Case Study: Engaging women in environmental sciences at University of Manchester

Group shot of people in front of buildings

As Co-Investigator on the NERC-funded Engaging Environments programme, Dr Cecilia Medupin at the University of Manchester, convened the Women in Environmental Sciences (WiES) network, to address the crucial role women have to play in the climate emergency and sustainable development, linking to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Women have crucial roles to play in the necessary transformation to the way we live, if human beings are to survive the climate crisis. Over the past three decades, there has been progress in women’s empowerment in politics and education, but in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), more systemic change is required. Here, we share the aims, methods and outcomes of the project and provide further recommendations for similar initiatives.


  • Engage women from diverse backgrounds and disciplines in environmental sciences and demonstrate the importance of their knowledge and involvement in addressing environmental challenges.
  • Address systemic inequalities that limit women’s full participation in environmental challenges and create a platform for effective engagement.
  • Create dialogue and debate with diverse audiences, focusing on women’s involvement in environmental sciences and, more broadly, the STEM sectors.
  • Highlight how women are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation, climate change, and hazards.
  • Connect women’s involvement in environmental sciences with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Encourage women to mentor, support and empower other women through their roles.


Between 2018 and 2019, as part of the Engaging Environments programme, Dr Cecilia Medupin at the University of Manchester convened the Women in Environmental Sciences (WiES) network, to break down barriers to women’s participation in environmental sciences.

Through a series of events, which comprised keynote speakers, presentations, networking, knowledge exchange sessions and evaluation, the WiES network was designed to create open discussion on complex issues in a safe space. This helped to empower female environmentalists and researchers to make key choices within their own organisations, communities, personal- and professional development providing a basis to pursue substantive policy change.

The range of speakers, the workshops and knowledge exchange sessions reflected the interdisciplinary nature of environmental sciences, the need for integrative, transformative policies relating to women’s involvement, and impact-driven research. Key themes covered included agriculture, education, energy, health, leadership and gender equality, policy, sustainable cities, and water and sanitation. The diversity of participants, from academics to members of grassroots communities, was geared towards changing the status quo of higher education institutions ‘knowing it all’, in pursuit of more diverse, practical solutions.

The events and their outcomes were supported by independent evaluation, conducted by Dr Cindy Regalado from Tekiu Limited. As with any successful project, this was a key aspect to the WiES events, providing information on participants at each event, their responses to them and the event processes. Lessons learned from 2018 were implemented in 2019, with feedback generally across both events proving to be overwhelmingly positive.

Overall, more than 190 participants from over 34 organisations and institutions were registered for the events, including representatives from the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, University of Aberdeen, University of Liverpool, University of East Anglia, Coventry University, Lancaster University, Environment Agency, Natural England, Earthwatch Institute, The Open University, UK and many more.

“The more women we have playing their roles in shaping policy through science and engineering, the more policies will reflect the true diversity of society.”


The WiES network created a forum for women to come together to promote their roles in environmental sciences through presentations from female experts and knowledge exchange sessions focused on key topics.

The events enabled women to freely and confidently share knowledge, skills, and passions in a context where they would not feel the pressure of competition with one another and, could learn from the lived experience of others. Measures such as ‘Norms for Inclusion’ were implemented to ensure a safe, welcoming space where all participants were comfortable to contribute and share across each aspect of the events.

With many institutions and organisations being represented, networking opportunities were facilitated throughout. The combination of a diverse audience and an emphasis on interdisciplinarity fostered new connections between participants, laying foundations for future collaboration.

Every element of the events and the outcomes were comprehensively documented and have subsequently been developed into a report, Women in Environmental Sciences (WiES) – How women can and must be engaged in the fight against climate change, and The WiES Toolkit, which provide key learnings for others to build upon in advancing women’s roles in the environmental sciences.

The network also provided a platform on which Dr Medupin was able to develop a further study associated with Engaging Environments, Connectivity & Inclusivity in Higher Education – a solutions’-based approach from environmental sustainability.

Further Recommendations

The varied learnings from the WiES network and events can provide crucial guidance on improving women’s engagement and representation within the context of the climate emergency and the STEM sectors. In-depth outcomes are available in the WiES toolkit, and below we have highlighted some key recommendations:

  • More open and safe avenues are needed for women to come together and build networks whilst being inspired by common issues.
  • Quality engagement takes time to design, build, establish and evaluate. The same goes for forming project teams and building capacity – this should be built-in from the start.
  • Inclusiveness and widening participation are important values for sustained leadership in any organisation.
  • Topics selected for discussions on the environment could be used as a means to create opportunities for communal identity, engagement, tolerance, collectiveness and, providing self-help solutions to everyday problems.
  • Women should be encouraged and empowered to support other women, speak up, when needed to create organisational change.
  • Diverse workforces are better workforces, and can be built through open and effective recruitment, leadership, and equal opportunities.
  • Conducting local, grassroots research and community outreach are appropriate routes to create national and international impacts.

Further information on the Women in Environmental Sciences network can be found in the full report and toolkit. You can also find the reports from Dr Medupin’s Connectivity & Inclusivity in Higher Education pilot study. Dr Medupin also had a microsite associated with University of Manchester with more information on her work, which you can view here:

Credits & Further Information

Dr Cecilia Medupin, Engaging Environments Co-Investigator, Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester,

Dr Cindy Regalado, Engaging Environments Project Evaluator, Tekiu Ltd

Matt Burrows, Editor, Engaging Environments, University of Reading

A full list of contributors and references to the WiES events and network can be found here: