International Women’s Day: women high up

Emily Cooper


In honour of International Women's Day, we have spoken to some of the amazing women from the Rivers Trust movement about their careers. Last time, we spoke to Ursula Juta: the Education & Catchment Manager from Norfolk Rivers Trust. While Ursula works primarily in the field, today's interviewee, Bella Davies, works as the Trust Director for South East Rivers Trust. Find out what Bella had to say about her career in the interview below. What is your role within the Rivers Trust movement? What does a typical day look like? I’m Trust Director for the South East Rivers Trust. There’s no such thing as a typical day – that’s one of the reasons I enjoy my job! What’s your favourite thing about your current role? The variety and that I’m learning new things all the time. Also that we’re part of a bigger network of rivers trusts and collectively we deliver a tremendous amount and make a real difference. As a woman, have you faced any particular challenges during your career? I think I’ve been incredibly lucky and I feel like I’ve faced very few challenges compared with many people, and I’ve always felt supported in my choices. I don’t think the conservation sector is an aggressively male and competitive environment, which you hear about in many other sectors. I have always found the RT movement incredibly supportive as everyone has a common interest of improving rivers and their catchments and an infectious passion that makes it a really positive environment to work in. However, it’s not until you stop and think about it you realise just how engrained gender stereotypes are within society and that change is rather slow. So whilst I’ve always felt supported in my career, there are plenty of everyday things that can hold you back and sometimes getting your voice heard can be hard. I have had several slightly awkward moments in my current role like being a guest at traditional gentlemen’s clubs where no-one’s quite sure where women are or are not allowed to go, not to mention no-one knows where the ladies’ loo is! What are the current challenges faced by women in your sector? I think it can be a very male dominated sector, particularly if you include many of the groups we work with such as anglers and famers. I remember going to my first award ceremony when I was a few months in the job, which was attended by c.130 people and fewer than 10 were women. But I think things are changing and there are certainly more women in the conservation sector than there used to be. I’ve never experienced active discrimination against women in our sector (although I have heard the odd tale) but the unconscious bias will always be there until we improve our diversity. We need to keep encouraging more diversity into our sector, not just women, but a diverse array of people from a variety of backgrounds bringing a range of views. We need to start in schools to capture the imagination of all children and show them how wonderful nature and watery habitats are and that they’re worth protecting and restoring. Closer to home, I think many charities in our sector need to improve their Board diversity. By leading from the top, this will make their organisations more inclusive and attractive to a wider variety of people, from employees to supporters, and ultimately they will be more rounded and resilient organisations.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a woman thinking of starting a career in your job area? Go for it! It’s a very rewarding career. Is there a particular woman who inspires you? There are plenty of women who inspire me and it’s difficult to choose between them! I think I’d have to say my group of ‘wonder women’ friends. We met at school when we were 11 and each person is an inspiration in how they’ve tackled a multitude of trials and tribulations, conquered all sorts of difficulties and still manage to smile and have a good laugh. They have taught me that it will all be alright in the end - and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end! If you could travel back in time to the very beginning of your career, what would you tell your younger self? I was lucky enough to know I wanted a career in protecting the environment from an early age, so I think I’d tell my younger self to jump right in and get as much experience as possible. That said, I’d also encourage my younger self to be more confident. It’s well known that there can be a difference in confidence and self-assurance between men and women which affects working life, from applying for a job, to putting yourself forward for a promotion, to leading a group of stakeholders. If this is something we are all more aware of we can support those who are unnecessarily second guessing themselves to achieve more and have a more fulfilling career.
If you are interested in finding your place in the Rivers Trust movement, check out our jobs board.
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