3 ways to break the green glass ceiling

3 ways to break the green glass ceiling

Every industry has a proverbial glass ceiling. The sustainability sector is no different.

In April 2014, BusinessGreen.com published the results of a global “CR and Sustainability Salary Survey” produced by the green recruitment consultant Acre, management consultancy Carnstone, and marketing agency Flag. Results from interviews with 1,200 people working in corporate social responsibility showed that female sustainability professionals are earning less on average than their male counterparts. That’s a key gender equality issue present in the wider economy and equally reflected in green industries.

But in an employment category that philosophically prides itself on diversity and inclusion, why are women still facing these obstacles? Are there special conditions that exacerbate this situation in the green industries?

“Green industries are generally heavily based in science,” said Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University and co-chair of the United Nations Coalition on Health and the Environment: Climate Change Initiative. “Science and technology remain male-dominated arenas even with the advances of STEM education and other initiatives to narrow the gap. And scientists are often given leadership roles in green industries even when the functions of that position are less about science than leadership, organizational acumen, finance or other executive-level skills.”

What can women do to give themselves an edge? Here are three steps Wilson offers to help.

1. Gain some scientific knowledge

Even if you don’t plan to be a scientist.

This can be formal knowledge obtained through classroom training or on-the-job experience. An internship (often unpaid and sometimes for course credit) is a good way to begin.

How can you get these opportunities with a company, a non-governmental organization (NGO) or through a government-sponsored program?

  • Apply as an intern or volunteer to contribute a skill that an NGO might need, such as social media, writing and communications.
  • Be willing to learn – for example, conduct a water-sampling program for a summer on a local stream for an environmental engineering firm.
  • Ask to intern with a legislator who is promoting an environmental issue during a state legislative session.

These may turn into “real” jobs. Even if they don’t, the experience will be vital in helping punch through the green glass ceiling.

2. Network with professionals in green industries

Whether you take an internship, provide volunteer support or attend industry events, direct contact with working professionals in green industries will build your personal and professional network, add to your knowledge and help you be conversant in the language and nuances of your particular green field of interest.

Conferences offer a good opportunity to make connections and ask to work with, be mentored by or volunteer for an organization in your field of interest. This avenue is effective at any career level.

3. Use the resources available to you

Women are not without resources to move into the green industry and address the global cultural bias about women in leadership.

The United States Department of Labor is a fantastic resource that provides information about green jobs training and green employment.

In addition, Kaplan University’s Environmental Women of the World series displays the impact that women can have on the environmental field. The video and blog series narrated by Wilson highlights the outstanding contributions of five women who have changed the world with their pioneering research, unwavering commitment to their cause and mentorship of the next generation of environmental leaders.