The Disaster Risk Management Professional Practice Group (DRM PPG) asked Lucy 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.
How did you get to where are you are today and what advice would you give to young female geographers looking to get into Disaster Risk Management (DRM)?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a time of great storytelling. Dante’s Peak, Twister, and Armageddon are some of the films that got me interested in disaster risk management. I realised I liked learning about how the world works, and the interaction between book perfect science and the real world was full of interesting interactions that I wanted to explore.
As part of my undergraduate degree I could do a year in industry, and after 30 'thank you but no thank you’s' from organisations, I emailed Bill McGuire after seeing him on a Channel 4 tsunami documentary. I ended up working with him and a group of wonderful people at the UCL Hazard Research Centre, which opened my eyes to the fact that I could make my curiosity into a job. It’s also where I met Rosa Sobradelo who was working on her PhD while I was there. Rosa told me about my current job at the Willis Research Network where I head up Emerging Risks and Geopolitical Risk research.
You can see the rest of my career pathway on my LinkedIn profile – I document it all because I think it’s important to give visibility. Find an area you’re interested in and reach out to people working in those fields for opportunities – you never know where it will lead.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for leadership roles today and how can we promote gender equality?
Accelerating the pipeline of talent and creating opportunities. With it being International Women's Day the focus is on highlighting women, but it’s an issue for all areas of diversity and everyone has a part to play in creating equality and equity. It’s not going to happen if we wait for someone else to do it, so find an issue and start chipping away.
Back in 2015, Owen Barder started a pledge that caught my eye to not appear on male-only panels. A quote in his FAQs sticks with me to this day: “What happens if we have tried to find women but there is nobody available? Try harder. I’ll be happy to suggest some women who would be much better than me. You may need to organise your conference a little earlier to be sure of getting women on your panels”.
When I organise panels or projects it's something I always try to consider. Diversity of thought is essential for building resilience and preventing group-think, so if you’re in a leadership position then look at what you can do to support change and share opportunities, and if you’re in a team where promoting equality hasn’t been discussed, be brave and raise it.
Do you have any examples of where gender differences have surfaced in disaster risk management?
The one that sticks clearest in my mind came from work I did with Marla Petal on global school safety – Marla shared a Save the Children report that introduced me to gendered differences. There was speculation that the higher death rates for women may have been the result of gendered division of labour 'with more women indoors cooking and caring for young children may have contributed to some of this imbalance'.
There are a lot of hidden biases out there that you don’t see until they are pointed out. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez is an eye opener, and a friend at UCL (Dr Leonie Tanczer) has a newsletter on gender and IoT that fascinates me – there’s a lot of value in reading outside your sector to open your eyes to alternate views and find common problems.
What do you see in other females that inspires you?
Bravery and determination. Which looks different on everyone – it might be taking a public stand on an issue, or turning up to work every day in a hostile environment. Find inspiration, but don’t make comparisons – there’s no other you in the world.
My inspiration of the month is ex-Councillor Pam Barrett, who moved from Westminster to a small town in Devon, and began to see how badly the town was served by the town and regional councils, and took action. There’s a great podcast episode on it so I won’t spoil the story, but we could all be a bit more Pam (or support the Pam in your life) to get things done.
Finally, what is your message for fellow women in Disaster Risk Management?
Don’t wait to be asked – be brave.
* 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.