Monique Parker started her career as a Product Process Improvement Engineer with Milliken Company after graduating from Tennessee Technological University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. After working for three years as an engineer, she sought an opportunity in the environmental, health and safety (EHS) industry. Once in the field, she didn’t expect the fulfillment she felt while engaging with people on the safety side of things.
As a young EHS professional, Parker’s mentor taught her the “world of safety” while the technical aspects of environmental came natural to her. Early in her career, Parker worked in the textile industry, and would go on to work as an individual contributor leading EHS at one site to her current role as Vice-President, Environmental, Health and Safety at Piedmont Lithium. The North Carolina-based company is developing a world-class integrated lithium business in the United States, enabling the transition to a net zero world and the creation of a clean energy economy in America.
“I am a big advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the EHS profession,” Parker recently shared with EHS Daily Advisor. “Not only bringing more diversity for the people that are in the EHS profession, but also how we create and implement EHS programs that are inclusive for all that they touch.”
In our latest Faces of EHS profile, meet Monique Parker.
How did you get your start in the field?
While looking for employment for post-graduation, I had a desire to go into Environmental, but not many options were available at the time. After working for three years as a Process Engineer, a headhunter reached out and presented me with an opportunity to go into EHS even with limited experience. Immediately I jumped on the opportunity to do Environmental and learn Safety. It has been a very rewarding 18-year career ever since. I have worked around the world with responsibilities covering US, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and a few others.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
Each interaction I have with someone in this industry has molded me to be the EHS professional I am today. It is very difficult to name just one person so I will say the biggest influencers I had/have in this industry were my leaders when I first entered the EHS profession many years ago. Each of those key leaders were David Rubin, Don Cross, and Bill Nosil. I would have to say the foundation they laid continues to fuel the leader I am today.
What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?
My best mistake was trying to implement a Safety change without explaining the “why”. I learned although the change was to make the work environment safer and remove risks, change is and can be difficult and most times unwelcomed when you have a season/established workforce. I took away from this experience to introduce the idea, gain feedback/buy in and then roll out the “why” and make sure that concerns are addressed to make it a collaboration event rather than a directive.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
My favorite part of working in the industry is finding solutions to issues that have caused repetitive issues. As an engineer, I have an inherent desire to fix/solve problems. When it comes to safety, those problems have a range of root causes. Finding the root cause and eliminating it gives me great joy.
My least favorite part of the job is lack of diversity of thinking in some cases. There is never a one size fits all approach to EHS. A willingness to learn, listen, and adapt are critical in our profession and I have had some experiences where the rigidness of “this is how we’ve always done it” was such a limiting factor. Change starts when there is trust and accountability so my approach to change is to establish a culture that is built on trust and accountability so that all parties understand the result and flexibility is provided in the journey to achieve.
How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?
Company leaders make safety a value in their actions. Talking about safety is never enough. It is when you see leaders fully engaged in the work environment and highlights their commitment to EHS, who are open to have the difficult conversations and who are willing to not put operations above all else. Making safety personal allows employees to know that they themselves are valued and cared for by leaders and the company.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?
In the next five years I see the industry going more digital. The way of working when I first started with everything manual or on paper are already almost a thing of the past, but in the next five years I see us in an almost paperless industry to conduct our business in all aspects of EHS. This transition will support the sustainability efforts that are driving our society.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?
COVID-19 forced separation when the safety culture by nature needs connection and care. Connection to the why people do what they do and the showing of care to help others when needed to either be safe or to understand what being safe is or looks like. Safety professionals now must learn how to bring that same atmosphere of connection and closeness back with COVID-19, so that we can continue to build that same culture in way that is respectful of the requirements to keep us safe in a world with COVID-19.
How will safety culture look in the future?
The safety culture of the future will be more inclusive of the diversity of the world in which we work and live. It will adapt to allow each person to acknowledge their differences while also engaging and enhancing the safety programs and initiatives to improve safety performance within organizations.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the legacy that I leave with each organization and my interactions with both internal and external stakeholders. It means the most to me when I still get feedback from past employees, co-workers, leaders, etc. of the things I was able to do in those roles that still impact their ability to succeed and grow their safety programs today.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
As an EHS professional, we are hired to be the expert in that area, but take time to listen and learn the desires, needs, and concerns or the team you are supporting. Many of us know what good looks like but getting to good is not a straight line path. There are twists and turns to get there, and you need to understand all potential roadblocks to be successful whether in safety or environmental.