We spoke to Kathryn Brown, director of climate change and evidence at The Wildlife Trusts and previous head of adaptation at the Climate Change Committee, ahead of International Women’s Day.
Why is International Women’s Day important to you?
It’s great to have a specific moment to celebrate achievements by women which might not have had the recognition they deserve. I’m very aware that historically, important contributions made by women across many disciplines, including the sciences (which is most relevant to me) have often gone overlooked or unrecorded. International Women’s Day is a great chance to highlight and shout about those past achievements, particularly to help to inspire and support younger girls who are interested in the sciences.
Are there any women who have inspired you, whether personally or professionally? What impact have they and other role models had on you?
Yes, far too many to try to list! I’m very lucky to have so many female role models and I think there is mostly a good gender balance at all career levels in climate change. In particular, climate change adaptation in the UK is supported by a core group of senior women leaders who go out of their way to support other women in their careers and provide peer support, which I and many others have benefitted from. I’ve been encouraged to think of myself as a leader and to see that I have strong capabilities in things I am not naturally comfortable with, such as public speaking and media work. I also think it’s important to remember we don’t need to be good at everything, and we can build teams and support networks to help us do the things we aren’t as good at.
Throughout your career, how have you been impacted by the representation of women in your sector/area of work?
I’m very lucky that there has always been good gender diversity in the organisations I have worked in (in government and the charity sector). There are more women than men in my current senior leadership team, and this has also been the case in previous roles. I’ve benefitted from having a very supportive group of peers and managers, both women and men, who have encouraged me to stretch my capabilities and try new things. They have seen potential in me that I haven’t seen in myself, but I have found I am more capable than I could have imagined 10 years ago.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in the workplace and what – or who – has helped you to overcome them?
There is still under-representation of women at the most senior levels in most sectors. To help to change this, I’d like to see different leadership styles valued more. I’ve also seen the tendency to assume that women are less knowledgeable or less qualified than they are. One of my good female friends was patted on the head once in a meeting and asked to make the tea (the man doing the head patting did not realise she was chairing the meeting). Another repeatedly has her ‘Dr’ changed to ‘Ms’ even though her male counterparts are always assumed to be Dr. I suspect a lot of this may be unconscious bias, and some of the best training I’ve done in the last few years has been in this area. We all have unconscious biases of one kind or another, the trick is to realise they are there.
What makes a good male ally in the workplace? What can men do to better support women at work?
I have had wonderful managers, teams and colleagues from a diverse range of backgrounds. Some of my male bosses have gone out of their way to bring me forward and encourage me to grow and develop. I think appreciating each other is important, even through the times you might disagree or be at odds on something. It’s also good to remember that people can’t read your mind and it’s not arrogant to simply tell them what you think. The main thing men can do, which applies to anyone, is to do your best to be aware of bias; ask your colleagues what they need (or don’t need!) and encourage the potential you see around you.