Vanessa is a Senior Scientific Officer at DEFRA, based in Bristol.
To mark International Women's Day 2021, the Disaster Risk Management Professional Practice Group (DRM PPG) asked Vanessa 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.
Read Vanessa's career profile
I started my career through the 'classical' route; a BSc in Geology and Geography followed by a postgraduate degree in Disaster Management, where I focused on risk perception. After spending some time in India, teaching school children about tsunamis, I came back to the UK and joined the Civil Service in 2009. My first posting was with the Ministry of Defence, where I undertook a variety of roles, including coordinating the Nuclear Accident Response Organisation and conducting naval assessments of emergency response processes. I then moved to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and managed their climate change research and use of geographical evidence. After recently finishing a four year secondment working on a European Programme, I have returned to DEFRA where I am coordinating international science collaborations and exploring global catastrophic risks.
My advice to young female geographers would be to learn the basics, and then get experience in a variety of risk management roles. As a Chartered Geographer with the RGS-IBG, I’d also like to flag the wealth of resources they have online, and the associated Disaster Risk Management Professional Practice Group.
The DRM field is still heavily skewed by early career volunteer/unpaid roles, and this is a challenge for ensuring a balance of ethnic, social, and gender representation – given not everyone has the advantage of not being paid! I personally would suggest that by adjusting this bias, you will eventually re-adjust some of the imbalance in leadership roles.
The majority of women are still the primary caregivers for their families, and this is an issue in DRM circles, given many roles require unsocial working hours, time away from the home, and last-minute flexibility.
My favourite phrase is “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”; we have to get past this notion that an outspoken woman is problematic! Therefore any woman that stands up for her thoughts and values, even in the smallest of ways, gets my respect and inspires me to keep speaking out.
SUPPORT EACH OTHER. I’d love to see more female peer-to-peer sharing, solidarity, and kindness.
* 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: Senior Scientific Officer
Organisation: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Location: Bristol, 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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