Women in Sustainability

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March 2023 we wanted to shine the spotlight on some amazing women we work with, showcasing the work they are doing and some of the challenges they face.

Please contact sbs@groundwork.org.uk if you work with an amazing female sustainability champion in your organisation who deserves to be celebrated.

Helen Greenwood – SHEQ Assistant at Simkiss Control Systems Ltd

Helen has been working as SHEQ Assistant at Simkiss for 5 months and has been working in sustainability for the past 2 years.

“I think working in a male dominated environment does provide challenge to working in sustainability as it generally isn’t a positive conversation. Environment and sustainability in the everyday gets generally tarred as wishy washy, snowflake, what’s all that about, nothing to do with me, I don’t want to know attitudes. As a younger woman it can be difficult to break that wall down to make it relative, make it easy and open the opportunity for growth.

However, I do find that I work in a very supportive company, where I am respected and listened to and as a younger fresh approach to the business I have identified simple ways to start to make a difference. In previous roles I think the typical business mindset is that big changes are the only ones of value (in previous roles this was changing all lighting to motion sensors or investing in EV vehicles to show commitment rather than committing to habitual everyday changes and learning).

Double siding printing in the office seemed to be somewhat revolutionary, as did reducing the need to laminate everything by challenging why that piece of paper needed to outlive themselves. I think as a woman my greatest strength is that I find it easier to communicate in a male environment to provoke thought and let sustained action follow – just because the process has worked that way forever and doesn’t ‘look broke’ doesn’t mean we can’t better it and learn to approach in a mindful way. In the short time I have been with Simkiss I have been able to influence these everyday changes, paving the way for the bigger ones in the future. I know I’ve got it right when the wave I sent out comes back to me, and I’m being told and shown new ideas and approaches being set out independently.

Sally Roulston – Senior Sustainability Consultant at Groundwork

Sally is a Senior Sustainability Consultant at Groundwork and has been working with the charity for just over a year. Prior to this she worked at Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Services as Associate Partner for Sustainability. Within her current role, Sally helps businesses reduce their environmental impact by providing carbon reduction services, environmental training and environmental audits. 

When she started out in her sustainability career Sally felt like she wasn’t always taken seriously and although nothing was explicitly was said about her gender, Sally felt the fact she was a woman played a big role in this. This environment meant Sally felt unable to challenge senior figures and drive forward the change that was needed, however, as confidence in her abilities grew, she felt more able to challenge this stereotype and air her knowledge and opinions. 

Sally’s advice to women starting a career in sustainability would be to always acknowledge your achievements, however big or small. In isolation it might not feel like you’re changing the world or making the impact you want but when you add up everything you’ve done over the week, month, year or your lifetime, your impact is really impressive. 

When asked what woman inspires her, Sally spoke about Venetia La Manna, a fair fashion campaigner who raises awareness about the inequality of the fashion industry. She does great work encouraging people to move away from fast-fashion and throw away culture, inspiring people to love the clothes already in their wardrobe and shop second hand instead. 

Nicola Martin, Head of Sustainability at TransPennine Express

The first thing I would like to reflect on is that working in the field of sustainability is incredibly rewarding and challenging at the same time.

As a woman in sustainability and as a woman in rail, I feel that I can contribute towards making a difference whether that is leading a more positive environmental sustainability or social sustainability agenda. I am enthusiastic about both because, I believe that if we look after people and support an inclusive society, we will also enable and encourage society and the economy to look after our planet. Both go hand in hand.

A key skill for anyone looking to work in sustainability is to recognise that collectively we can make a positive impact. In doing so, we can drive forward opportunities for improvement through efficiencies, innovations, and processes. Collaboration, engagement, and cross-functional learning across industries, sectors, and teams helps to unlock the more difficult to reach goals.

As a woman, I will say that my inbuilt nature is to care, and I care passionately about sustainable development and that drives me to work on my ability to influence big agendas and develop meaningful sustainability strategies.

As a woman, I am inspired by strong leaders who are honest and enthusiastic, people akin. The mentors I have had over my career have helped me to adapt in complex industries, become more agile and build resilience to stick at it.

What I have learnt over my career in sustainability is that my softer skills as a leader have helped me to get to where I am today. It is fundamental to see the bigger picture and how that relates to the organisational context or field that I am working in. This helps me to develop pathways to achieve strategic goals and targets. You need to be able to engage different disciplines, learn their technical language, listen, challenge the status quo, and work with others. Being an advocate for inclusion and trying something new; whilst recognising that we do not have all the answers is key to unlocking a collaborative, focused and honest approach to finding the solutions to the big issues of today, including limiting climate change and addressing social injustice.