Bright Green Enterprise

Archive: Feb 2019

Women and Girls in Science

Dedicating the 11th of February to women and girls in science is the UN’s way of promoting gender equality, promoting the access to STEM subjects for women and girls, and recognising their contributions to scientific developments across the world.

The UN say that both science and gender equality are crucial for achieving the development goals, which makes sense really, as women do make up half of this world’s population. It would be foolish of us to exclude that number of intelligent, resourceful, innovative minds from the solving of our planet’s very greatest issues. But, that’s what we are doing. That is what has continually happened, across the ages. And, even when women have been permitted to poke a toe into the waters of science, they have been conveniently ‘forgotten’ when it comes to being acclaimed for their work.

But, let’s today not look at the why this is. Gender imbalance, in all fields and subject matters, can be argued about for days, and cannot be whittled down to one simple reason. There it is, gender inequality, and how we view gender, is due to a myriad of complex, intertwined (archaic) belief systems, that seep into how we behave in every aspect of our lives. So, let’s not unpack that today.

The fact is, there are far less women in science than there are men. The stats are there. This needs no discussion. UNESCO data from 2014 – 2016 shows that only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related subjects in higher education; these numbers decrease even further at doctorate level. Furthermore, only around 30% of all scientific and technological researchers are women. Phew.

The levels of women and girls varies greatly between subjects too, with biology at school being dominated by girls, but physics still a greatly male arena. Even with greater numbers of girls studying these subjects at school-level, across all subjects we see the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect – with numbers gradually dropping the further along the educational and professional pathway.

I spoke to a friend recently who received a first class masters of physics, with honours in astrophysics, and is now going on to study medicine at Oxford. Yes, wow. I asked her about her experiences and perceptions regarding the other women who studied with her, and she told me plainly – there just weren’t very many of them. Only around 10% of the students in her course were women, and the professors, except for a small handful, were all men. Whilst her experience at an all-girls school meant there was no gender disparity in STEM subjects at a secondary level, she heard plenty of stories from fellow students about teachers commenting, ‘girls won’t be interested in this’, and generally creating unsupportive environments.

Thankfully, my friend had parents who were incredibly supportive of her interest in this field, and made sure she could do anything she put her mind to. Her mother worked in medicine, and her father always encouraged the exploration of science – leading to a family intrigued and inspired to follow their enquiring minds into whichever field they so desired.

Interestingly, she also commented that she never felt she was treated differently by her teachers or professors, but some of the male students were not so welcoming. Refusing to ask the women for help, or not listening to answers and advice, she felt there was occasionally a ‘vibe’ from some male students of maintaining a gendered divide. Naturally, this lead the women to collaborate amongst themselves, and thankfully didn’t appear to affect their studies.

Whilst I’m sure we can all agree that women nurturing women is a fantastic way to inspire more young minds to follow in their footsteps, it would really be beneficial if men also fought for this. Yes, we need that large number of male leaders to push for greater numbers of girls at secondary levels, but, importantly, maintain that encouragement throughout their journey in STEM careers, so that the number of executive-level, socially recognised, and critically acclaimed women grows, to reach a more balanced playing field.

Some of the women and girls making strides in science…

In 2018, Dr Donna Strickland won the Nobel prize in physics, due to her work in the field of lasers. She is the third woman to win this prize.

Also in 2018, Dr Frances Arnold won the Nobel prize in chemistry, becoming the fifth ever woman to do so.

In August 2018, more than 80 girls from 34 African countries attended the first Coding Camp in Ethiopia. The African Girls Can CODE Initiative is designed to equip girls with coding and personal development skills, and digital literacy – setting them on track to pursue careers in ICT.

Balancing the science-scales
Recognising the influence that women and girls can have in scientific and technological advancements is just the first step on the way to creating a more inclusive industry. Achieving gender parity has been highlighted as an absolute necessity for sustainable development, and achieving the global goals.

As Lakshmi Puri proclaimed at the official UN commemoration in 2017,

“We must ensure that women’s participation in innovation is not the exception, but becomes the norm.”
Read her full speech here. 

Author: Rachel Calnan

Women in Business: an Interview with Hanna Pumfrey


Today, I am delighted to bring to you a conversation that I recently had with the founder of Acala, Hanna Pumfrey. Acala is a beautiful online store, offering its customers organic, natural and vegan health and beauty products. All products are packaged responsibly – not a single piece of plastic in sight!

I invited Hanna to tell us about her journey with Acala, what it is like being a ‘woman in business’, and how we can encourage the next generation of future entrepreneurs.

So, Hanna, I have read that you started Acala after a personal ‘wake-up call’, due to the excessive amount of waste in your office which inspired you to begin your own zero-waste lifestyle. Thanks to that journey, Acala now reaches out to a huge audience, making the transition to zero-waste health and beauty more open and more accessible. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the beginnings of Acala, or what inspired you?

You have it totally right, the waste I was seeing everyday through my office job in London was what inspired me to begin making changes in my own life. I found that I was able to find health and beauty products with fancy ingredients that were great for me, but were likely causing environmental damage and human rights infringements, i.e. through using oils that cause deforestation, for example. And, they were all packaged in single-use plastic. So, my goal with Acala is to provide options that are not only good for people, but for the planet too, and that stretches across everything – from the ingredients used, the manufacturing process and the packaging.
Amazing! Now, sustainability is a word that is important for many eco-friendly businesses, but it is often hard to translate what it means for ordinary people, and everyday life. What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability to me is about only taking from the earth what you really need. We do not need half of the items (well, likely more like 90%) that marketing tells us we do. On a personal level, to me sustainability means being very conscious about my consumption and my actions. I aim to tread as lightly as I can and to always give back to the earth where possible.

I love that definition! I completely agree, we have become so used to being sold, and using, a multitude of products and items, but at what cost? What I really love about your messages, is that not only are you providing customers with packaging-free options, but you actively encourage people to consider their consumption habits, and ideally, use less products. (I especially love the DIY section on the website, and your fantastic homemade recipes!)

There is encouraging growth in women-owned businesses in the UK, but women still face far greater barriers within leadership and entrepreneurship roles. What are some of the barriers you have faced, and how did you overcome them?

I completely agree with this and see examples of where women still face challenges every day. I have to be honest though and say, through the Acala journey I do not feel that I have faced any challenges purely because of my gender. My approach to everything in both life and business is very much ‘if I want to achieve it, I will achieve it’. It’s about working hard, about presenting yourself as the right person or business for the role. It is about resilience and knowing that there will be lows, but that they make you stronger and improve the way you approach things, leading to greater success in the future.

That is so true. Even if you don’t face barriers directly linked to gender, there are still bound to be highs and lows, in any industry. Resilience is such an important attribute, and helps you to really learn from those challenges, whilst using them to power you forward.
Whilst we can always hope to grow from such challenges, it is so important to surround yourself with people who support, encourage, and inspire you. Who are the women who inspire you?

There are so many inspirational women in the sustainable and ethical business space.

Some of my top inspirations are:

Sophie Benson: Ethical stylist and journalist- Sophie Benson

Elizabeth Rees: Founder of ElizaEliza

Sophie Rae: Founder of Zero Waste shop Ripple Living

Emma Ross: Zero Waste Parenting Expert – Mamalina
We’ll definitely be checking them out, we love supporting women-owned businesses! What do you think is the best way women can support each other?

Through honesty and collaboration. It is one of the biggest benefits of more women-owned businesses; stats show that women are much likely to look for opportunities of collaboration over competition, leading to stronger communities and services.
Collaboration over competition is a great concept to remember, and not just in working life. More collaborative working can surely only bring about greater success, and more diverse, inclusive outcomes. Speaking of outcomes, what are your hopes for 2019? For Acala and for the planet!

Sssh a secret, at the end of January we will be launching subscription services so that our customers can get all of their essentials when they need them, direct to their door. This means they’ll never run out of shampoo, toothpaste etc and have to run out to buy a non-natural, plastic packaged option from a nearby shop. This is the first step towards us creating a completely waste-free service for our customers, as in the next few months we will launch the options for customers to return their jars and bottles to us, for sanitisation and refill in our reusable packaging. Ultimately though, my hope is that Acala becomes obsolete… that awareness and demand for better options and ways of living continues to grow, so that the big retailers like Boots and Superdrug are forced to make a change for the better.

My hopes for the planet – that we can curb the downward spiral that we are currently on to create a planet that can happily harbour the life of all species, for generations to come.

Wow! This is very exciting, we’ll be keeping our eyes out for those refill options!

Now, thinking about our younger generations. At Bright Green Enterprise, we highlight the importance of skills such as leadership, critical thinking and public-speaking, for young people and their future. We believe these skills are not only beneficial for employment and business life, but for use in the big, wide world. Can you tell us what skill(s) you have found most valuable in your journey with Acala?

I think this is really important. I think for me there are two key skills that I have found useful through the Acala journey so far; resilience and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Starting a business is a journey. There will be highs and lows and it’s important to embrace these and to remember to enjoy the process, as well as to know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s ok to not be good at everything, the most important thing is recognising this, and then delegating this work to someone who is good at it, so that you can focus on the things that you are strong in. This will help your business move forward much faster.

Absolutely, recognising where you shine can really help to boost confidence, and broaden your potential choices. We’ve seen some incredible examples of young entrepreneurs, and really believe the next generation are the real change-makers. What do you think young people can do/are doing to help save our planet?

I completely agree with this. Young people are growing up with so much more awareness of environmental issues than older generations, and the desire to make a change. Young people are using tools like social media to campaign for changes to policy and law, and that is really huge and pretty new. I think what young people can do is what we can all do; vote with our wallets and lifestyles. I hear so often people saying ‘well they’re not going to stop making it, so what difference does it make if I buy it or don’t buy it’, or ‘well the (long haul) flight is going anyway, so what difference does it make if I buy a ticket?’ The reality is it makes a huge difference. Yes, one person cannot change the world but our individual actions, coming together as a collective, force our governments and corporations to change; to create the world and products that we demand, as ultimately that’s the only way they too can survive.

We couldn’t agree more. Whilst it is hard to see individual actions having the big impact we might hope for, the unison of collective actions is where change really comes from. We can all join together, by making individual choices, to change the way things work for the benefit of all.
Thank you so much Hanna, it has been such a pleasure getting to pick your brains, and learn more about the story behind Acala. We look forward to following your journey with Acala, and hope to see your messages spreading even further.

Make sure you head over to the
Acala website, and browse all of their lovely products!

Author: Rachel Calnan

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