There are some inspirational young role models – Greta Thunberg, of course, and the less well-known activists like Ugandan climate striker Vanessa Nakate – and some senior women at the top of their game – Emma Howard-Boyd (Chair of the Environment Agency), Christiana Figueres (former Executive Secretary of UNFCC) and IEMA will shortly be joined by Sarah Mukherjee as CEO – but across the environment and sustainability sector women are generally not making it to the top.

Sustainability attracts a lot of women as a career, and entry grades have a good gender mix. Even so, IEMA’s latest member survey (2018) shows that there is a 14.1% gender pay gap. This is 2.6% less than it was in the previous survey but still higher than the national average. The survey showed that women are under-represented in senior roles (the survey found 77% of ‘leadership’ roles are held by men), and in senior membership grades. As a Fellow of IEMA, I am in a tiny minority: 84% of the Fellows who responded to the survey are male.

And we’re not alone as a profession.

Gender discrimination happens:

  • The gender pay gap is 13.9% for full-time workers
      • -There are more men called John than women running FTSE 100 companies (17 Johns, 7 women)
      • -54,000 women are forced to leave their job early every year as a result of poor treatment after they have a baby
      • -78% of newspaper articles are written by men
      • -74% of the House of Lords are men
      • -….. Yet 20% of men aged 25-34 say gender equality has ‘gone too far’(and women speaking out are routinely ridiculed)

It’s not just gender where we fall down: the sustainability and environment field is overwhelmingly white, as IEMA’s research with NUS and the Equality Trust has shown. So as a profession, we have absolutely no room for complacency – and lots of room for improvement, regret and shame. We can and should be paying more attention to the diversity of our own profession and movement – for our colleagues, for the people we are working with to solve sustainability problems, and as part of our contribution to meeting Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) and 10 (reduced inequalities within and between countries).

So what can we do?

One of the exciting developments of recent years has been the emergence of events and networks for women. WINS – Women in Sustainability – runs a series of local networking events across the country.

She is Sustainable is a series of volunteer-led events for younger women starting out on their sustainability career, to hear from older women who have been around the block a few times.

And in April 2020 I’ll be helping to run the third She is Still Sustainable, for women who are mid-career or beyond, working in or around sustainability. These events are an inspirational mix of speakers (including Farhana Yamin, Solitaire Townsend and IEMA’s very own Lynne Ceeney), workshop sessions and peer networking. The women who come along have a chance to celebrate their achievements so far, share their challenges and aspirations, and make plans for the next phase of their work and life.

These events are run for love not money, which means we can keep the ticket price really low. Do join us!

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

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Penny Walker

Penny Walker is a facilitator and coach, specialising in helping people have better conversations about sustainability issues. A Chartered Environmentalist, Fellow of IEMA and qualified coach, she is also on the Board of the International Association of Facilitators in England and Wales.


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