”

Juile’s advice on barriers? Two things. “When I face a challenge,” she said, “I allow myself to be angry or upset for a certain period, and then I force myself to find a solution. But there have also been times when I’ve had to say ‘it is what it is’ and just move on.”

The trick, Julie said, is being able to recognize when you can make “real change and overcome challenges versus when you’re just beating yourself against a brick wall. In the latter case, find a work around and just do your thing.”

In more than 10 years in the EHS industry, Julie has made sure roadblocks never stopped her. She started as an environmental scientist and has held roles of progressive responsibility ever since. She’s been a project manager, an environmental sales account manager, an account executive, a solutions engineer, and now director of environmental solutions. And she isn’t stopping there.

Julie Mouton’s mindset is similar. We asked what her secret has been to breaking through career walls.

“Either persistence or tenacity (laughter)! I’m not one who takes no for an answer. Especially when it’s so in my core like, I know this is what I need to do.”

In her Women of EHS interview, Julie tells a story from an early career crossroads and wanting to work more closely with clients. “One of my former regional managers told me ‘Julie, you’re not in marketing and business development. You’re a project manager for remediation projects.’ I was like, No, wrong answer. I did what I had to do and I’m successful because I listened to my intuition and just kept going on the path I knew was right for me.”

The early hurdles for Jennifer Collins were different. Since 2016, she has served as manager of Pollution Prevention and Compliance Assistance for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). But in a career that spans more than 20 years, she’s also been supervisor of IDEM’s Air Compliance Branch, and branch chief of Pollution Prevention and Recycling at IDEM. Prior to IDEM, Jennifer was administrator of the Bureau of Environmental Services for the City of Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement.

“Early in my career, I worked in air quality and nothing else,” Jennifer said. “So that’s all people thought I knew. I had to learn to see EHS holistically. Land uses, water uses, multimedia. Once I learned how to apply regulations in multiple areas, it opened more doors for me.”

That’s also Jennifer’s advice to other female EHS professionals. “One thing women should do is own their own skills. Make yourself invaluable to the people around you.”

Or maybe Ivy Miller had the best perspective about starting a career in a male-dominated field like EHS. Ivy is a principal engineer at T&M Associates, has worked in the environmental and civil engineering industries for more than 20 years, and is our newest Women of EHS contributor.

“Sometimes women come into fields (like EHS and engineering), see mostly men, and think ‘How do I fit in?’,” she said. “I’ve never looked at it that way. I’ve always viewed it as ‘This is my work, and this is what I need to do.’”

Final thoughts

Among women working in EHS, a common word of wisdom is to align with good mentors — men as well as women. “Find mentors who are willing to spend time with you to get to understand what your goals are and put action plans in place,” said Julie Mouton. “The greatest value (at the Antea Group) has been having a mentorship program internally. But I’ve also always looked to people externally who were where I wanted to go, doing what I wanted to do.” Many of those people, Julie added, were ones she met through networking events.

Ivy Miller agrees about networking. “I’ve benefited from joining industry associations and attending conferences,” Ivy said. “I’ve been able to build several connections to other women who work in EHS to reach out to if I need help with something.”

Another common viewpoint is elevating more women to decision-making roles at the corporate levels of EHS. “We still need more women and diversity in the industry and in executive roles,” said Jaime Geil, a senior environmental scientist at Encamp and one of the initial contributors to the Women of EHS series. “Women should be a part of decision making. We have to give them a seat at the table and space to excel in this industry.”

Again, the EHS industry is slowly but surely moving in that direction. Women need only look at someone like Lisa Perez Jackson and her leadership at the EPA. Or look at the increasing number of women entering the EHS field in just the last few years, including more women moving into executive positions and being given a say in critical decisions. (Encamp is to be applauded for this approach.)

And here’s to Julie Mouton for this inspiring final thought.

“If you’ve ever wanted to get into the EHS and environmental compliance field, women are going to be more and more needed. We’re a hot commodity right now, which is only going to intensify as we move forward.”

Just a note that Encamp is always looking for the best and brightest women to join us. Keep an eye on our Careers page for positions we have open. We’re growing!