By Raquel Helen Silva | 10 August 2016
Strengthened by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), women are highlighting the importance of diversity by bringing new insight to this global industry. Raquel Helen Silva joins us today to discuss the invaluable role of women in the world of sustainability.
How has your career shaped your view on sustainability/sustainable development?
There are many experiences that have shaped my worldview. From a young age, caring for people and the planet was a big part of my upbringing. I consider myself to be a people person. I tend to think in broader terms when it comes to the way in which decisions and policies affect people. If sustainability is presented in more tangible and pedagogical ways, governments, companies and markets become more intuitive and are more likely to adopt sustainable practices. By conceptualizing ways to make sustainable practice easier, it can be broken down and integrated into one’s daily life.
What motivated you to become involved in sustainability/sustainable development?
I’m a millennial in a developing country. When you see the way other countries engage in global politics and the way emerging markets are striving to evolve, you begin to think about the impact that those decisions can have on people’s lives. When you consider the way in which we dispose of things, consume, communicate and use transportation, the reality of global warming and its potential harm becomes nearer and more apparent. That is what motivated me. It’s important to consider how we can move forward in a way that supports, not just ourselves, but our countries, companies and communities as well. It’s not just about us – it’s about our world too.
Why is it important to engage women in sustainable development?
Women leadership is important in every aspect. When you think about “value”, you’re not just taking into account the raw data – value defines what data really means. There’s a famous quote: “no numbers without stories; no stories without numbers”. Generally speaking, women tend to value relationships more than men and, when this is carried over into a leadership position, there’s more room for horizontal and dialogic frameworks to operate. Female leadership also plays a key role in receiving input from a diverse range of areas and stakeholders. By amalgamating this input, an organization can become more representative of the people it serves and constructive in making more democratic decisions. It is important to have “numbers” and standards – indexes and GDPs, for example – but, at the same time, they need to be palpable. That’s what I mean when I say “no numbers without stories; no stories without numbers,” because you can have numbers, however they may mean little to nothing to a shareholder whose interests are not adequately represented.
What kinds of strengths do women bring to the sustainable development “table”?
Women tend to be more collaborative; we tend to value relationships; we tend to consider many different aspects in decision-making; we tend to balance power in different ways. Throughout history, women have had the role as peace-makers and natural negotiators in many different cultures. “Development” is this big buzzword that contains so many different sectors and interests; however, I believe that women have the natural ability to bring unique perspectives to the table that can leverage these various facets.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to a woman who is interested in pursuing a career in sustainability/sustainable development?
An important thing to remember is that your contribution matters. Development is an ongoing process with a long-term business model – especially when considering sustainable development. Knowing that that area involves such a long-term commitment and, therefore, you should love what you’re doing. With that in mind, be aware that you may not be able to see your contributions; however, they will be apparent to the next generation. Use this to motivate yourself. Find your people. Know which governments and organizations are doing work that is most related to what you would like to do – whether it be renewable energy, ocean clean-up, waste management, etc. Find the movers and shakers in terms of institutions, but also in terms of individuals, to seek out mentorship and join that conversation. Learn about what people are doing in your local community to contribute to sustainability. There are tons of opportunities out there to become more involved and I think it’s fun to explore and discover them.
Raquel Helen Silva joined Thomson Reuters in May 2016 to serve as Corporate Responsibility & Inclusion Analyst in São Paolo, Brazil. Prior to this role, Raquel has had the opportunity to represent youth at national and international platforms. She introduced the speech of First Lady Michelle Obama (2011) and composed the Closing Plenary at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos (2011).