I’ve spent 20 years working in the nature conservation sector, most recently at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as a research scientist.
During this time I got to travel to some amazing places, spending months alone in remote locations collecting data, from Madagascar, to Borneo to the wilds of Scotland. However, in 2018 I had a baby and the idea of disappearing off for months on end suddenly seemed less appealing! I decided to set up my own company (www.seilich.co.uk) which would allow me to continue to work for nature conservation, but to set my own hours.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not really, I think I’ve always taken an opportunistic view – nature conservation is a very competitive sector and permanent contracts are incredibly rare. Luckily, I secured some fantastic contracts, and met some very supportive people along the way. By being creative I was able to thread these diverse experiences into a career story which helped me to finally secure a permanent role.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I think I didn’t even realise the challenges when I was battling against them. The science sector is heavily male dominated and I worked for years very happily under an all-male management chain (without even realising the gender imbalance). Subconsciously I think I had accepted ‘my place’ within the hierarchy, although I always felt a niggling frustrated by my lack of influence, especially when it came to decision making. After having my baby I realised how powerful we are as females, both physically and mentally, and the gender imbalance in the workplace suddenly seemed like an unnecessary obstacle to success. At the same time, I felt I no longer needed permission to make decisions, and this gave me the confidence to start my own business.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I have three main achievements in life which are so closely related its hard to untangle them – I managed to finish my PhD, have a baby and set up my own company all within 12 months of one another. The icing on the cake was to be the first and only company in the UK to gain Wildlife Friendly Certification for our products.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I think I’m lucky in that I’m comfortable in taking managed risks and I’m not fearful of change, which allows me to take opportunities and adapt to new situations. I guess my experiences in nature conservation, which saw me getting into what some might see as very risky situations (e.g. living in a tent in a tropical rainforest in an isolated location over a day’s walk from a comms point!), has shaped my ideas of acceptable risk levels!
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I’ve never been mentored but I have had some amazing line managers who have been able advise and guide my career path. I’ve not mentored anyone either, but it’s something I’d quite like to do in the future.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I think women need more support to set out on their own path – for years I felt that there should be some ‘other’ in charge. Cutting lose from the system is the most amazing and terrifying feeling and I’d really like to give encouragement to anyone else thinking of giving it a go.
In addition, I think as women there is an expectation that we should be nice, likable and gentle, especially in the workplace. Feeling comfortable with speaking out when we feel angry or upset, without feeling the need to apologise for it, or worrying we will be labelled as sensitive or hormonal, is something we should encourage in the younger generation.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
As a teenager I was very concerned about the natural world but I also saw a lot of possibility – I was so excited to get out there and do what I could to enact change. If I had the chance, I’m not sure I would offer any advice, if anything, I think I could do with a bit of advice and encouragement from that enthusiastic, optimistic person from time to time!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I really want to challenge the wellness sector about the way it promotes and exploits the concept of naturalness. Although many wellness products trade on the idea of nature and natural, all too often this ‘nature’ is taken from the earth, cropped and bottled, leaving nothing for the wildlife that was so dependent on it. In a sector that’s rife with ‘green washing’ where claims to sustainability are often vague or simply untrue, and as a result there is a real opportunity (and perhaps a responsibility) for change. I believe that natural products should be defined as those that are in some way good for nature, and I hope to share this idea and the opportunities it presents with the sector over the coming years.
In addition, I’m about to launch my new product range (www.seilich.co.uk/our-range). It’s been a labour of love, setting up my wildflower meadow, gaining Wildlife Friendly Certification, formulating my products and getting them through the strict European Cosmetic Product Safety Assessments.
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