Different Cultures, Different Experiences, Different Ideas – One Weston
As Weston’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Kara Fields reflects the company’s effective and efficient delivery of technical excellence with over 20 years of experience in the environmental consulting industry. Over the course of her career, she has gained broad expertise in serving federal, state, and local government and industrial clients. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University.
Since 2014, Kara has directed the management of over 800 Weston personnel within our Engineering, Science, and Technology Group, ensuring consistently safe, high-quality solutions that meet our clients’ needs nationwide. Kara recognizes that meeting clients’ needs starts by meeting our employee-owners’ needs. Our continued strong performance relies on our commitment to cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Prior to assuming her role as COO, Kara founded our first Weston Women’s Network (WWN) and created governance structure, operational practices, and communication forums alongside a selected women’s council. She and the women’s council work in tandem with our Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council (DILC) to overcome unconscious biases through company-wide learning initiatives.
How does Weston work to create an inclusive work environment and build diverse teams?
The collaborative efforts of WWN and DILC enable Weston to amplify underrepresented voices who can contribute unique perspectives and work-life experiences to advance innovation, service delivery, and employee development. In turn, our growth goals take root, and productivity and opportunity flourishes for our teams. We embrace the philosophy of divergent leadership and encourage all leaders to incorporate different skills, values, interests, and personality traits to create innovative solutions for our clients.
Project leaders, for instance, elevate individuals’ strengths and social styles in the team selection and engagement process, gaining fresh insights that contribute to exceptional client value. To support effective communication, they train team members to understand their social styles so that they can identify and engage the styles of others more easily. Our employees build collaborative team dynamics by acknowledging these differences, learning to understand them, and adapting their own thinking and engagement processes.
These dynamics are reflective of our strong entrepreneurial background, which emphasized recruiting and retaining a vibrant, agile, and diverse workforce as crucial to success. We pay purposeful attention to atypical interview panels and blind resume searches and reach out to organizations that have a broad spectrum of candidates. Our recruiting teams are passionate about creating a work environment greatly enhanced by representation and creativity.
Equally passionate, WWN empowers our female workforce with education, training, awareness, and networking opportunities to sponsor and advocate for their personal and professional growth. WWN has closely collaborated with DILC in their launch of a comprehensive training program that promotes education and awareness to recognize unconscious biases, negative impacts of stereotypes, and actions that can mitigate these behaviors.
How do you and your teams promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in your everyday lives?
Project leaders are expected to ask questions, provide their perspectives and solution-based ideas, and balance the backgrounds, experience levels, and skillsets of their teams. Team members uphold core values and maintain a zero-tolerance approach for anything less—treating each other with respect, always. Incorporating different backgrounds and stories in our project teams fosters a cultural competence that serves as a strong foundation in our work, inclusive of marginalized groups. We also gain a competitive edge by integrating varied experiences and capabilities to build teams with best-of-class talent.
In a similar vein, WWN opens the floor to our employees of all ages and geographic locations to share their perspectives, experiences, lessons learned, and tips for success. Group leaders host monthly small groups of female professionals as well as periodic, all-inclusive meetings to discuss selected topics. These transparent discussions embolden Weston women to face the challenges and seize the opportunities of a male-dominated field. WWN Council group leaders summarize key takeaways and offer improvement ideas for potential executive-level consideration.
What are we seeing in the environmental marketplace associated with diversity and inclusion (D&I)?
Generally speaking, the environmental engineering field is not distinct from the national stage when it comes to D&I initiatives. Each organization is on their own journey to better understand, engage, and maximize their workforces in the manner they consider matches the corporate culture and expectations for all professionals. At Weston, we recognize that our industry needs to welcome these initiatives and put forth a concerted effort to uplift our employees’ voices and optimize their capabilities. Should the need arise, Weston works alongside our professionals in handling situations where D&I may not be so gladly accepted.
What should be recognized to advance more D&I in the environmental marketplace?
We learn, grow, and improve by creating and embracing discomfort to the benefit of our team dynamics, company culture, and bottom line. For D&I to prosper, team members must reconcile with their own discomforts and lean into open, mindful discussion. High-growth teams enable us to outperform our industry peers, as they are evidently more productive, creative, and innovative. Per McKinsey & Company’s “Diversity Wins” report, companies with higher representation outperformed their competitors by upwards of 30% (2019). The more employees are appreciated and valued for their work, the more discretionary effort they will provide.
At Weston, we implore you to do the uncomfortable, demonstrate a growth mindset, and commit to learning.