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Women now make up majority of TCEQ’s workforce

March 14, 2019 – Sensible employment policies make agency attractive place to work

 

March is Women's History Month.

TCEQ Employment Benefits

The agency offers employees a variety of benefits that allow TCEQ to compete for top talent, including:

    • Up to eight hours per year of sick leave can be used toward sponsored events at children’s schools, including parent-teacher conferences
    • Up to two hours extra leave to vote on election days
    • Paid time for jury duty
  • The Parent Friendly Program*, which provides managers with a variety of options for their employees, includes the potential for:
    • flexible work hours
    • a compressed work week
    • telecommuting
    • reverting to part-time schedule
  • Wellness program
  • Fitness room on main campus
  • Recognition awards
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Lactation rooms

*Scheduling options in the Parent Friendly Program are also available to other employees, regardless of whether they are parents.

When Jaime Garza, the director of TCEQ’s Harlingen and Laredo regions, was confronted with the prospect of losing one of his valued environmental investigators, he went into action.

Garza researched the agency’s human resource policies and found just what he needed to retain Jackie Keltner, an environmental investigator in the Harlingen region.

“We did not want to lose her,” Garza says of Keltner. “She’s a hard worker and very good at what she does. We are lucky to have her.”

Garza took advantage of TCEQ’s Parent Friendly Program, which provides managers with a variety of tools to accommodate employees, depending on the type of position, including flexible work hours, a compressed work week, telecommuting, and even the possibility of switching to a part-time schedule.

That program and a host of other benefits, including a robust health plan and pension, are why TCEQ is a great place to work and contribute to a working environment that can retain highly qualified women, even when they have tough family decisions to make.

Proof is in the statistics.

In fiscal year 2000, the then-titled Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission was comprised of 54 percent men and 46 percent women. Today that has flipped, with 53 percent of the workforce now women. Also, about 47 percent of all supervisors are women, which is up from 43 percent in 2008.

Without the quality of its employees, TCEQ would not be able to fulfill its mission to the extent it does, says Kelly Keel Linden, deputy director of TCEQ’s Office Administrative Services.

“TCEQ continues to build upon its strong tradition of employing, recognizing, and promoting qualified women—and men—capable of meeting this agency’s challenges and opportunities today and into the future,” she says.

Sensible policies—such as flexible scheduling, which is available to other employees, not just parents—help keep talented workers. Fairness in compensation helps, as well.

Melissa Applegate, TCEQ’s director of human resources, says her area routinely evaluates pay in posting and filling jobs, especially before jobs are posted and during other salary actions. The review of pay for equity is across the board and is not focused on gender.

And it’s not just the benefits or pay. Since 1992 TCEQ, via the Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program, has introduced many female college students to positions before launching their careers. A majority of women apply and are selected for the program.

“It is perhaps one of the most effective talent management tools in attracting women to the agency,” says Juanita Baldwin, the program’s coordinator. “I believe we have a very family-friendly work culture.”

She says TCEQ’s generous employee benefits are considered best practices for employers in retaining their employees.

Jackie Keltner, an environmental investigator in TCEQ’s Harlingen region, collects effluent samples at a wastewater treatment plant.
Jackie Keltner, an environmental investigator in TCEQ’s Harlingen region, collects effluent samples at a wastewater treatment plant.

A Hard Choice

In 2014, Keltner—who has worked for the state for more than 12 years, including 11 with TCEQ—had her second child. While at home during her maternity leave, she worried about the future of her family and whether she and her husband could be there enough for their children.

In addition to her full-time work, her husband, a school band director, worked 75 to 80 hours per week and had to frequently travel with his students.

“I felt the urge to be available more at home,” says Keltner, whose girls are now 5 and 7. “I didn’t know if I wanted to continue working in my position.”

She began to think about a career change and even started to look for new positions. She told her boss, Garza, the regional director, about what she was experiencing and thinking about.

Instead of giving up on her, Garza did what he could, and they settled on a plan that allowed her to reduce her work schedule—with upper management authorization—to 30 hours per week. It allowed her the time she wanted to be able to drop her children off at school and pick them up every day and also allowed her to keep her health benefits.

“Jaime was really gracious. He was very supportive,” Keltner says.

While she did retain her health benefits, she gave up some of the advantages of full-time employment, such as the up to two hours of extra leave granted every election day.

She says the new schedule, which can be intense, “took a bit getting used to. The region had to adjust.”

Even so, the decision to go part time has been worth it, and she is grateful to the agency for providing her with that option.

“I love working for TCEQ,” Keltner says. “When I need something for my family, TCEQ has always been accommodating.”

In the late 1980s, Renee Carlson was working at the Texas Water Commission, a predecessor agency to TCEQ. “No PC on my desk back then,” she remembers. She says she noticed a lot more women working in professional positions at TWC than when she was at the Texas Department of Health previously. Carlson herself rose to the position of graphics manager at TWC.
In the late 1980s, Renee Carlson was working at the Texas Water Commission, a predecessor agency to TCEQ. “No PC on my desk back then,” she remembers. She says she noticed a lot more women working in professional positions at TWC than when she was at the Texas Department of Health previously. Carlson herself rose to the position of graphics manager at TWC.
At TCEQ's annual Environmental Trade Fair and Conference, Carlson—nowadays TCEQ’s publishing manager—conducts internet usability studies along with her team to finetune the agency’s website.
At TCEQ's annual Environmental Trade Fair and Conference, Carlson—nowadays TCEQ’s publishing manager—conducts internet usability studies along with her team to finetune the agency’s website.

A Changing Workplace

Renee Carlson, TCEQ’s publishing manager, has seen firsthand how the agency and its predecessor agencies have changed for women in the workplace over the years.

In 1980, while in college, she started working as a part-time clerk typist for the Texas Department of Health’s municipal solid waste management program. After she graduated with her English degree, she says she was fortunate, considering the down economy, to land a full-time position as a secretary and was eventually promoted to an information specialist.

“When I would go into a meeting, I was the only woman,” Carlson says. “In the department I was in, they were all engineers. Many of them were on their second careers, some having retired from the military. They related to me as a daughter. It was not demeaning, just not what we think of as professional today.”

She says some of her male colleagues were mentors to her.

Carlson had her first daughter while working for the health department. She says she was able to take eight weeks off because she had accumulated the leave time; however, this was before the federal Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993.

The FMLA allows for employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and keep their jobs. At TCEQ, employees can use vacation and sick leave toward that time off.

“It worked out well,” Carlson says of her maternity leave. “I worked right up to the time I gave birth. It would have been nice to have three months off, but it would have been hard to make happen.”

Her program was moved to the Texas Water Commission in 1985, where she worked in community relations, then public information, and eventually became the graphics manager.

“There was already a different culture at that agency,” Carlson says. “There were more women in higher-level positions.”

When she had her second daughter less than two years after her first, she said she had only accumulated three weeks of leave, which would just not have been enough time off with a newborn. Much like Keltner, Carlson says her boss at TWC worked diligently to get her position downgraded to half time temporarily.

“That is how I was able to take off,” she says. “This way, I was able to go a whole month half time.”

So much is at the discretion of individual managers, and Carlson says she was lucky to have had good ones. She also adds that one of the great things about FMLA and the formalizing of leave policies at the agency today is that it also allows for men to take time off when starting families, intermittent leave, and other flexibility “not available to me and others years ago.”

Another positive change that she has seen over the years has been during manager refresher training. Early on, during discussions about making the workplace equitable, she says there would be occasional comments, such as, “‘Is that really a problem?’ That’s not the case anymore in the refreshers I’ve attended.”

Having more gender balance at TCEQ has only been positive.

“I feel like this agency has always been more progressive for women,” Carlson says. “I just think that having a variety of people in the workplace—diverse backgrounds, women and men—makes everything work better.”

And after all, she says, equality among state workers is just best for Texas.

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Women's History Month graphic based on artwork © Vitalii Abakumov iStock Collection/Getty Images.