By Anya Deepak, WEN President
When I joined the Women’s Environmental Network Board 3.5 years ago, I did not plan on becoming its President. I was terming out of my government job in weeks, and had very little time to figure out where I wanted to go next. While a career transition motivates most who join WEN’s community, I had joined the board of directors. I had a lot of professional experience, but not in the environmental sector. Only a couple years prior had I shifted my career trajectory and dived head-first into the environmental world. And now a team of extremely smart and successful women was interested in what direction I thought this 20-year-old environmental non-profit should take.
This was at the time of the “Lean In” movement. So, I leaned in. Hard. And I saw an organization that was as invested in its board as it was in its members, with the norm being succession planning and rotation of roles and responsibilities. I remember thinking, “So, this is what a board full of women feels like.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t have inspiring women leaders to look up to. Growing up in India, I listened to the incredible stories of Anandi Gopal, who became India’s first woman physician, and of Savitribai Phule, India’s first women teacher—titles that do not even begin to do them justice. While I’d known of fiery goddesses and unrivaled queens, this was different. These women wore clothes I recognized and had modern roles I was familiar with. Their work paved the way for various initiatives ranging from free education for girls to reducing female feticide and infanticide in India. I don’t think any little girl growing up in India realizes how difficult it must have been for these strong-willed women to shatter the patriarchy, all the while being amazing partners, daughters and mothers—not outcasts.
Before I was born, India already had a woman Prime Minister. When I was 4, an Indian woman sprinter made it to the Olympics. When I was 8, an Indian woman was dubbed the “human computer” for her amazing mathematical skills. When I was 13, India had a woman Inspector General. When I was 15, India had an environmental, youth and women’s rights advocate in one of the highest-ranking political offices. When I was 19, the biggest war story reporting was done from the front lines by a woman. And when I was 21, a woman of Indian descent became the CEO of one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world.
It was a great time to be shattering ceilings, so a lot of Indian girls and women were told that we would be the next woman fill-in-the-blanks. There is a strange sort of audacity that comes with never doubting that you can be anything. As a wise woman put it, “You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”
I went from being a rural researcher, to a teacher, to a profit center manager. As a consultant for educational institutes and non-profits, I noticed women were almost preferred for our keen perspective on out-of-the-ordinary issues, collaborative problem-solving skills, and game-changing leadership styles. I also mostly had women bosses and mentors.
So, I’m not surprised that the many amazing women I have met through WEN’s networking events and book club meetings deal everyday with issues familiar to women in our industry—not getting paid enough (or being paid less than men), being asked to perform “housekeeping duties,” getting passed over for being pregnant or just being of childbearing age, or asking for a flexible working schedule to balance family and work life. I know how insidious these issues are. And I also know that it does not have to be that way. Because I know what a supportive and gender-balanced environment can feel like.
At WEN, we know this is possible; and once you know it, it will be impossible for you to go back to the status quo. So, when you feel you are not being heard, we are here for you. When you want to know how to ask for that raise, we are here for you. When you want to dust off an old resume and start afresh, we are here for you. When you want to meet other like-minded sisters, we are here for you. And, when you want to get inspired by women changemakers, we are here for you.
Whether it is Greta Thunberg, who has the youth of Sweden skipping school to demand climate action, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pushing forward with the Green New Deal, we do not have to look too far to find women who are making history right now. Go on and be one of them—WEN will be right here for you.
And, if you liked reading my story, join me and the WEN board our Women’s History Month event on March 26th, where Bay Area women environmental changemakers share experiences from their past and present, and the visions for the future.