This year on International Women’s Day, the Scotland East Regional Group wanted to share a collection of experiences and thoughts. We start with a reflective piece by Co-Chair Fiona Torrance written for Women in Science Day, highlighting challenges she’s faced and how attitudes are changing.

"On International Women’s Day, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my career so far and how we can support women in the workplace. My name is Fiona and I’m the Scottish Grey Partridge Recovery Project Research Assistant at the GWCT and a practitioner member of IEMA. I have taken on a variety of roles in the environment sector and absolutely love what I do. Since I graduated 11 years ago, I’ve come across many challenges in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a great deal of support from my family, friends and colleagues but others have, on occasion, questioned my career choice or valued my opinion less. Having worked in traditionally male dominated industries (formally pest management, construction and now agriculture) I have sometimes had to work a little harder to make people consider me as an equal or encourage them to challenge their preconceived attitudes. This isn’t going to change overnight but I think things are changing for the better. It’s important that we call out the traditional stereotypes and make people realise that having more women in the workplace creates a better working environment for everyone. When it comes to getting more women to maximise their potential, I think it’s crucial to make sure doors are always left open. Curiosity, ambition and a willingness to learn should always be encouraged in people. It’s up to us to make sure that we offer advice, support and guidance and show how women can thrive in their chosen fields".

Keeping with Fiona’s themes in the piece above, we asked our Scotland East steering group members what some of the challenges they face as working women. Themes such as balancing career progression with life choices were particularly prominent.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a working woman?

  • Wanting to be a mum, progress in my career AND work part-time. My company is allowing me to do this but it’s a struggle.
  • Making big compromises to get my dream position in a laboratory, but rather than getting promoted I had to resign just a few years later because it was incompatible with starting a family. Women are now raised to be professionals and economically independent, so my sacrifice came with frustration and anxiety until I learnt to see it as an opportunity as well.
  • Returning to work after having my first child and switching from full to part-time. Many working women in senior roles struggle with this, particularly as there is usually no change in their role or level of responsibility at work. Having a supportive line manager and a great team around me has meant I ‘survived’ this transition, but too many talented women don’t.
  • As a young female professional, I sometimes find myself justifying why I’m qualified to be in meetings or to conduct site visits to clients. Especially in more traditional industries, I’m often the only woman on site.

Q: Do you feel effected by a difference between men and women in the industry? And how do you expect this to evolve?

  • It is slowly changing and awareness of the benefits of gender diversity (and all diversity) is beginning to force a change but taking a long time. Still not enough is done to support women to progress to senior positions.
  • Most industries need to close the gender gap at junior positions and allow balance for family/working life. Both men and women would find it easier to share family responsibilities and this would allow female talent to be more visible for senior positions. This will benefit society and business, and from an environmental point of view, could be crucial to achieve much needed environmental targets.
  • Yes, it is changing, and being open about flexible working and clearly defining boundaries is helping to normalise part-time and flexible working.
  •  Things are changing for the better, but more action is needed. As women we understand some of the issues and barriers to tackling the gender gap, but we also need the support of men in our organisations.

It’s important on a day like International Women’s Day to remember the progress we’ve made towards gender equality, and the work that still needs to be done. Support your female colleagues and friends by talking about their challenges, and most importantly get male colleagues involved in the conversations. 

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

About the Author

Scotland East Regional Group is based in Edinburgh. The Scotland East steering group organise regular socials and events throughout the year.