Women as environmental decision makers in Quebec

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Most graduates from university environmental studies programs are women, and this has been the case for a number of years. Yet when we look at who holds the top environmental decision-making positions in this country, this trend is not reflected: women are not adequately represented.

Le Réseau québécois des femmes en environnement (RQFE) [Women and Environments Network of Quebec] is well aware of this situation and decided several years ago that it was time to take action to support better access to environmental decision-making positions for women in Quebec.

Since 1999, Le Réseau has worked to provide a platform for the voices of women from diverse backgrounds and to offer them support in their environmental careers. With the project Les femmes investissent les postes décisionnels en environnement in 2004 and the project L’environnement se décide aussi au féminin which began in 2005, Le Réseau has met with women working in decision-making positions related to the environment and has tried to identify ways to support women who want access to such decision-making positions themselves.

Many of the women interviewed during these projects said that they felt they needed certain tools to help achieve their goals, and that they wanted to benefit from the advice of women with leadership experience and to improve their leadership skills.

Documents dedicated to the project Les femmes investissent les postes décisionnels en environnement are available on the RQFE website. These include interviews with women in environmental decision-making roles, statistics on the numbers of women in such leadership roles, action plans to improve women’s access to decision-making positions in this domain, and more.

Creating the tools
Sometimes women’s professional training is not enough. Without the proper training, it is not easy to construct effective arguments, to take on the role of public spokesperson, to develop strategic plans or to establish an effective network—not to mention the struggle of balancing work and family. To address some of these issues, Le Réseau created an advisory board of professionals in leadership roles to propose concrete ideas for women looking to take on decision-making positions.

Through these projects, Le Réseau has provided training tailored to participants’ needs—training to take on the role of public spokesperson for an organization, effective meeting facilitation, networking and learning about different types of leadership.

A mentoring program was also established to address professional isolation and to match women with extensive leadership experience with women who were either at the beginning of their careers or making career changes. The meetings were organized in large groups, but participants were also given the opportunity for one-on-one mentoring. Mentoring pairs were encouraged to stay in touch and to continue the mentoring relationship by meeting up or connecting by email and phone as often as needed following the meeting.

Several of the women who participated in the projects accepted new decision-making positions during the course of the mentoring program. One of the women who was rather shy and reserved even became president of a board of directors, an indication that the project successfully inspired self-confidence and developed leadership skills.

Toward solutions
Through this work, we at the Le Réseau have taken a multi-pronged approach, including raising awareness among environmental businesses and organizations in Quebec about the importance of women’s leadership in decision-making bodies and valuing women as decision-makers, and creating the opportunity for networking and exchange. However, there is still much work to be done.

Given the results of these activities within the context of the projects, and the analysis of the needs expressed by participants, including the women in decision-making positions, we recognize the need to work on several fronts. We need new strategies to afford women better access to decision-making positions, and we need to listen to the women themselves and give them the tools they need to effectively take on decision-making positions. These steps will help integrate environmental issues with equity issues and with dynamic and creative development, to help ensure a sustainable future for all.

Caroline Voyer is the director at the Le Réseau québécois des femmes en environnement (RQFE).