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The Male-Dominated Green Landscape


Why are female leaders rarer than rubies in green organizations?

Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of the European chapter
of Friends of the Earth

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Feminine Mystique – the book credited with igniting the second wave of American feminism (the first wave involved the struggle for the vote).

Which means it’s an excellent time to raise an important question: Why are so few green groups led by women?

Environmentalists are prone to sanctimony. They claim to be building a more just and equitable world – a world superior to that old, hierarchical one.

equitable_world_greenpeace click for source

Except that, if you examine green groups, you find pretty much the same old hierarchical structures – and the same shortcomings.

It’s men who are in charge of green organizations, while the word “assistant” still seems more likely to appear in a woman’s title.

Who’s the executive director of Greenpeace International? A gent named Kumi Naidoo.

Greenpeace USA? That would be Phil Radford.

Greenpeace Canada? Bruce Cox.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific? David Ritter.

Greenpeace UK? John Sauven.

Greenpeace Europe? Jorgo Riss.

Wait, I’ve found an exception. According to this news article, Brigitte Behrens is the chief executive director of Greenpeace in Germany.

I haven’t examined the executive personnel of every country in which Greenpeace operates (indeed, this info seems oddly difficult to obtain in many cases), but there’s a decided trend. At Greenpeace, men rule.

equitable_world_wwf click for source

What about the largest, wealthiest, activist organization on the planet – the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)?

The director general of WWF International is Jim Leape. No woman has filled that post since the organization was founded in 1962.

The president and CEO of the WWF’s American arm is a man named Carter Roberts.

Until six months ago, the president and CEO of WWF Canada was Gerald Butts. His replacement has apparently not yet been hired.

The CEO of WWF Australia is Dermot O’Gorman and, in the UK, the WWF is led by David Nussbaum.

In June 2011, 13 WWF national leaders signed a letter addressed to the president of the European Union (an additional signature belonged to a Sweden-based director of a WWF programme in the Baltics).

Only three of those 13 national leaders (23 percent) were female:

Since then, the latter has been succeeded by a gent named Gerald Steindlegger.

Poland, Finland, and Austria are not the beating heart of the green movement. Between them, these countries add up to only 52 million people. Yet these appear to be the only places in which women have managed to break through the WWF’s glass ceiling.

Let’s take a quick look at a few other organizations. The current executive director of the Sierra Club – which describes itself as “America’s oldest, biggest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization” is Michael Brune.

In Canada, the Sierra Club’s executive director is John Bennett.

Women appear to be better represented on the boards of directors of green organizations – a role that is distant from day-to-day operations. Concerned with philosophical leadership and oversight, an individual’s presence on a board is sometimes largely symbolic. But not always.

You can see all the presidents of the US Sierra Club here, stretching back to 1892. Of the 54 people who’ve filled that position, eight (15 percent) have been female – including Robin Mann, the current president.

That number, though, is perhaps unfair. If we start counting from 1964, a year after The Feminine Mystique burst onto the scene, there have been 29 Sierra Club presidents – seven of whom were women. That raises the female leadership count to 24 percent.

Across the pond, the international coordinator of Friends of the Earth (FOE), based in the Netherlands, is Dave Hirsch. In the UK, FOE’s executive director is Andy Atkins.

But don’t despair, there’s a bit more good news. My random, far-from-exhaustive Googling has succeeded in locating another green female leader.

Her name is Magda Stoczkiewicz and she is the director of the European chapter of FOE.

Let’s hear three cheers for Magda, Brigitte, Magdalena, Liisa, and Hildegard – inspiring pioneers in the male-dominated world of green activism.


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