Back in March, we hosted the first-ever GRIT Awards during HERWorld18. We honored the difference makers — the energy industry executives who embodied our theme of growth, resilience, innovation and transition in a transparent world.
Now, we’re embarking on a series of posts to help you get to know these forces of nature. These are Profiles in GRIT, and we cannot wait to get started.
To kick us off, we’ve turned to a phenomenal woman and a true inspiration: Jennifer Walsh, head of communications at Covestro, Baytown, and lead of the mentoring team for Lean In Energy, the nonprofit Pink Petro formed in collaboration with the global Lean In Organization.
Thank you, Jennifer, for all you do and for sharing your incredible story!
PINK PETRO: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
JENNIFER WALSH: Early in my career, I was on the fast track — awards, recognitions and job offers from top newspapers in the country with amazing mentors. But life has a way of knocking you down when you least expect it.
About 10 years ago, I was a recently divorced, single mother of three young boys — all under the age of four (it’s like having triplets in different-sized diapers) — and I was struggling to make ends meet with no support from my ex-husband. The newspaper industry had bottomed out, and I was making barely above minimum wage. I was alone in a city where my only friends were co-workers and the nearest family was hundreds of miles away.
I had to play roulette with my bills – my water got turned off more than once, same with my electricity. But the most trying times and most personally heart-wrenching was when I had to decide between buying gas to make it to work or getting a small birthday gift for your son. Those are the times you aren’t sure how you’ll make it through.
But I did, and I worked hard. While balancing the demands of motherhood, I worked by day as a newspaper reporter and at night, part time, as a copy editor to provide for my children. Through many late nights, pushing away a fear of change, I’ve been able to work my way to leadership roles in the industry in a short timeframe.
I didn’t do it alone. It took humility to ask for help when I needed it most, and I am still grateful for the generosity of strangers: The social services that helped me put food on the table. The nonprofit that helped my son say his first words when I couldn’t pay for the therapy for his severe speech and hearing delays. The charity that subsidized day care so I could work my way into a better life.
Now, I constantly reflect on my past as I have the means and drive to help others and teach my children to do the same. Giving back to the community where I live and work isn’t just part of my job; it’s who I am.
PP: What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?
JW: While I’ve earned many professional successes, the most rewarding part of my career has evolved from helping others. Watching those who I’ve mentored excel in their fields makes me feel as proud as if I’ve accomplished it myself.
I’m particularly proud of being the founder of the Lean In Baytown chapter. With 20 members, we are already meeting and making strides to make meaningful changes for women in the workplace. This has led to my recent involvement with Lean In Energy to help build the mentoring program for the organization and to help even more women build their skills and abilities to pursue greater success.
Most importantly, I personally mentor young women — bringing them to my home, redoing their resumes, helping them network and doing everything I can to making sure they find success in any field they wish to pursue. It’s my passion, and my children are my inspiration as I hope they some day do the same for others and give back to their community.
I balance that and my career with raising six children. My kids are my drivers to make a meaningful difference in the world — a world where they face less discrimination, more equality and one that conserves the environment for generations to come. I want to set the example for them and help them embrace those same values in their own lives.
PP: What other activities or organizations are you involved in, as part of your commitment to giving back?
JW: Beyond mentoring and women’s rights, I’m passionate about the environment and sustainability. It ranges from my early public relations days coordinating the Don’t Mess With Texas Campaign for a 8-county area to promoting anti-litter programs and trash pick up.
I am a founding board member of the Gulf Coast Monarch Project, whose mission is to rebuild habitats of butterflies and bees, and have taken a hands-on position to planning the annual Seed Fling WingDing event to educate the public about the cause.
I am also actively involved with the Eddie Gray Wetlands Center in Baytown and helped partner on a two-year project to build a mobile sustainability trailer. This 48-foot trailer touts the benefits of sustainable energy — wind, solar, geothermal, hydro power and more — in a fun and interactive way to spread the message to all ages throughout the state to classrooms, festivals and events.
I also make time for my kids. One of my greatest accomplishments is dedicating time out of my schedule to serve as a coach for my 8-year-old daughter’s TIFI drill team. I helped develop 24 young women from ages 7 to 14 to learn routines, perform, compete and build confidence — and above all support and encourage one another with team camaraderie. Watching them grow and flourish was an amazing experience. And I’ve helped the boys, too! I’ve served as vice president of marketing and development for the West End Little League and constantly try to help my kids learn to be the change we want to see in the future workforce.