Women in STEM: A Q&A with Leslie Cook Wong – Sustainable Consulting Leader
Ada Lovelace Day – celebrated on the 12th of October - is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM.
Fittingly, we’ve interviewed a few of the exceptional women at SLR to understand more about their roles, their journey, and to share some inspiration for younger generations. Today, we’re introducing Leslie Cook Wong, who is a Sustainable Consulting Leader based in SLR’s Houston, US, office.
Tell me a bit about your job?
I am the Sustainability Consulting Leader for the SLR US Area. I am developing the US environmental sustainability practice, which includes carbon management work and carbon reduction goal setting for a variety of clients in the energy and manufacturing sectors.
Sustainability is a start-up in the US, so I am building a practice from the top down: educating clients, selling work, training staff, and delivering the work. While it is a daunting task, I have had tremendous support from SLR’s fully established practices in the UK. I also have the good fortune to share this experience with very talented and hard-working SLR team members who are developing the social, governance, and climate finance sustainability practices in the US.
What is your favourite thing about your job and what do you find the most challenging?
Climate change is the most serious challenge facing the planet.
Every day, I have the opportunity to help companies understand how they contribute to climate change, what they can do to be part of the solution, and how they can do this and still thrive in rapidly changing physical and economic conditions. When I see my clients succeed in their carbon management effort and I see the benefits to their businesses, it is worth the effort.
That sounds like it would be really rewarding, especially in the current climate. When did you first become interested in sustainability as a career path? Was it on the cards from childhood?
My STEM field did not exist when I was a child! But my childhood interests did set me up to take on unexplored territory. I loved and excelled at my science classes, and I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. I never made it to NASA, but I did make it to Houston to build an environmental management career.
Clearly you always had big aspirations! What did you study to get to into Environmental Management? How did it help you get to where you are today?
I studied law and took science courses as my electives. Since much of environmental management is regulatory analysis, agency negotiation, and fitting environmental management into business management, law gave me a great background that was different from most environmental professionals.
And what have you learned on the job that you couldn’t have learned in a classroom?
When I started doing carbon management, the concept was new and there was no formal classroom training. Everything I, and my peers at the time, learned to gain competency in carbon management we learned from picking up the applicable protocols and applying them to real operations in real time.
Are there any big misconceptions about your job?
That it is easy and anyone with a technical background can do it. Effective carbon management requires intimate knowledge of the industrial sector you are working in as well as a high degree of sensitivity to how workers in that industry do their jobs every day.
What has been your experience as a woman studying and working in STEM? Have you faced any challenges?
Women of my generation faced fierce discrimination and harassment for daring to enter the world of STEM. But what is more important than the harm done in the past is how much the system has changed over time. In my discipline of sustainability, there are more women entering it than men.
That’s a really important point about how things have changed for women entering the industry now. In your opinion, what can the industry do to create a more positive environment that encourages more women to pursue STEM careers?
As long as there is a tradition in STEM that demands brutal work hours precluding having a life outside work, it will have difficulty attracting and keeping women. It is true that sometimes particular STEM tasks require extreme work efforts and dedication for discrete periods of time. But when it becomes a permanent feature of work, it is just a form of hazing.
Finally, on a lighter note, what would you say is the most adventurous thing you've ever done in your life? It could be personal or professional!
I took a friend’s spot on a skydiving flight with an hour’s notice and did a full 360-degree flip with my tandem partner on the way down!
Wow, we are very impressed!
We'll be posting an interview each day this week. Read the rest of our Women in STEM series for Ada Lovelace Day:
And to learn more about Ada Lovelace Day, visit findingada.com