Agriculture Program Specialist, National Wildlife Federation (NWF)
Elizabeth graduated with an MS from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment in 2013. Since graduation, she’s worked on Great Lakes conservation work, most recently in her position at NWF. Recently, she had the idea to host a summit that would bring every woman in NWF together an idea which resulted in a successful gathering of 150+ NWF female employees in 2016. She’s now leading the planning for a 2018 women in conservation conference which will bring together women from NWF and other conservation groups.
Wolf & Heron: Before we dive into our standard questions, can you tell me a little about the conference you planned last year?
Elizabeth Lillard: Of course! The idea behind the Summit was to bring every woman in NWF together, to give them an opportunity to meet each other, spend time together, learn from each other and make the organization a better place to work for women. We raised enough money to allow every woman in the organization to go and 160 showed up! We’re now an official program at NWF and we’re planning a 2018 Summit that will be open to other conservation groups.
w&h: That’s amazing! Well done. What was most inspiring to you about doing this conference?
EL: The fact that 160 women thought that this was a really good idea. The conference was so valuable that people came and paid attention. Just seeing everyone in the room, so happy to be there, was really validating. We received almost no negative feedback and that’s unheard of with conference planning.
w&h: I’m excited to see what you do next year. Good luck with your planning! To shift gears to our standard questions, let’s start with values. We define values as what matters to you. What are your most important values?
EL: Ah, let’s see. One of the things I really hold valuable is perseverance. Perseverance is often under appreciated and undervalued. People talk about not giving up, but what does that really look like? It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy, but it is incredibly important to be effective and get things done.
Something else that’s really important to me, both personally and professionally, is loyalty. Loyalty to ideas, friends, family, to coworkers. It’s crucial to stay true to what you hold in high esteem.
w&h: How have your values impacted your life? Or aided in your decision-making?
EL: In terms of perseverance, the whole women’s conference idea came out of almost nothing. And throughout, I had the sense that a lot of people thought I wouldn’t make it happen. It’s actually rare to see something like that through to fruition. But that conference never would have happened without my perseverance. You need to keep pushing until somebody says no.
w&h: If you think into the future, 10 or 15 years from now, what are you hoping to achieve?
EL: Before this whole women in conservation conference, I wouldn’t have really known the answer to that question, which I think is okay. But now that this idea has developed and gotten so much traction, I want to keep growing it and I want to see if it can have an impact on every woman in the conservation movement, even if they’re still a college or grad student. I want them to see the conference as a breath of fresh air, a place they can go that’s comfortable, that’s a safe space for women in conservation.
w&h: What difference do you want to make in the world?
EL: My focus has been making on space for other people. I realized this a year ago when I was thinking, “How am I going to make this work?” I realized that I can spend a lot of time trying to help people or I can make space for them to help themselves. I can’t know the struggle of every woman, but I can create space for them to get help for whatever issues they’re facing or get support from one another.
w&h: Can you share a specific story that illustrates how you had to (or need to be) influential in your WorkLife?
EL: I have been at NWF for almost two years now, but I had only been here for 9 months when I had the initial idea. I’m in a relatively entry level position... I’m not in headquarters, I’m in a regional office. I didn’t have relationships with executives. I recognized that. So when I thought about who I had to approach to make this happen, I had to think about people who would be receptive and think about influencers, people who had the relationships I didn’t have. I approached a couple women who had been working on this issue for a few years, and I would share, “Your work is amazing. I appreciate everything you’ve done and I want to build on your idea.”
I showed that I was willing to do the work but I needed the support of women around me who had connections and influence. In those first few months, meetings like that were probably the most critical in terms of my persistence. I followed up. I didn’t drop it, and I kept doing what was asked of me to prove that this was a credible idea. Eventually, the idea became real enough that it was presented to the board, and we had something.
You can’t do everything by yourself. You have to have the right people on your team to make your endeavor successful.
w&h: What are your routines that you use to “show up” as your best self? To show up as Elizabeth, the “go getter.”
EL: I’ve established myself as a person who follows through and doesn’t let things go. If you say you’re going to email someone, do it. Once you’ve established that pattern, people will start to remember who you are. It’s good even if the follow-up is just to say thank you so much for your time.
w&h: What soft skills have been most important in getting to where you are today?
EL: I would say that, being able to read your audience, even if it’s a just a one on one conversation, is important. There are different levels of listening, and it’s really important not to just talk and talk and talk and then see what someone has to say. Really listen to people, instead of talking. I try to practice active listening and adapt my own tone and delivery depending on how the person is reacting.
w&h: If you could offer a woman in her early 20s just getting started in her WorkLife one piece of advice, what would it be?
EL: This is cliché, but think outside the box. Or the less politically correct version, make it up if you need to. I have found more success with the things that I just made up and made into real things than in trying to follow a traditional path of doing things. There’s plenty good and new ideas that haven’t been thought of. Don’t feel confined by what your boss says and what’s on your calendar.
Elizabeth's Words of Wisdom
"You need to keep pushing until somebody says no."
"I’ve established myself as a person who follows through and doesn’t let things go."
"I can spend a lot of time trying to help people or I can make space for them to help themselves."
"You can’t do everything by yourself. You have to have the right people on your team to make your endeavor successful."