My name is Alys Farndale, working at the Environment Agency as a Humber Strategy Officer and I am a Woman in FCERM.
I was asked to write a blog for the website to complement a series concentrating on ‘key figures from the industry’. This was both a compliment and surprise to me as for one, I have only been in the FCERM industry for less than five years and secondly, by no means class myself as a key figure from the industry. However, I hope to be one day and that day will only get closer if I throw myself at things like this. Therefore, I want to use this opportunity to talk about my early experience from as a fresh faced 20 year old starting a career in the organisation and the industry.
My career at the Environment Agency began in York back in September 2015 – just in time for the horrendous winter flooding that hit Yorkshire. Needless to say, I was thrown in at the deep end. In the New Year I had been moved into a team working on recovery following the winter 2015 in York. I found myself a lot of the time, attending meetings with others from the Environment Agency and our consultants, being surrounded by men and – more often than not – being the only woman in the room. I remember thinking to myself that this isn’t unusual as this type of job is orientated around engineering and generally (being stereotypical) attracts more men to the occupation than women. Coupling that with the fact that I was new to the industry, (and despite trying to reason with myself that my opinion was valuable), I found it incredibly intimidating and difficult to conjure up the courage to contribute.
However, during my time in the team I was fortunate enough to work with two great Women in FCERM (both who are significantly involved in this group) who helped kick-start my career in the Environment Agency. I certainly think that if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to pick up my first ever project and run with it. They were wonderful role models who supported, pushed me and most importantly trusted me with my work and contributions. That trust increased my confidence in my own abilities, which is exactly what I needed.
I am now in a team working on (another!) major project of which 12 out of 16 colleagues are women. It is empowering being surrounded by these remarkable, skillful and knowledgeable women, learning from them and their experience and seeing them lead on truly complicated and technical pieces of work. Within this team, the encouragement received from both my female and male peers and managers has made a huge difference, boosting my confidence and helping reduce my reluctance to speak up in meetings. Their attitude was infectious from the very beginning and has continued throughout the project.
I feel privileged to work in such a pioneering team but I know that this is not the case for all. Not everyone is fortunate enough to work in a team that is 75% female. Not everyone is aware of the unnerving feeling induced by being the only female in a meeting room full of men. Not everyone is subjected to subconscious bias from peers because the job they are doing doesn’t conform to the traditional gender-roles. Not everyone has the confidence they should to say what they think or thinks their input is valuable.
And this is why this group and the movement we are creating is incredibly invaluable, and incredibly important for all Women in FCERM. Together we can break down these barriers and help create an industry as diverse and interesting as the communities, systems and environment we are protecting.