Throughout March, Anthesis will be sharing a series of spotlights on some of the inspirational women at Anthesis. During the series, our interviewees will share their career journeys, the people who have inspired them along the way, and advice for women starting out in sustainability.
In this final article, we are featuring an interview with Skye Lei, North America Associate Director at Anthesis.
To begin with, can you tell us about yourself?
I am a queer woman of color, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a pet mom, a fiancée, a traveler, a coworker, a mentor, a learner, and to the best of my ability, a climate and social justice fighter.
Like every single one of us, I am a person with a story that is both unique and not unique at the same time. Growing up in a blue-collar immigrant family, I learned at a young age that my self-worth is not just defined by my jobs or my roles, but more importantly, by my values and my deeds. What I strive to do is help people and organizations (including our own) transition towards a more sustainable and resilient model with earth-care and people-care at the center of decision-making. I am incredibly grateful to be serving as an Associate Director on the Climate & Net Zero team who is contributing tirelessly to earth-care. It’s the people-care aspect that I hope we will continue to nourish and connect with more deeply.
“As I started to connect the dots between my lived experience and my understanding, I began to steer my life purpose towards earth-care and people-care.”
How did you come to work in sustainability?
I can’t pinpoint how it happened, but I think my career path started to reveal itself (still unfolding) when three parts of my life began to weave together contextually:
- Childhood – I grew up around immigrant communities in urban/concrete jungles and witnessed plenty of adverse impacts of “unsustainability”, but at the time, it all seemed normal to me since that was all I knew. My parents, who grew up closer to nature (and poor), taught me to live with less means and minimal impact both out of necessity and cultural values. These parts of my upbringing planted the seeds in my subconscious.
- Community – As an adult, I met friends who love the outdoors and inspired me to see the natural environment in a whole new way. As my spiritual connection to nature grew, I started to be curious about our impact on the environment. The more curious I felt, the more I learned about how ridiculously inefficient, wasteful, and unjust our human-made systems are. The more I learned, the more I sought out people who were involved in redesigning our systems. The seeds from my childhood sprouted into something bigger.
- Work – As I started to connect the dots between my lived experience and my understanding, I began to steer my life purpose towards earth-care and people-care. Thanks to mentors along the way, I found ways to apply my skills even without formal education in environmental studies. One thing led to another, and here I am. I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to do this work.
“ Focus on the people in your own lives who can inspire you in ways you haven’t seen before; they are likely all around you.”
Can you name a person who has inspired you throughout your career? Why and how did this person impact the choices you have made?
Oh, so many, gratefully and humbly speaking. I think part of it has to do with my childhood, which taught me to consciously and subconsciously seek out inspirations and hope in times of struggle. But also, a bigger part is that we just have so many incredible people on this earth that I find inspirational. For starters, I learn from my mom (and dad) every single day – their commitment, endurance, and compassion for the world is unwavering even when they’re up against the ugliest sides of capitalism and patriarchy. I learn from my friends and mentors, many of whom are women, immigrants, and/or queer – that we are incredibly smart and worthy no matter what society tells us. I even learn from many cis–male friends and mentors whose confidence and perspectives reveal the realm of possibilities when we aren’t as restrained by social barriers (relatively speaking), which in turn motivates me to break down those barriers for myself and for others. I can name names but you wouldn’t necessarily know them, so maybe focus on the people in your own lives who can inspire you in ways you haven’t seen before; they are likely all around you.
“I’d encourage you to celebrate who you are and remember that no matter what happens, your authentic energy is much needed in this world.”
What is your experience as a women in sustainability and advice for someone who is just starting their career?
I have been inspired by many of my early-career colleagues in sustainability. Instead of advice, I’d like to share a piece of reflection and encouragement.
It can feel intimidating and maybe even suffocating to be living/working in a socially constructed patriarchal system that reinforces itself. This might be true not just for women but for anyone who is negatively impacted by the system. In my early career, I have felt the intimidation and internalized a lot of it, and still do but to a lesser degree now. One mental model that has kept me grounded throughout my career is a universal truth – energy balance. Our universe didn’t come about from just one molecule dominating, but rather, from a bunch of different molecules interacting in the most miraculous way to find a balance that created our beautiful solar system. If our planet earth needs the balance of energy and biodiversity to thrive, why should humans be exempt from this universal truth? Too much of one energy could lead to (self-)destruction, as evident by climate change, war, poverty, and other forms of collapse.
What I’m trying to say is that we ought to collectively offer, invite and celebrate different kinds of energy in our lives and in our workplace. I know from experience that it can be hard to put this universal truth in practice. One strategy that helps me is to connect with brave souls who are willing to push boundaries, to be authentic, to speak up. We need to go from knowing our worth to taking actions, and it helps to anchor on community so we can lift each other. For all women and non-cisgender folx in sustainability, I’d encourage you to celebrate who you are and remember that no matter what happens, your authentic energy is much needed in this world. For the rest of us out there, join to celebrate/make room/support this universal truth for it is beneficial to all of us. Maybe, just maybe, if we finally learn to share instead of hoard, there’d be enough to go around.
Recently, I was in a DEI workshop with Future Works Design, and they eloquently put this in perspective for me: “what is true is that we have been fed a false choice. That making sure others have power, means suddenly I will have less. Or I will have to give up things in order for others to have things. What I hope shifts is that you all move to an abundance mentality.”