Women fighting climate and ecological breakdown

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Composite image of five women of differing ethnicities smiling to the camera
Left to right: Tilly Elwell, Millie Prosser, Dr Andongma Awawing, Dr Annette Ryan and Dr Ali Birkett

On International Women’s Day, Dr Ally Gormally-Sutton celebrates some of the amazing, inspirational women from the Lancaster Environment Centre who are helping to create a more sustainable future.

Today, Tuesday 8 March marks International Women’s Day 2022, which recognises the unique contributions women make across the globe. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, with the UN’s focusing particularly on “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, celebrating women and girls’ leadership in the fight against climate change across the world.

To me this felt particularly apt being based in the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), where I have the privilege of working alongside, teaching and being inspired by some amazing women. So, I have decided to shout about a selection of them who are at different career stages, have taken different career paths and contribute to creating a more sustainable future in a myriad of ways. I hope that you will be inspired by them too. In this post I give you only a brief overview, so I would encourage you to click on the link for each of the women and find out more about their journey and success...

It would be easy to write this blog and only mention the, quite frankly, brilliant women on our academic staff, but I want to reflect women and their roles in the department as a whole.

Tilly Elwell, undergraduate BA (Hons) Geography

We start with Tilly Elwell. Tilly is a final year undergraduate student, who says her passion for the environment and awareness of the effects of climate change led her to study for a degree in Geography in LEC. Also inspired by the Arts, Tilly decided to combine her passions in her final year dissertation and researched “The successfulness in the communication of messages relating to environmental degradation through sculptural art. Tilly says: “Art can be a powerful tool in engaging people and helping them understand the challenges that are being faced. Sculptural art, in particular, adds an extra dimension to what can be communicated and learnt due to the three-dimension experience it can create”.

Millie Prosser, postgraduate researcher

Millie is currently studying for her Masters by Research in LEC after winning the undergraduate class prize for Natural Sciences at Lancaster in 2020, where she focused on a range of modules from environmental science to ecology. She’s now researching how local authorities can make carbon visible in their decision-making processes.

Millie says “I've worked on marshalling publicly available/existing methods to develop simple, transparent ways for them to estimate whole footprint (especially indirect or scope 3) emissions in house. The approach looks to utilise existing accounting and financial machinery already tracking the flows of money and empower authorities with the tools to also track the flows of carbon”.

Millie aspires to go on to study for a PhD and mentions those who have inspired her along the way, including Sylvia Earle, a pioneering woman in science and oceanographer. “I love how she speaks about the world and the work she does: it made me realise that I could do that too, that I was passionate and determined enough to pursue research and advocate for the natural world like her”.

Dr Andongma Awawing, Senior Research Associate

In the natural sciences end of the department, Awawing is working on developing cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly strategies for managing insect pests with the help of the microorganisms that live alongside them. The aim of the project is that these new generation pest management strategies will eventually replace the use of conventional chemical pesticides, which are detrimental to human health and the environment. Awawing says: “I believe this is crucial in achieving the UN SDG (Sustainable Development Goad) to ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’ by 2030”.

Dr Ali Birkett, Research Promotion Coordinator

It is important not to underestimate the value of those who work in professional and technical services and their pivotal roles in enabling research of global significance to take place. After a varied background pursuing her own research, Ali has now turned to her skills to, amongst many other things, science communication and helping researchers in LEC publicise their successes and findings.

Ali reflects of the diversity of what the role entails: “My diary for this week, for instance, includes being secretary for a departmental committee, contributing to a steering group that’s preparing a research conference, working with the University’s Press Office to promote a news story, editing some video for YouTube, managing three of the department’s social media platforms, helping our postgraduate researchers to plan a programme of public science engagement events, making changes to content on LEC’s website and sharing news of opportunities with colleagues by email. Recently, acting as coordinator for the department’s Sustainability Group has also come under my responsibilities”.

Dr Annette Ryan, Head of Technical services

Annette has been working in LEC for over 16 years and now leads a team of 22 technicians. Annette says: “It is my responsibility and duty to support the wellbeing of the technical staff in LEC and promote career and personal development opportunities for those staff as far as possible. As the head of one of the [University’s] largest teams of lab-based technicians, and a member of the University steering group on technician’s career pathways, I have the experience and opportunity to influence University policy on how it recognises and values technical staff”.

Let’s shout about women’s success

There is a reason why we purposefully celebrate International Women’s Day. It isn’t to brag (although maybe we should do more of that) or make it seems like we’re special. It’s in recognition that we operate in a world where there are still systemic barriers in place that can make it harder for women to excel and lead, regardless of talent. We know that this is an ongoing issue in the Academy, indeed that is why the Athena Swan Charter exists. We see it in the data and the leaky pipeline, and in our own anecdotal experiences. So, let’s celebrate the successes, let's shout about and be inspired by women who are leading in meaningful ways. And let us all create “gender equality today for a more sustainable future”.

Author biography

Dr Ally Gormally-Sutton is a Senior Lecturer in Geography in the Lancaster Environment Centre and also LEC's academic lead for Athena Swan. Her research interests include energy and society, and society and the underground.

During the writing of this blog, the women Ally talked with shared fascinating, insightful, and inspiring answers about what brought them to LEC, what their work involves and where they find their inspiration, as well as their views on sustainability. You can read these answers in full: International Women's Day 2022 Q&A.


The opinions expressed by our bloggers and those providing comments are personal, and may not necessarily reflect the opinions of Lancaster University. Responsibility for the accuracy of any of the information contained within blog posts belongs to the blogger.

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