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Rachel Cooper, Ministry of Primary Industries

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Welcome to our Beyond Recruitment “Women in Leadership” series, dedicated to the journeys of women in leadership across New Zealand businesses. There’s currently a lot of discussion around women not being in leadership roles, not joining the executive ranks, or not serving on boards. We’ve found, however, that there are so many stories to share of women who have done well in leadership and so many organisations that are running fantastic programs to allow women to grow in leadership roles.

This time, we’re talking to Rachel Cooper, Climate Change Policy Analyst at the Ministry of Primary Industries. She discusses her experiences of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and how collaborating with other female scientists around the world has inspired her to encourage more young women into science.

Breaking Boundaries in Environmental Science

Rachel’s career is based on a passion for positive change and improving the world around her. Early in her life she had concerns about the environment and recognised there was a great opportunity to make a real difference. This led her to study a degree in Environmental Science, and while at university she was a youth delegate at the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations and United Nations Environment Assembly.

After graduating, she worked as a Climate Change Researcher for the University of Auckland and is now a Climate Change Policy Analyst with the Ministry for Primary Industries. Her role is currently focused on agricultural emissions, which is part of the Government’s wider climate change strategy.

Rachel is also the youngest ever delegate to be selected for Homeward Bound, a global leadership initiative for women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine). As one of 90 participants worldwide, she will travel to Antarctica in November for a month-long expedition and intensive leadership training. Alumni include Nobel Prize winners, and through this organisation, Rachel has been able to participate in monthly calls with female participants across the globe.

Encouraging More Women to Pursue Science

In her spare time, Rachel supports and mentors young women who are considering a future in science. Her motivation is based on the first-hand experience as one of the few female students in her university lecture halls and knowing the importance of having strong female leaders in the industry.

For Rachel, a major reason for encouraging more women to get into science is because she can see how under-represented female scientists are in the field. She believes there are amazing opportunities for women in this space, and that strong female leaders show young women it can be done and prove there are women out there who can offer support.

Rachel also believes female representation is key to help the broader community better understand the role of science. She is passionate about science communication and the importance of making science accessible to everyone. Rachel knows the power of people having the opportunity to understand science, making it something everyone can connect with. To that end, she is currently leading a project where female scientists and artists work together to bring scientific research to life. This was originally the work of her friend and fellow scientist, Lilly, who passed away earlier this year. As part of the project, an artist will create a piece based on Lilly’s PhD to help make it accessible to those outside of the scientific community. The exhibition is due to be held in 2020.

My Advice for Finding a Career You Love

Young people can be under a lot of pressure to make decisions about their careers early on, and Rachel notes that this can have both positive and negative results. While the pressure can help you make a decision, she also believes it’s a lot to take on when you’re so young. She encourages young women to try as many things as possible, through volunteering or participating in programs at high school or university.

It’s important to explore different areas to find out if you’re interested in them, and acknowledge that it’s not a failure if something doesn’t appeal to you. At university, lecturers are a great source of wisdom and experience, so it’s about finding the right people to talk to and then having the confidence to ask them for their perspectives and advice.

Another key to a successful career is following what you really care about. Rachel’s advice is “you should do something you love, stay strong and support fellow women in their journey”.

With Thanks

We would like to thank Rachel Cooper for taking the time to share her experiences, insights and advice with us. Keep an eye out for the next edition of the Women in Leadership blog series, and if you have a great story you’d like to share, feel free to get in touch.