Robyn James is the Director of Gender and Equity for The Nature Conservancy’s Asia Pacific division. With over twenty five years in her conservation career, she has developed deep experience in gender, equity and social justice, community-based conservation, philanthropy, and government policies and programs. Robyn has worked with teams focused on expanding sustainable and equitable livelihood development and better inclusion of women and others in all conservation and development.

In an exclusive conversation with Collective for Equality, Robyn shared profound insights into her journey from climate adaptation to becoming a dedicated advocate for gender equity. This article delves into Robyn’s perspectives on workplace gender equality, emphasizing intentionality, leadership, and the integration of equity into the core of organizational practices.

Robyn provides profound insights into the landscape of workplace gender equity. Her emphasis on intentionality, data-driven approaches, and the role of leaders in shaping organizational culture offers a comprehensive perspective for organizations committed to fostering inclusive and equitable workplaces. As The Nature Conservancy addresses the dual challenges of accelerated climate change and unprecedented biodiversity loss, Robyn’s leadership exemplifies the importance of prioritizing gender equity within the organisation, paralleling the commitment to environmental and societal well-being.

Early Beginnings

Robyn began her career focusing on climate adaptation but noticed the stark absence of women in both local and high-level discussions. This realization became a catalyst for her dedicated focus on addressing the gender gap. She reflects, “I quickly became aware that women were still missing from this work, so, I’ve really focused my career on that part of the equation.”

Emphasizing the need for leadership roles in driving gender equity, Robyn critiques the common structure where equity and inclusion roles are often held by junior individuals lacking the power to enact substantial change. “Often across organizations and workplaces, the diversity, equity, and inclusion person is usually a fairly junior person  without much structural power,” she says. Robyn champions the idea that fixing internal structures not only contributes to organisational equity but also lends authority to addressing global issues.

Intersection of Climate Tech and Gender Equality

Discussing the intersection of climate tech and gender equality, Robyn stresses the importance of intentional efforts. She dismisses the assumption that progress in environmental initiatives automatically translates into social equity, stating, “None of this happens by itself, unless we’re actively addressing those inequities.” Robyn advocates for embedding gender considerations right from the project’s inception, making it an integral aspect of the organizational DNA.

Robyn details the strategies employed by The Nature Conservancy, emphasizing gender analysis, data disaggregation, and a detailed social analysis before project initiation. She underscores the significance of understanding the potential impact on diverse groups, particularly women, stating, “Ultimately, what we measure is what becomes important.”

Shifting the focus from women adapting to workplaces, Robyn addresses the entry of young girls into the workforce. She emphasizes the role of experienced leaders, both men and women, in actively supporting them. Robyn states, “More experienced leaders need to be looking at early career women … what can we do to help women and girls be in these places? It’s not that they have to do the work to be included.”

Robyn acknowledges the complexities of workplace culture and the time required for meaningful change. She challenges the powerful figures shaping culture, noting, “Often I find that the most powerful are dictating what the cultural context is, and that might not always be a good thing, especially for women.”

Outlining best practices, Robyn emphasizes integrating gender considerations into leadership teams, allocating funds for equity initiatives, and prioritizing data collection. She highlights the impact of quotas, stating, “I’m starting to be a really big fan of (gender) quotas. Those numbers change pretty quickly when we implement quotas.”

Stressing the crucial role of men in leadership positions, she urges them to actively sponsor individuals different from themselves. She challenges the default tendency to support those who share characteristics, stating, “Men need to actively challenge their own bias to favour leaders that looks like them. It would be great  to see other men increasingly offering a hand up to  women who may have a different approach… in this way  male leadership in companies has a critical role to play.”