Co-founder of the Green Alliance, non exec at the Eden Project and author, Julie Hill MBE is at the heart of environmental and political debate and action. In our everywoman interview Julie describes how she navigates her way through and over challenges faced by a woman in what can be an unpredictable place.
What does your job entail?
I describe myself as an 'environmentalist' meaning that I try to persuade businesses and governments of the merits of protecting the environment for future generations. I work for some of the time for an environmental think-tank called Green Alliance. I was Director for five years before I had my kids, but nowadays I work freelance. I specialise in waste policy (or rather, stopping waste policy) and my day to day work involves researching, writing, meeting people, advising on strategy, and sometimes visiting sites. I have another role being on the board of the Consumer Council for Water, which represents consumers' interest to the water industry – water being another of my big interests.
Why did you want to get into this particular area of work?
It was an accident – I wanted to be a journalist, but before I could find a job doing that I started working for a small charity in this field and I was hooked.
Have you had any struggles during your career?
Juggling work and small children was stressful and tiring, but I was fortunate enough to be able to negotiate part-time hours. Later on when I needed to do more travelling, my husband was between businesses, and stayed home to cover. Now he's running a business again, which is full time plus, so I have to juggle again to fit things in.
What have been some of your highlights since starting your career?
Building up Green Alliance into a thriving organisation, which has gone from strength to strength. Being appointed to the Board of the Environment Agency in 2009, and more recently to the Consumer Council for Water. Publishing my first book in 2011.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I would like to do more writing, but it is hard to make a living doing just that. I enjoy board roles because I feel I'm contributing to the governance of something important, so I may take on more of those in coming years, but not more than two at once.
Have you ever had to stop and think what motivates you in your career?
I have never questioned my motivation to help improve the environment, but I have sometimes questioned whether I'm being as effective as I could be. But Green Alliance is a great organisation and has been the perfect platform for my style of work.
Have you ever had to focus on your confidence at any point in order to grow your career, and do you think that having an awareness of what makes you feel confident/unconfident is important in succeeding at business?
Absolutely essential. Being on the Environment Agency Board was a big step up for me, and the organisation provided some brilliant coaching, which helped me identify strengths and weaknesses and build my confidence.
When leading a team, how did you develop your team leading skills, what would be your advice to others starting out as a team leader?
Mainly by listening, and being conscious of others' point of view, and understanding what motivates them in their jobs. But I've had an easy ride, as most people working in the environment movement are highly motivated and easy to get on with. My advice would be relax and listen, but then go on to set clear goals for your team, and appraise regularly and fully – everyone wants feedback, good and bad.
Have you had to handle critical situations and how have you dealt with these?
Clarity of purpose is the thing to hang on to. What does everyone want? How far will they move?
Tough conversations are something that many people avoid. What do you do to prepare for a tough conversation and/or what advice would you give someone who needed to prepare for a tough conversation?
Be clear where you want the conversation to end up. A friend has a clear dividing rule – is this person a dented can of baked beans, and can be reshaped, or a pierced can of baked beans and needs to be out of the organisation, as fast as it can be legally done? That decision helps you formulate a strategy.
What advice would you give to young women starting out in a career in green issues?
Stop thinking about being a woman, and think about being a person. Be clear where you want to get to, but be very conscious of others' needs and desires. If you aspire to leadership (and not everyone does or should) get appropriate coaching or mentoring, or just talk over your plans with a friend or relative. Listening to yourself describing your strengths and weaknesses, and rehearsing plans, does wonders for focus.