People Spotlight Series: Meet Nicole E. Brown
Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting an Associate Vice President from our Water business line in the US East region, and providing you with insight into their career in many phases of design, inspiration and work.
With over 22 years of experience with planning, design and construction for water-focused projects, Nicole has worked with clients to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of their systems. Managing projects of various scopes and sizes has led to an adaptive management style to develop creative client solutions. In addition to industry work, Nicole is also passionate about ED&I work, putting a strong focus on creating and fostering inclusive environments for everyone to thrive in.
What inspired you to join the industry? As a big comic book fan, I wanted to save the world as a child so I decided the best way I could do that was to protect the Earth and enter the environmental field. Then I took a Hydrology class in high school that focused on the importance of water and I was hooked. Water is universal and clean water is a human right, so I wanted to be a part of positively impacting the lives of many and help save the work in my own way.
I’m also passionate about spreading facts about safe, reliable municipal drinking water. I have lived in many communities with a lot of misinformation and distrust about drinking water. I feel that it is my duty to spread facts about water to my community. In many cases, people that are most likely to buy bottled water because of that distrust can least afford the expense. I take being a steward of the environment seriously and I enjoy speaking about the necessity of increasing the numbers of women and people of color in STEM fields, particularly the water industry every chance I get to hopefully improve the pipeline.
Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community. Right out of college I worked on a project improving the water quality to people of Queens. The project was technically challenging so when I was asked to present the technical aspects of the community, I was excited for the opportunity. Little did I know that there was a long history of distrust in the water for that community. My energy and enthusiasm was met with vigorous opposition. I saw the concerned faces of this community and realized that the residents felt ignored and unheard and unless I stopped speaking and started listening, no progress would be made. I spent the next 2 years listening to concerns and offering my technical insights in a way they could understand to help them trust the project’s intentions. Too often we jump to explain our solution without truly hearing the problem. It was an impactful and humbling experience that led to a wonderful collaboration with the community over many years.
What does equity, diversity and inclusion mean to you? We too often forget about the “Inclusion” part of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. Vernā Myers said “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” We all have a responsibility to offer a welcome greeting or a smile to those that are arriving at the party. I need to make sure that I look around the proverbial room and seek out those that are walking in alone or don’t know anyone. We have to be intentional about inclusion or we will have an issue with retention – if they’re not having fun at the party, they may leave. I try to point out ways that we are unintentionally pushing people away from opportunities of involvement by not being inclusive and I encourage others to pay attention, too.
Share a piece of career advice. In order to learn and grow, don’t be afraid to get involved in professional organizations. We often keep our heads down and just do the work. Volunteering not only expands your network and provides new educational opportunities but it also helps to diversify and improve those organizations with your presence and impact. Your point of view, life experience, technical expertise, and background are all brought to the table and are needed so that these organizations can thrive.