Susan Bodine, an assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, understands how difficult it can be to juggle work, family and policy.
Since her Senate confirmation in Dec. 2005, Bodine has served as assistant administrator for EPA’s programs on hazardous and solid waste management and hazardous waste cleanup among other duties.
She’s also a mother of two children ages 16 and 14 with her husband David M. Bodine, PhD, who is chief of the Genetics and Molecular Biology branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
“It requires immense cooperation and communication,” she said of juggling children and demanding careers in Washington D.C. “And the greatest challenges have been to make sure we’re not out of town at the same time.”
Bodine began her career as an attorney in private practice and after having her first child she worked part-time for three and a half years.
“That didn’t adversely affect my career. There certainly was flexibility,” she said. “The advice I would give is to always do the very best you can at whatever you’re taking on and that doesn’t mean you have to take on everything.”
Bodine’s expertise in environmental law caused her to be approached about a job working with a congressional committee. That entrance into the policy world lead to an EPA nomination.
It’s a model that she says can work for many situations.
“To women and anybody whatever career path or whatever vocation you’re choosing, become the expert, become as informed as you can be,” she said.
It’s also good advice for women looking for ways to become more involved in changing policy, she said.
“Obviously first of all you should vote, or contact your representatives,” she said. “But you can do a lot as an individual by doing things that you care about on a local level, in your children’s school, in your community.”
She says by getting involved in something that interests you in your community, you not only gain expertise in changing policy but also have the satisfaction of seeing results and setting a good example for others.
Bodine suggests working with your children’s school to help start a recycling program or making sure the school doesn’t have outdated chemicals in its science lab.
Also, women are usually the primary consumers in households and can vote with their pocketbooks, she said.
“You certainly have a lot of influence at the consumer level as well. Companies care. Make your consuming choices clear,” Bodine said.
Another area women should be aware of is how their communities are built, she said.
“Are we creating communities where people are able to walk and get outside or are we creating communities where we have to drive everywhere? That’s having a tremendous impact on the health of children,” she said. “You can vote with your feet.”
During her career in policy work, Bodine says the most important thing she has learned is how to listen.
“I would argue that with a broad liberal arts education I learned to write, in law school I learned to read and working on the Capitol and at EPA I learned to listen,” Bodine said.
She says learning how to listen for what people really want when it comes to a particular issue is often the best way to find areas for compromise.
“When you listen to what people are saying and you understand what their issue is then you can come up with a solution … you have to listen to their underlying concern,” she said. “And I would argue that women do that particularly well.”