Holly Burgess is an Environmental Health & Safety Manager at Siemens overseeing 15 facilities from California to New York. Before her current role she worked in the food, asbestos, nuclear, aluminum, and tire industries where she was in charge of over one thousand employees.
“My dad always said he wanted me to be independent, doing something I love. To think of where I am now, managing 15 different facilities … I went from taking what he said to actually doing it.”
Knowledge Through Osmosis
Holly’s journey toward a career in STEM began through her father who was a mechanic pipe fitter and taught her the importance of being confident. While she was growing up, he took her to the union hall and taught her how to play pool. “Whatever a guy can do, you can do,” he’d tell her. Soon enough she was beating the local guys and hustling them for money.
Fast forward a few years, Holly graduated college with a degree in occupational Safety and Health. Not long after, she found herself working at the same plant as her parents.
“At one point, I was doing contract waste work at the same plant both of my parents were working. My dad would always find out where I’m working in this huge facility, and he’d drive up and be like ‘what are you doing?’ I’d have my respirator on and I’d be like ‘I’m working! You can’t be here! What are you doing?’”
However, instead of finding it distracting, Holly discovered unique insights by listening to her dad's feedback and complaints. As a Safety Manager, she was able to better connect with the plant's workers which helped her make the most impact on the floor.
“He’d talk about what trainers would typically do, so now I'm thinking ‘okay, how would he like the training to be done instead? How would he like an interaction with a safety person to be conducted?’ Because he was my audience from the safety standpoint.”
The safety manager on any production floor is not often the most popular person in the plant. Holly knows this. At times, being a woman makes this even worse. Her strength comes from being direct and sincere with employees.
“I had one man say, ‘I don’t like women,’ and I said ‘I’m going to change your mind’. Within six months, he was my best employee.”
Standing your ground is important, but so is having a one-on-one conversation where both voices are heard. Sometimes, simply by having these private conversations, conflicts resolve themselves.
“Get them out of the [volatile] situation and out of that group. When you pull a person out of a group and have a one-on-one conversation with them, it’s a completely different scenario. I have respect for you, now you have respect for me and let’s talk about it.”
Be prepared that the silver lining won't always be there, Holly emphasizes. There were times in her career where the conflict couldn't be resolved and she had to make the tough decision to move on and walk away.
“You feel it, and you just know. Sometimes we just need to step away from a toxic environment and go somewhere where we’re appreciated. If it’s toxic and you’re miserable and you start questioning yourself, I’m not one to say jump ship and go somewhere else, but it worked really well for me.”
There is however a major difference between a toxic work environment and being in a work funk. Make sure to weigh the situation carefully, before making that final decision.
“Do you feel like you’re getting your soul crushed? You go home at night and you’re miserable? If you’re just blah, it’s possible you need to find something outside of work to energize you. Maybe it is going back to school, or getting that certification, or getting more involved with outside groups. If it’s soul crushing, and you’re just not happy, that’s when it’s time to walk away.”
Where To Next?
To get where you want to be, you have to tell people that you want to be there in the first place. Speaking directly and with sincerity is Holly's strength. She does it unapologetically.
“I’m probably way more direct than I should be sometimes. Everyone’s like ‘you’re so funny!’ And I’m like, ‘no, I’m honest.’”
Where does Holly want to be in the future? She wants to be at the corporate level of her company. Has she already told corporate this? You know it. They know that as soon as one of them retires she is expecting to fill one of their roles ... and that's ok!