Please join us in welcoming the new Women in Sustainability Network Hub Lead for London; Dr Victoria Hands. To introduce her properly, we thought we’d ask a few questions about her career and views on women in sustainability. Read on to find out a bit more about Victoria…
1. As a changemaker within your industry, tell us a bit more about your background?
I could never throw anything away (where is ‘away’?) and as a child and young adult kept all sorts of bits and pieces that might one day be useful or could potentially be repaired. It was a bit embarrassing as I had so much ‘stuff’. It was in my final year of studies at Royal Holloway, University of London that I took a module on Environmental Politics and realised that I was normal and it was the throw-away society we live in that doesn’t work.
I studied a MSc in Environmental Policy at Lancaster University and conducted my first environmental audit. My dissertation was on the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and I found myself arguing for exemption for medical devices which was adopted. I learned how to conduct research at London South Bank University and lived in halls of residence where there was a lot of waste I couldn’t see thrown away. I asked the Mayor of London to provide recycling bins in all of London’s circa 200 halls of residence and won funding to lead on that work. I then tackled end-of-term waste and established reuse projects donating unwanted items to local charities which was adopted nationally.
I worked on sustainability indicators on the Elephant and Castle Regeneration Project in Southwark, as part of a European funded project between local authorities and universities. I then read for my PhD at the London School of Economics and worked part-time as their Environmental Coordinator. I wrote business cases to grow the team to 7 FTE and established the Sustainability in Practice lecture series, a 10p water bottle tax, bee hives and vegetable growing.
I have spent the last 7 years as Director of Sustainability at Kingston University. Highlights include procuring a hybrid bus service reducing particulate matter and nitrous oxides by over 90% and establishing reuse services for students and staff.
2. Why lead a WINS Hub in London?
I love meeting people and learning from them. I also enjoy introducing people who may be able to help each other move forward faster and encouraging everyone to keep an empowering context. I ran the London Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges (EAUC) regional events for a number of years. At our peak, we were around 40 sustainability professionals meeting monthly and sharing best practice, lessons learned and asking for help. This peer-to-peer learning was freely quoted as one of the key enablers in supporting change at the time. London is full of inspirational women making positive change a reality, so it is a real privilege to take on this role.
3. What is the biggest challenge you see ‘women in sustainability’ struggling with? What are your insights on the best solutions to this?
Like women in all sectors ‘women in sustainability’ face a range of challenges within the existing masculine-dominated working environment, behaviours and cycles of work. Reports such as the gender pay gap, required since 2017, are helping bring the facts to the forefront. The 2019 pay gap was just over 17% for all employees, almost 9% for full-time and around 3% for part-time.
However, women seem to have a natural ability in the skills which support sustainability and which we all (men and women) need to strengthen, such as long-term and global thinking, prevention, integration, collaboration and involvement (recognised as the Sustainable Development Principle in the Welsh Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015).
Self-care is so important and the societal transformation required now may be more about how we are being than what we are doing. So the best solutions I feel can be summarised in these five simple practices (developed for Public Health Wales 2018)
1. Wake up – be informed, via lived experience, common sense and scientific data, of the true impacts of current ways of working. Be alert for simple changes to implement now and others which can be planned and phased.
2. Wise up – learn knowledge, skills and behaviours to embed the five ways of working in daily practice. Develop new capacities by learning from and sharing with others. Experiment to find solutions which can be scaled up.
3. Sharpen up – to develop new evidence, metrics and measures reflective of current and future well-being – the old measures will reproduce the old outcomes. Use existing data to stop activities with negative impacts.
4. Show up – as a leader now, as the expert you are in your existing field of influence. You do not need to have the answers, you can ask questions on behalf of future generations and collaborate to find solutions.
5. Shout up – on behalf of future generations, to communicate what is working now which we can expand upon, to share new stories of experimentation, learning and change to support the well-being of future generations.
4. What keeps you motivated and positive when things get tough?
An attitude of gratitude – we are all so privileged to live in times of peace and safety with an abundance of clean water, food and shelter. I always feel humbled and refocused when I read about indigenous defenders of the Amazon and other women for whom this is not a given. Networks like WINS provide a sense of community and belonging. We can always pick up the phone to someone. Allowing the wonder of nature is nourishing and practicing yoga and mindfulness always helps.
5. Why should women working to create positive change attend the WINS Network Hub in London?
The WINS events will enable like-minded women to meet with others who care, explore issues of mutual importance, give to and receive from the collective and hopefully feel a sense of belonging and purpose which sustains into those situations when a woman needs to draw on all her resources to ensure positive change in the world.