We are delighted to announce the new Hub Lead for the Women in Sustainability Network Hub in London!
Yousra Salem will be leading the WINS London Hub, continuing the great work that former Hub Lead, Dr Victoria Hands, had been doing.
We caught up with Yousra to ask her some questions about her background in sustainability and what she’s looking forward to as she begins her new journey as a WINS Hub Lead!
As a woman in Sustainability, can you tell us a little about your background?
I am Egyptian-British living in London. I started my career in oil and gas with Schlumberger in sales and marketing in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2012 I moved to the UK with a job in the BP supply chain team for Iraq, then later joined the global team.
Seeing the devastating environmental impacts in my industry and climate change exacerbating global inequalities, I decided to embark on a transformative journey and move to sustainability. So, in 2020, I went back to university and have recently completed a master’s degree in environment and sustainable development from University College London, one of my proudest career achievements.
Alongside work, I am active in social networks advocating for gender parity and participation, a topic I have been passionate about since I was a child.
What unique qualities do you bring (as a woman) that make a difference in what you do?
A person’s experiences and ways of navigating the world have, without a doubt, the greatest influence on shaping who they are as a unique individual. I am no different, and certainly, my journey left its mark on my personality, attitude, and perspective.
My perseverance and resilience enabled me to survive and thrive working in a male-dominated industry and overcome the cultural stigmatization of women pursuing international careers. Of course, it is normal to have an array of emotional experiences whenever faced with challenges. After all, we are human; what matters is to learn when and how to pick ourselves up and anchor ourselves into a more positive state.
Building relationships and establishing human connections are my strength as I cultivate humility, empathy, and respect. Furthermore, living and working in many places exposed me to different cultures, which made me value diversity and the novel perspectives it brings to teams. Diversity enriches our experiences and enables representation and participation, which are vital in solving the world’s socio-environmental problems and delivering a just transition.
What drew you to the Women in Sustainability Network?
Women’s networking groups have unique energy to them. We have always felt the need for a different kind of professional space; entrepreneurs like Rhian have successfully fulfilled that through WINS. I have been to WINS events in the past and enjoyed meeting women from different backgrounds who share my passion and enthusiasm for conceiving a better future. In addition, we had the chance to share our experiences and exchange advice specific to the challenges women face. I also benefited from the invaluable resources and the insights I accessed through the network, which furthered my personal and professional development.
You are taking over the Hub for the WINS Network in London, following Dr Victoria Hands stepping down in 2019. What are you looking forward to in re-establishing this WINS Network Hub? What are your plans and intentions?
I am delighted that I will soon be relaunching WINS in London. With the mainstreaming of sustainability, women have a vast potential to utilize their inherent skills and qualities, which are essential in climate leadership. I look forward to providing spaces where women can come together and unlock the knowledge the world needs for a corrective path to the future. I plan to maximize the opportunities for women to co-learn and access information on SDGs in different fields to find their purpose and follow their passion.
I want women, including myself, to feel empowered by having the support of people who are walking the same path and connecting with groups encouraging the collaborative values I have always nurtured. Therefore, I commit myself to create an inclusive platform where women in all their diversity can engage, act, and become what they want to be.
Having worked in the oil and gas industry you witnessed first-hand the social and environmental impacts of oil spills, accidents, and pollution. What was it about that experience that made you able to turn your climate fear into action by exploring the world of research and pursuing an academic qualification in Sustainability?
People ask me this question all the time; they ask me about major incidents in the industry leaving unremedied impacts on people and the planet. I have always been concerned about the transboundary effects of extraction manifesting in the uneven distribution of benefits and environmental ills. Similarly, GHG emissions and spills are wrecking our climate and polluting our natural systems.
Delving into research gave me hope as I discovered possibilities to heal the planet and restore its self-correcting functions, enabling it to regenerate. Research also helped me connect with people’s stories and establish the connection between social and environmental injustices I was oblivious to before. I remembered times around polluted sites when I couldn’t turn my eyes away from gender inequality and extreme poverty. Climate change will exacerbate ecological damage, which will disproportionately impact vulnerable groups, primarily women, children, and the poor, so tackling the climate crisis is a matter of justice as much as it relates to reducing emissions.
In your opinion, what are some of the main challenges facing women working within Sustainability? How do you think being a part of your local Hub community can help?
Sustainability careers are certainly more progressive than conventional careers in driving societal changes on gender equality. However, despite the progress, there are still barriers, like unequal pay and other forms of gender bias. Being part of a local community amplifies women’s voices and the challenges we face and empowers us to navigate our way. We can communicate our points of view and advocate for change by highlighting the benefits of inclusion to societies through the community. I found the recent survey conducted by WINS and Newcastle university very impactful in highlighting barriers affecting women’s authority, agency, and influence on decision making.
What excites you about the future?
The rise of justice movements and discourses translates into a future with responsible utilization of natural resources, more affordable renewable energy, fairer societies with no racial or gender discrimination, commitments, and moral obligations to intergenerational rights. The change might be slow, but it is undoubtedly happening. I can see promising action across different sectors to address historical inequities, more representation, and inclusion of underrepresented groups, including women. More organizations are pursuing systemic changes to accommodate people and promote a care and well-being culture. There is increasing awareness and understanding of intersectionality and the compounded biases that arise when gender is interwoven with factors like race, class, age, sexuality, disability, and more.
What are the opportunities for women wishing to work in some way to tackle the climate and ecological crises?
Women’s intuitive skills and genuine interest in sustainability are vital to solving the climate and ecological crises. Since these challenges touch on all aspects of our lives, women as caregivers have always used their traditional knowledge to find natural solutions to cut GHG emissions in resource conservation, waste management, agriculture, and food security.
Women can influence behavioural changes in the workplace and educate themselves and others on the hidden environmental costs of purchased goods and services. They can also encourage their teams to make their jobs more sustainable through reducing transport miles, responsible sourcing, and enabling supply chain traceability, transparency, and trust.
Women can look for volunteering opportunities to help charities, cooperatives, and NGOs. They can also contribute to discussions in sustainability social or professional networks.
Women have been at the forefront of climate adaptation and rescue efforts during climate disasters, and most of their work is still unrecognized and unpaid. Therefore, there is a crucial role for women to play in advocacy to affect policy changes and social reforms to overcome the gendered vulnerabilities of climate change and barriers to accessing resources, funding for their activities, and investing in care and health protection.
What is the question you wish people would ask you, and what is your answer?
Q. What can we do to further the mainstreaming and progress of sustainability?
My answer would be to collaborate and replace competition with collaboration.
We are facing significant challenges in this decisive decade; we won’t succeed without recognizing one another’s strengths. The pandemic has demonstrated the power of collaboration and shown how reliant we are on each other to find solutions for our complex problems. This collaboration will enable us to pool our efforts to accelerate action and unleash innovation to co-create a thriving society and planet.
“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.”