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Inspiring the Next Generation of Women in the Energy Industry

Inspiring the Next Generation of Women in the Energy Industry, Sarah Soard

From my early days delineating wetlands and designing mitigation sites to offset wetland impacts to my current role managing projects and leading the Natural and Cultural Resources Technical Services Team, I’ve established trusted partnerships with colleagues and clients to achieve project success.

As a young professional at Burns & McDonnell — fresh out of studying botany in graduate school — I was fortunate to have close mentors and project managers that set examples of what success could look like as a woman in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. This strong leadership, coupled with a wide range of industry experience during my first six years as a wetland scientist, helped me to build a solid foundation for future career opportunities.

As I progressed into management positions, I wanted to continue providing the same positive mentor and leadership experiences I’d had, so I dedicated time to mentoring others and building strong and trusting relationships across teams. I also worked to translate my broad experience into building connections with everyone from project managers in other industries and regional offices to some of our largest clients.

When I had the opportunity to bolster the Chicago team for our Environmental Services Group, I jumped at the opportunity. As the team grew from three to 16 employee-owners, I made sure to provide training and mentorship opportunities for everyone. A big priority for me was to emphasize the value of cross-departmental collaboration and diverse perspectives, which has helped the team reach far beyond the borders of Chicago. We also devoted the time to assess the team’s individual strengths so we could all have a deeper understanding of each other. This assessment provided lasting insight into my personal strengths and those of the people I manage.

Just as I expected my colleagues to seek professional development opportunities, I challenged myself to do the same through my involvement with MEA Energy Association’s Energetic Women Conference — a women-focused leadership conference that welcomes nearly 1,000 energy professionals from across the U.S. each year. Through these conferences, I was able to develop and enhance my leadership and interpersonal skills in new ways. Project success is reliant on project leadership; however, it can be difficult to find time to develop these skills in the office. The Energetic Women Conference is one of a few opportunities for women in the energy industry to push beyond their technical skills and broaden their leadership and management skills.

After attending several of these annual conferences, I was selected to be member of the Energetic Women leadership team — the committee responsible for the conference programming. This has been a rewarding opportunity to provide meaningful training and networking opportunities with women in this industry. It also serves to encourage women professionals to be ready for career opportunities that help to advance their careers. As a midcareer professional in the energy industry, it’s invaluable to speak with high-performing, top energy professionals who are women. While these connections are made at the conference, the relationship becomes the starting place for years of knowledge sharing and network building.

Whether I’m at this conference surrounded by successful women in the energy industry or at Burns & McDonnell working with a diverse range of professionals, I’m always encouraging others to give their work 100% and capture every opportunity that becomes available. I could never have predicted what my professional career would have looked like from the start; however, with trusting relationships and leadership acumen, I’ve been able to seize all opportunities that have come my way and I cannot wait to see what is still to come.

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Sarah Soard
Written by Sarah Soard
Sarah Soard is a project manager and the technical services manager for natural and cultural resources at Burns & McDonnell. She is certified as a Professional Wetland Scientist by the Society of Wetland Scientists and has nearly 20 years of experience in environmental permitting.

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