Erin Rowe Wortman
The Urban Planner | 40 Under 40 Class of 2020
"I do not shy away from challenges or allow any self-doubt be present."
GET TO KNOW ERIN
Authentic, strategic, and consistent – that’s Erin Rowe! Scroll down to read more about this confident woman of character who works in urban planning for the town of Stoneham, Massachusetts.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
I jokingly say I fell into the field of planning and development after graduate school. Unlike my planning colleagues, I did not attend graduate school like Harvard or Massachusetts Institute of Technology for city planning, urban affairs or landscape architecture. Rather, I sought advanced learning at a public university in public administration, with specific focus on government. I was told by my first boss that I was hired to be the city planner due to eagerness to learn a new discipline, my work ethic and steadfast commitment to the greater good. Once in the role, I quickly realized what a great fit the field was for my skill set, personality and what I wanted to accomplish in my career. Because I was mostly trained on the job, I have a less-academic approach to problem-solving. I genuinely enjoy helping people and making things better for others – this is what inspires me to show up every single day.
What challenge did you overcome to get where you are today?
The largest challenge I have dealt with in my career has been the prevalent homogenous demographic of government employees in leadership roles. I’m often one of the only females in large-scale development meetings and it’s frequently assumed that I’m present to take notes or I’m a colleague’s assistant. Navigating the blatant gender bias has been the most challenging part of my work. Early in my career, I was quick to correct or over-compensate sharing my expertise to establish my authority. I was continuously frustrated that these assumptions were never asserted about my same-aged male colleagues. They were never presumed to be the interns or the note-takers; rather, they were viewed as the future of the field. As I’ve gotten more established and settled in my field, I approach things differently and more intentionally. I have continued to be prepared for all meetings and let my good work speak for itself. I create opportunities for the mentorship of younger interns and bring more individuals into process development. I lead with confidence but never arrogance.
What do you love most about your job?
I genuinely enjoy helping people and making things better for others. Local government provides direct, daily interaction with the public on issues that really impact them, whether it’s a new school, tax bill or a pothole. These things may appear to be small, but it can truly affect how one lives and how they view their experience in a community. I sincerely enjoy the field, my ability to make an impact and the opportunities to create a well-designed, inclusive place to live, work and play.
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Describe yourself in three words.
Authentic, strategic and consistent.
Your life philosophy is…
“The purpose of life is a life with purpose” – Robert Bryne
What is the best piece of advice you received?
“Begin with the end in mind.” It’s such a small phrase but it helps me keep everything in perspective. What is the end game? What are the most desirable outcomes? What are we working toward?
If someone handed you an airline ticket to a place of your choosing, where would you go and why?
What’s something you cannot live without?
Sleep! Some people can function on little to no sleep, but I am not one of them.
Name a book you read that positively shaped you.
“The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates
If you weren’t working in the industry that you are, what would you be doing instead?
Interior design. I love the concept of being creative while developing beautiful spaces (and I think it would be so fun!)
How do you unwind or relax after a long day?
Unapologetically terrible (often reality) television programming.
The most rewarding aspect of your job is…
The ability to make changes that improve the lives of people. Planning should and must be people-focused, so quality planning yields comprehensive policies, predictable action through thoughtful zoning and an inclusive environment where all individuals have a seat at the table. I translate highly technical concepts to approachable topics, lead with transparency and bring individuals on the journey of why this all matters. Knowing that individuals are going to have an elevated quality of life for generations because of intentional and thoughtful choices made is incredibly fulfilling.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I say yes when an opportunity presents itself. I do not shy away from challenges or allow any self-doubt be present. Sometimes in order to have a seat at the table, we need to just show up with our own chair. There will always be people who question my authority or knowledge, I just make sure my inner self is louder than the doubt. I confidentially own my space.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
A brain dump. I write it ALL down – everything that I need or want to do – and then I prioritize it by what needs to be done and when. Often, I get overwhelmed by the notion that there’s not enough time to do all the things, so I mitigate that stress by organizing it and chipping away one thing at a time.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be money, time, energy, etc.)
My professional success has been built on the foundation on my non-work life. I’m a proud mom, spouse, friend and Gamma Phi Beta volunteer. Doing my best to prioritize a balance in my life is something that has to be intentional and necessary to fill my cup.