Far and away, the top-rated session at the 2017 Better Buildings Summit (based on your feedback) was Energy Efficient-SHE: Women’s Perspectives on Sustainability. Not only was the room at capacity – to the degree that in the back it was standing-room-only – but the conversation was full of insights and personal stories that resonated with the audience. Panelists Lindsay Baker (President, Comfy), Whitney Tome (Executive Director, Counsel Green 2.0), Maria Vargas (Director, Better Buildings Initiative), and Brenna Walraven (CEO, Corporate Sustainability Strategy, Inc.) were brought together by DOE Fellow and Commercial Real Estate lead Cindy Zhu.
We asked Cindy a few questions about this remarkable session, and what she hopes the audience took away!
Beat Blog: Are you surprised that this was the Highest Rated Session? Why do you think it resonated?
Cindy Zhu: I was not surprised because there was so much enthusiasm and support when I was planning this session, so I knew there would be interest. It was great to see the room was completely full during the session. I think it resonated because people are always looking for opportunities to connect in meaningful ways, plus we had an all-star cast of speakers!
BB: What was the vibe in the room?
CZ: The vibe was very candid, relaxed, and open as well as thoughtful and respectful. There was a lot of trust in the room to allow for conversations on difficult topics, and offer meaningful advice. Even though there was 30+ people in the room, it felt like a conversation with friends over brunch.
BB: What discussion points stood out for you? Were there any surprises?
CZ: Brenna Walraven brought up that age has become its own kind of diversity factor – younger people see the value of diversity in a different way. I was pleasantly surprised that several men came to the session as well. When asked why he was in attendance, a man answered “I wanted to hear what you all were going to talk about,” which showed to me that women’s issues and workplace issues are important for everyone to be a part of. It was really valuable to hear from Maria, Brenna, Lindsay, and Whitney about their own experiences where workplace conflict can come up and actionable strategies they were able to offer to the audience.
BB: What do you hope attendees took away from the session?
CZ: There was such a great mix of personalities and ages in the room—and men also! I hope that attendees were able to realize that you can learn from anyone around you. One thing that stuck with me, is that most events can be teaching opportunities (unless they’re hostile). While you may not agree with everyone you work with, many diverse relationships are worth fostering and it is worth the effort to find common ground between people to establish trust.
BB: Did you learn anything yourself from the session, as a woman in sustainability work?
CZ: That I have so many mentors around me to learn from! I’ve also learned how it’s very important to understand the culture of your workplace and your own leadership style in order to thrive. It’s important and valuable to be true to yourself.