Nurturing passion and purpose
Rhian Sherrington describes the work of Women in Sustainability, encouraging women to follow their calling through community and collaboration
'Would women working across the sustainability sector see the value in coming together to explore challenges and share solutions, in a way that encouraged authentic connection?’
This was the question I posed as founder of the Women in Sustainability (WINS) Network in 2014. When more than 80 women turned up at a café in Bristol to discuss the idea, the answer was clear.
Women enjoy a different type of conversation when men are not in the room, creating a great opportunity to access new perspectives and support. Equality is about appreciating the value in diversity; for many women, this is not their experience – gender bias is having a negative impact.
WINS operates an event programme from five Network Hub locations – Bristol, London, Oxford, Manchester and Newcastle. It is based on a licence model: in return for an annual licence fee, each Hub lead is given everything needed to build a community and run value-packed events.
After attending the inaugural WINS London event in November 2017, Thalia Carr became the first licence holder. “Starting the Oxford Hub of WINS was a no-brainer,” she says. “My focus is on helping people to be confident, to avoid being overwhelmed and to enjoy their work. There are many committed women in the sustainability sector. It’s vital they don’t burn out or leave the profession. Our events provide a space for women to develop as resilient leaders, grow their network and flourish.”
Dr Jenny Davison is senior lecturer, leader development and organisation futures at Newcastle University Business School; she co-leads the WINS Newcastle Hub with Anne Macdonald. “Throughout my career I have always created networks to support me. We are building a community in the Newcastle Hub which offers a safe space for individuals to discuss topics that are important to them.”
To date, WINS has brought together more than 2,500 women at nearly 50 events. One example of how it is having an impact can be seen in Eve Nelson’s story. Eve attended a WINS Oxford event after finishing her BA in Biological Sciences at Oxford University. Networking there led to relevant work experience, and encouraged her to seek further specific advice. This helped Eve successfully apply to UCL, becoming its sustainability projects officer.
“WINS is fantastic for meeting like-minded women in the sustainability sector and hearing their career stories, while developing skills,” Eve says. She has organised for WINS London to meet at UCL on 18 June, helping to design that event.
WINS promotes the work of Catalyse Change, a social enterprise that helps young women build their knowledge, skills and resilience so they can realise change.
It delivers a summer camp and mentoring programme for women aged 14-24; for 2019, WINS will fund a bursary place to ensure that those from disadvantaged backgrounds can access both.
This spring sees the launch of the WINS Online Community Hub. This online learning platform offers expert-led master classes and access to the discussions and topics explored within the live events.
We have grown WINS in a collaborative and organic manner. I’d like to see that continue with more partnerships with organisations that share our values. Our latest survey showed demand for more Hubs, so we’ll be looking to issue more licences. My vision is for WINS to become a truly international network – and the next few years will be very exciting indeed.
Rhian Sherrington MSc ACC is founder, Women in Sustainability Network