Jane Toothill is a Managing Director at JBA Risk Management.
To mark International Women's Day 2021, the Disaster Risk Management Professional Practice Group (DRM PPG) asked Jane about her experiences of working in Disaster Risk Management (DRM), the challenges women working in this field face and what advice she would give to other female geographers.
After a BSc in Geology and PhD in Volcanology, I worked for EQECAT and Guy Carpenter developing catastrophe models. I joined JBA in 2008, where we founded JBA Risk Management three years later. I’ve also worked as an International Mountain Leader and as a scientist at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. I’d thoroughly recommend cat modelling and disaster risk management as an interesting and varied area of work that brings together a fascinating range of disciplines and people.
If you’re studying geography as a first degree, it’s worth thinking about the specialisms you want to develop. Additional expertise in maths, computer programming or statistics, for example, will be attractive to many companies. Speaking experience and writing skills are always helpful.
As business leaders we need to address gender equality in the broader context of diversity and inclusion. This means setting up an environment where people are recognised and valued for what they are good at. Beyond creating policies to promote equality, it’s important to ensure a strong population of female leaders to set the right example of achievement and encourage younger women.
Unfortunately, we function within a society characterised by ingrained and often unconscious bias, exacerbated by advertising and the media. We need to play our part within our own organisations and communities to drive positive change looking beyond gender and see people for what they truly are.
In my own life, I’ve worked in traditionally male-dominated areas of business with the expectation that I can and will perform as well as men. When I’ve done this, it’s resulted in fair and unbiased treatment. This might be luck, but I’d like to think it comes in some part from self-belief and a positive attitude that triggered the right response from others.
Disaster risk management is a global business and can lead us to work in a range of different cultures with a range of different attitudes to women. This has to be acknowledged and we should respect the views of cultures that differ from our own, even if we disagree with some of those views.
If I limit my response to the experiences I’ve had working in US/European/UK culture, I’ve come across remarkably few examples of gender bias – one example involving one individual that I can think of. As a result of that individual’s attitude, I quietly chose not to work further on his project and I seem to remember he lost the tender he was bidding for - maybe he would have done better had he been more open to using my skills! But that was his choice and became his problem – not mine.
The answer is no different for men or women. I’m inspired by people who are brave, who overcome challenges, and who stand up for their beliefs or their vision. To pick some inspirational female role models, then from very different backgrounds and for very different reasons, I think Helen Keller, Alison Hargreaves and Greta Thunberg are all worthy of mention.
Don’t dwell on your gender and the difference it makes; you risk perpetuating inequality. Do your job well, meet the challenges you’re set, excel at what you do - and enjoy every minute of it.
* This interview was undertaken in 2021 and was correct at the time of publication. Please note that the featured individual may no longer be in this role, but the profile has been kept for career pathway and informational purposes.
Job title: Managing Director
Organisation: JBA Risk Management
Location: Skipton, UK
This group brings together risk-focused professionals from across disaster risk reduction, re/insurance, humanitarian, governmental and academic sectors, to promote best practice and uncover latent geographical knowledge, skills and practice they have in common.
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