Women Climate Campaigners: 7 Tips for Rocking Our Male-Dominated Profession

Me in the AYCC office with some of Australia’s best upcoming climate campaigners: Ramya Krishnan, Kat Tu, Natasha Lay & Deepa Gupta. Sara Haghdoosti took photo.

I was astonished recently by Zero Emission’s recent forum in Sydney. It was a high profile, well-organized and fantastic forum that packed out Sydney Town Hall. Yet every single speaker was male. 5 male speakers and 1 male MC. How could this happen? I should say upfront that I love Zero Emissions. They are a fantastic organisation. But if our movement’s leadership, and those that we put out to speak to the public about climate change and energy, don’t reflect the diversity of the community whose attitudes we are trying to change, how can we expect the community to relate to our movement? If a young woman wanting to make a difference on climate change looks up at a stage and sees no faces that look like hers, what message does that send her? And if young man of colour looks up and sees no faces that look like his, what message does that send him? We all know that we need a diverse movement to build the strength we need to combat the influence of the fossil fuel lobby. We’re cutting off our own legs if we don’t put that understanding into practice. I did try to get a female speaker at the Sydney Town Hall event – when I saw the line up I called the organizers and suggested several women. To the organisers’ credit, they had already invited female speakers who declined or couldn’t make it. They learnt from the experience, and they recognised that it was a problem. This is unlike another forum, the Total Environment Centre’s Green Capital breakfast, where every single speaker was male. I emailed the organizers about this, and got absolutely no response. And it’s not like I was a random member of the public who they didn’t know – at this point I was emailing in my position of Co-Director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. This kind of situation shouldn’t happen again. We need more women in leadership and “expert” positions in the climate movement. So I wrote this article for young women in the climate movement. You’re doing awesome work (thank you!), and I’d love it if you offered your suggestions below – but here are some starting thoughts: 1. Value your own style of working, even if it gets criticized as too ‘feminine’. In my experience, women are great at listening, empathising, communicating, and creating strong teams. At my workplace, Make Believe, there are a lot of strong women. Every Monday morning, we have a team meeting where we each talk about our weekend, and select a “values card” from a card deck that one of my female colleagues brought into the office. The values cards include things like compassion, service, courage, honour and gratitude. We each select a card at random and then reflect on what it may mean for us for the week ahead. While some men I have told about this ritual argued that it’s a waste of staff time, half an hour of time at the start of each week allows us to reflect on our values and create a healthy team environment meaning we work much more productively together for the rest of the week. It’s ideas like this, which your male colleagues may dismiss as a waste of time, that will in fact strengthen your organisation and your movement. Lesson: trust your own instincts and work with your teams in ways that feel right for you. Similarly, engage in partnerships and negotiations in ways that make sense to you. You might have people telling you to be aggressive, when actually a more conciliatory approach might work better. 2. Learn how to Mediate and Negotiate. When I was finishing my law degree at Cornell, I took a great class about mediation and negotiation. It taught me the basics of how to negotiate: namely, always have a ‘best alternative to a negotiated agreement’ (BATNA); practice, practice, practice; and learn how to negotiate using interests rather than positions. It has helped me enormously in my professional work since then, whether managing staff and volunteers, forging partnerships, facilitating meetings, or dealing with conflict generally. Lesson: Catch up on some great reading on negotiation skills:

  • Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Fisher & Ury, 1981)
  • Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (Ury, 1991)
  • Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate (Fisher & Shapiro, 2005)

3. Deal with Conflict Almost all young girls are brought up with a fear of conflict, because we’re taught that we have to be “nice” above all else. Politeness is revered, and making people like you is the aim of the game. When it comes to climate change campaigning  (and life for that matter), we have to accept that if we’re effective at what we’re doing, we are going to make enemies. And not just enemies from the climate denier/Andrew Bolt camp. I’m talking about people within your own movement as well, who disagree with your strategy. No one has ever made great change without rocking the status quo and challenging assumptions, and that means rocking the status quo and the assumptions of our own movement as well. In addition, if you’re in a position of authority in your organisation – that is, if you manage staff and volunteers and budgets – then you will inevitably have to make decisions that create ‘casualties’. ‘Casualties’ are people who disagree with and are badly affected by your decisions. We all need to understand that we will create casualties in our work. They key is having a plan in advance about how to deal with them. The worst thing you can do is pretend there are no casualties when there actually are – this marginalises those affected people even further and means you’re turning a blind eye to the inevitable negative consequences of your work. The challenge is to remain ‘in relationship’ (that is: able to talk with each other and listen to each other) whilst in conflict over substantive issues. Suggested reading:  Kahane, Adam (2004), Talking Politely (click here to download file) 4. Network What this really just means is, open yourself up to enjoying other people’s company, learning from them, being willing to help them out, and not afraid to ask for their help when you need it. You already have existing networks: your school friends, University, TAFE or workplace friends, your local community, religious communities, sporting groups, Facebook friends and more. Someone once told me that Eleanor Roosevelt used to be great at mingling in crowds because whenever the conversation ran out, she would just think through the letters of the alphabet to pick a conversation topic and if the person she was talking to wasn’t interested in say, her recent trip to Alabama, she would move on and ask them if they’d seen last night’s baseball game, or if they enjoyed cooking… etc. So, if you run out of things to say you can always try this! I know it sounds a bit 1950’s but it’s worked for me! The same person who gave me this tip also told me there are 4 “P’s” of networking: process, proactivity, persistence, and patience. For me, keeping connected with people on Facebook is the way I build networking into everyday life – how else would I be able to keep connected to my friends in the US, Europe and other countries in different time zones? And having a contact list with email addresses (not just your mobile phone) that allows you to regularly send mass emails to your network is the best thing you can do to solidify your networks. These days you can manage these lists through things like http://www.mailchimp.com 5. Be Confident. When it comes to asking donors for funding, asking someone to help out as a volunteer, asking your lecturer for an extension because you have to organize a rally, or calling a celebrity to ask them to endorse your campaign, you only need one thing: confidence that they will say yes, and that you will succeed. Sometimes your confidence is based on actual evidence; other times, in my case most of the time, it’s based on blind faith. But if you don’t believe 100% in your abilities and your projects, who will? Partly it’s about finding your own voice. I love this article by Bell Hooks. In it she quote Audre Lord’s poem “Litany for Survival” addressing fear of speaking out. Here it is: and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive. As a practical aside, one thing that sometimes helps with increasing my confidence is wearing a suit. Even though I find them uncomfortable, it makes me take myself more seriously, and definitely makes others take me more seriously. Especially if I have a meeting with a large group of men, and I’m the only woman (yes, it happens relatively often) I find it helps me a lot. 6. Self-promote “People say I’m a shameless self-promoter. And I say, ‘au contraire, mon frère…I am a PROUD self-promoter!” – Van Jones, US green jobs activist. Why is it that the majority of the climate movement – the grassroots activists, the community climate action groups, the student organizers – are women; yet the heads of every single major Australian environment organisation (with the exception of Greenpeace who recently brought in a female CEO) are men? Partly it’s because men self-promote, and therefore advance their careers – and women don’t. It comes back to the “I have to be liked by everyone” frame that we grow up with. If we put ourselves out there, we might get shot down. We’ll be called a tall poppy, a self-promoter. If our work – and ourselves – are highly visible, we’ll be criticized. Promote the work you do. Promote yourself. Learn how to use the media effectively. How else will you reach new audiences, find new volunteers, and find new donors? Teach yourself to be a great public speaker. I taught myself through watching YouTube videos of great public speakers. Unfortunately most of the best speakers are men and American (like Van Jones, Martin Luther King Jnr, Bobby Kennedy, Barack Obama) so you can’t exactly emulate their tone of voice, but you can still learn a lot from them! 7. Stand up for other women It’s a male-dominated world; it’s often a male dominated workplace, and it’s a male dominated movement – at the CEO level, anyway. The grassroots of our movement is dominated by females and mostly made up of unpaid labour. That’s not to say women can’t succeed. Find mentors. Don’t be shy to ask people! I have had some wonderful male and female mentors, and I sincerely thank them: John Connor from the Climate Institute, Susan Lenehan, former SA Environment Minister; the late Phil Clapp from the Pew Environment Centre to name a few. If we support each other, mentor each other (and call the organizers every time we see a climate change forum happening without women speakers!) we can get there. If you’ve experienced challenges or ways to succeed as a woman in the climate movement I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About annastarrrose

Author & environmentalist
This entry was posted in climate change, feminism, learning, women, youth. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Women Climate Campaigners: 7 Tips for Rocking Our Male-Dominated Profession

  1. Viv Benjamin says:

    Love this Anna. Punchy and bursting with truth. You have always made me feel so proud as a young woman of colour fighting for a better future, more so than anyone else ever has. Why is the climate and justice movement mostly female members, yet women are so excluded from the top dog leadership positions of the very same movements? It really has to change. We had 1,500 young activists apply for the MPH Roadtrip campaign I directed this year of which over 90% were women. And yet, there was only 1 woman in the Executive leadership team in the organisation I was working for at the time. It is unjust. I love this organisation and our leaders are acutely aware of the imbalance and desire change, but it is deeply entrenched right across the movement. There are no excuses. It’s not that there aren’t enough amazing young female leaders, it’s just that we often don’t value their leadership enough to put them at the top.

    • Thanks so much Viv! Your work totally inspires me and always has 🙂 And very much agree that there are more than enough young female leaders – they just aren’t given the same leadership opportunities as young men often are. I think that’s where AYCC is different – the vast majority of our leadership are women (maybe we’ve even gone too far on this sometimes!) and AYCC consciously tries to support people of colour. Deepa really made a huge impact here, especially when she ran the interfaith climate trainings. I was proud in Copenhagen last year to be part of a 20 person AYCC delegation that was overwhelmingly female, included 2 young Aboriginal activists, and was well 1/4 people of colour. Plus the amazing work AYCC’s Project Survival Pacific did in bringing over the young Pacific Islanders. But there’s still so much more work to be done… we can’t let this issue fall of the agenda!

  2. ellen says:

    thanks for this anna! I have been really grateful that you have always pushed aycc to include people of colour, indigenous people and women in any event or team we have. It has made me feel strong and confident to stand up to those (even within the aycc!) who say it is token. its not token to proactively put someone up on stage to show the diversity of the movement. Im really proud that at every powershift this year we had woman speakers and at least 1 (sometimes 2 or 3) indigenous speakers and that we have put emphasis on this for our mexico team as well. It really isnt done enough and is often the first thing to drop off under pressure which really isnt good enough!

    • Thanks Ellen! Another example of a wonderful strong female leader in the AYCC. We have together shared a lot of learnings – especially for me at Power Shift 2009 – about how to include Indigenous peoples in meaningful ways. I’ve made mistakes along the way – and it’s been really painful for me (lots of tears) – but without making mistakes, we don’t learn! As Ghandi said, “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson” and I think that because we have this attitude, we have been able to make some real partnerships in the Indigenous movement and work through things together.

  3. Meg Brodie says:

    Anna and Viv: two of the most inspiring female leaders I know. Thank-you for everything you do, not only to change the world, but to change your workplaces.

    I felt moved to respond because the last two weeks in Sweden I have been exposed to a noticeably different work environment. It has challenged, surprised, shocked and delighted me. Some preliminary thoughts.

    1. Consultative leadership (challenged)
    When I sat in my first departmental meeting I felt extremely challenged. The female department head, outlined her vision for the department for the year ahead; yet at every point she consulted her colleagues, asked for their input, and indeed their permission, to continue. I was challenged because the process seemed inefficient and without the boldness that I usually associate with vision presentations. However the staff undoubtedly felt that they had driven the direction of the conversation and had bought into the process almost seamlessly. A few days later I sat in a full staff meeting, this time led by the (outgoing) male director of the institute. While there were certainly differences in the way he conducted the meeting, it followed the same consultative pattern of the first. This included allowing a public response to what was obviously a controversial decision. Again, I felt challenged, particularly by what I perceived as inefficiency, yet clearly the highly consultative nature of leadership in this workplace increases the opportunity for equal participation – not just of men and women, but of all staff regardless of their position.

    2. Male advocacy for female representation (surprised)
    Yesterday, at a staff consultation meeting, a white male eloquently and passionately argued for higher female representation on the institute’s Board. Why was I surprised? Not because gender hasn’t rate in conversations about representation I have had in the past, but because this was the first and foremost criteria that was important to him. What was different here, was that he viewed it not just as a question of representation, but as something that would powerfully affect the way in which the Board ultimately exercised its role. It should be noted that representation was already at around 50-50.

    3. Work-life balance (shocked)
    Last week a colleague invited me to Friday night drinks. I gladly accepted and inquired what time we would meet. He said that they would head off no later than 4.30pm. Yes, I’ll admit it, I was shocked. Hasn’t the work day only just hit its stride by then? These people work hard, genuinely, but expectations are different. In my first meeting with my head of department, it was made abundantly clear that I am expected to have a life here. Results are a given, but everything else is not sacrificed in pursuit of them. These people change the world, they are driven, passionate and make public announcements like “I’m here because I want to make the world a better place” and yet they do it in such a way that doesn’t exclude the other choices we make about life… leading me to my final point.

    4. Assumed and actual shared parenting (delighted)
    A few days ago I was having a conversation with the middle-aged male deputy head of department. The discussion (somehow) turned to parenting. While gushing about the benefits of parenthood, he indirectly asked me if I wanted children. My guard immediately went up. I’m 30. In Australia, certainly according to Australian Human Rights Commission reports on pregnancy and discrimination, I should be wary of any line of questioning about intended motherhood. I hedged my response… I hummed and hawed about building my career. By the end of the conversation it was clear to me that he wasn’t sounding me out about when I might cause a disruption to the workplace, but was genuinely sharing his own joy about being a father (and what a great place Sweden is for doing so). In the space of two weeks there have been announcements about two senior men going on parent leave – one for a year, and the other for an undetermined period. One woman returned from parent leave, another is on leave, and the person with whom I share an office is pregnant with her fourth child.

    Ok, two things to note: I work for a human rights organisation and I have only been here for two weeks. I reserve the right to review my preliminary analysis. Yet, the questions have to be asked: What social, cultural, or political factors have promoted this change? What our our expectations – of ourselves, our colleagues, or workplaces? What do we want to change?

    • Meg – thanks so much for sharing these learnings – it sounds amazing! I can see some parallels in the workplace culture we try to create at Make Believe, in terms of not assuming you have to give up your entire life to do social change work; and working hard during the day but leaving work at a reasonable hour and not being expected to work weekends etc. After you’ve been there a month or more, I’d love you to write a guest post expanding on your initial comments about what lessons you think Australian nonprofits could take away from what’s happening in your workplace. And when you do come back to Australia (are you coming back?) you should run a workshop/ training on this!

  4. I always thought you and the other AYCC ladies dominated the climate movement! 😉

    Seriously, though, this is a great post. I’ve always thought of you as someone who combines her natural femininity with gravitas and conviction really well (and in fact, I’ve raised you as an example of this in several conversations about the topic), so it’s really interesting to read about your experiences in this area and the advice you’d offer to others.

    I work in a very different area, obviously, but one which like yours is fortunately very conducive to networking. I find the easiest, most natural way to do it for me is simply to involve others in the things I’m passionate about, whether it’s inviting someone to speak at an event or interviewing them for an article. I continue to find the “mentoring” thing a bit tricky, though.

    Also loved the tips on conflict, negotiation and going through the letters of the alphabet if you’re struggling to find something to talk about.

    • Hey Rachel – thanks so much for posting, an honour to have such a wonderful blogger reading my stuff! Glad you found some of it useful. I find the issue of “femininity” vs. “gravitas” interesting – I am by nature less serious than most people, verging on possibly too fun/ silly at times – but I don’t find it hard to bounce back to “serious” when politics comes up in a conversation (as it inevitably does). But I do wonder whether it means it looks like I have a split personality!

  5. Donnie Maclurcan says:

    Hey Anna,

    Thank you so much for this post. Some thoughts:

    1. In this day and age, I don’t think it’s good enough that events like: ‘Creative Innovation 2010’ (http://www.ci2010.com.au/women_speakers.html) say they tried to contact as many women as men and that the women just “…pulled out or were unable to subsequently make the dates”. This seems to lack a sensitivity to factoring this in. Perhaps organisers can consider over-compensating in their invites to women if this proves to be a reoccurring theme?
    2. What if men were a little more critical of themselves in self-promoting when they knew there was a likely gender-inequity involved in an event/employment situation and that greater equity would do the world a whole lot more good? Lately, if I’ve been asked to speak at a conference, apply for a scholarship or job, I’ve tried to pause and think, is this a role/opportunity that, holistically (and a merit-based approach aside) would gain more by having a woman rather than a man. For conference panels/speaking, I try to find out what diversity is expected amongst participants, make a point of passing on the details of others that I feel would increase diversity and even refusing events when I know there will be no gender equity on a panel, for example. With some proud self-promotion, I’m happy to say that when we launch Australia’s first Youth Speakers’ Bureau (http://uThinc.com.au) in the coming month, we’ll have an equal amount of men and women as well as a great deal of cultural diversity.
    3. Another idea for ‘finding one’s voice’ beyond watching Youtube videos might be to check-out the services of http://Timnoonan.com.au. His free newsletter is great.
    4. I’ve also found it of value in my own work to seek out other men with a liberal/eco-feminist bent and those in touch with their own femininity.
    5. Not sure about the suit thing – I gave mine up a few years ago as I feel it really symbolises and possibly perpetuates the mainstream ‘masculine dominator’ narrative, but certainly hear what you are saying about the confidence levels and respect that I have no real ability for insight into your experiences in male-dominated meetings, etc.

    Congrats again on such a great article!


  6. Thanks Donnie! Responses to your points:

    1. Agree – just asking female speakers isn’t enough – it’s not as if there aren’t enough amazing women out there to ask as back-up speakers if original speakers pull out. And yes, this means paying speakers fees, to make it worth people’s time, especially if they are carers for children or parents or have crazily busy jobs.

    2. That is an awesome attitude to have. Wish more men were as gender-aware as you. And congrats on the speakers’ bureau!

    3. I’ll check out Tim Noonan. Someone else I can recommend is Michael Margolis and his website/ newsletter “Get Storied” http://www.getstoried.com

    5. Yes, suit has helped me – would probably feel differently about it if I was a man 🙂

  7. Point # 8: Understand “hard” Politics

    OK, so I got thinking this morning while watching ‘Insiders’ and realised I have one more piece of advice for young female climate activists. And that is – understand the broader political context in which we work! For years as a student activist, I would read news about climate change but nothing else. Which meant I had close to zero understanding of the “hard politics” of passing climate change legislation. It’s not enough to be an expert in “campaigning” – because you can’t win a campaign in a vaccum! You win it in the political & social arena.

    So: my advice here is simple: every Sunday Morning
    1. 8am – 8.30am Watch Meet the Press on Channel 10
    2. 8.30 – 9.00 Eat breakfast (or watch AM Agenda if you have Sky news channel)
    2. 9am – 10am Watch Insiders on the ABC

    And if you’re awake late enough on weeknights – watch Lateline. Note – if you don’t have a TV you can watch all these on internet TV later on.

  8. Hey Anna- like the document a lot.
    I would add or emphasise (probably under your heading of “Be Confident”) not to take criticism as being wrong.
    Criticism from others is healthy, but sometimes it can be delivered in less than an appropriate manner.
    Especially in relating to what you are talking about if the person who is the campaigner is both (a) a woman and (b) young then it could be expected that unfair stereotypes might sometimes frame criticism.

    Working from the premise that “objections are our best friend”, women should need not become defensive or wilt in the face of unfair criticism but rather ask why it has come toward them, and what does this convey about the situation which they can use for further leverage.

    Sometimes criticism is dished out unfairly when the argument is too strong.
    Weather the storm.

  9. Pingback: Make Believe | Where’s the heart? Valuing women in public life, and a different kind of leadership

  10. Pingback: Women & A Different Kind of Leadership | The World by Us

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