By Chisom Onyekwere
(This interview was originally published on Assembly, Malala Fund’s digital publication and newsletter for girls.)
As an economic adviser for Environment and Climate Change Canada, Faith Edem participates in a lot of climate policy conversations. In every discussion she has, she works to make sure that the opinions and experiences of young women are heard, particularly young women of colour.
“We have such a wealth of knowledge and we are hungry and thirsty for experience and to share our perspectives on things,” she says.
Faith’s approach to addressing the climate crisis has received some notable honours. After she led a research project exploring Canada’s overall commitment to net-zero by 2050, her team received a government award for leading with an intergenerational lens and trying to seek solutions collaboratively. In 2021, Faith was named to Corporate Knights’ 30 under 30 sustainability leaders list.
Through her work, Faith urges organisations in the climate sustainability industry to be more intentional as they welcome more young and diverse voices. “You can hire as many diverse staff as you want, but if they don’t feel included in that space, if they don’t feel like you are supporting their career development and their learning, they’ll leave. They need a space where they can thrive as individuals.”
In her work for Environment and Climate Change Canada, Faith Edem supports the Canadian government and its global climate action goals through research, policies and high-level engagements.
She also encourages girls around the world to take up space in every room, especially when it comes to climate discussions. “As a young woman entering this space, don’t let people keep you on the fringes of decision making,” she shares. “It’s imperative through my work as a Black woman to ensure that we are not missing that aspect in the climate change movement.”
Faith didn’t always know that she wanted to work in the climate field. After studying law as an undergraduate and receiving her master’s in public policy, she found herself applying to an opening at Environment Canada. Though new to this work at the time, she had long been interested in the interaction between pollution and local communities. Born in Nigeria — the largest crude oil producer on the continent — she saw how pollution affected biodiversity and air quality.
In her work for Environment and Climate Change Canada, Faith supports the Canadian government and its global climate action goals through research, policies and high-level engagements. With her focus on international climate finance, she helps other countries achieve their environmental goals by creating programmes that support their plans to combat change.
I spoke with Faith to learn more about her career in environmental sustainability and her passion for more diverse voices represented in the movement.
Chisom Onyekwere (CO): How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in environmental policy and how did that lead you to climate justice? What inspired you to work in this field?
Faith Edem (FE): I didn’t initially think that I wanted to pursue a career in environmental policy. I did my undergrad in law and then my master’s in public policy. Then an opportunity came up in Environment Canada and I was able to work on a lot of great topics, such as net zero, electrification and clean tech. I was really happy I did so because that led me to explore so many different subtexts of climate action and climate change in general, which then led me to climate justice. I’ve always tried to understand deeper the interaction between pollution and local communities and how they’re impacted.
Outside of that, I’m also just inspired by good governance and ensuring that we have good systems that can hold actions accountable to the public and the environment.
CO: How has your identity and past impacted your career goals and aspirations in climate change?
FE: As a Black woman, the lack of diversity in this space is noticeable and it definitely needs to be addressed, especially within the Canadian context. I hope through my work I’m able to bring to light that Canadian youth are immensely diverse in thought and identity. And if companies, institutions and systems continue to not include us in the development of some of the most impactful policies and decision making for the next few decades, that’s a conscious omission of not including us in those perspectives, especially when it comes to racialized communities when we think of climate justice. So I think it’s imperative through my work to ensure that we are not missing that aspect in the climate change movement.
CO: What advice do you have for other young women around the world looking to pursue a career similar to yours and who want to advocate for climate justice and environmental sustainability?
FE: A rejection or no isn’t the answer. Just keep going. Don’t let that deter you. If there’s an opportunity to decide on something, keep your space in that discussion because you need to be part of that decision making table. Also, seek out opportunities and don’t be shy to reach out to folks at the middle or senior level. You never really know who will respond to you and who will get back to you. Also, try to find opportunities through volunteering. That’s how I was able to get through a lot of the research projects that I contributed to.
CO: How can we make the climate justice and environmental fields more diverse and inclusive?
FE: We need to first acknowledge the lack of diversity within the environmental climate sustainability industry. Then we need organisations and employers to commit to quantifiable retention strategies and professional development programmes. You can hire as many diverse staff as you want, but if they don’t feel included in that space, if they don’t feel like you are supporting their career development and their learning, they’ll leave. They need a space where they can thrive as individuals.
CO: What’s the best and worst career advice you’ve ever received?
FE: The best advice I received was from one of my supervisors when I worked in the Ontario Cabinet Office. She really drove home the importance of policy and the narrative behind a policy, understanding the distinction so you can understand how they work independently and together. When you’re able to do that, you can then create really good policies because sometimes it’s just a shift in the narrative or a positioning in the narrative that can ensure a policy gets carried through. So when I’m giving advice in standing committees or working groups, I know what I want to get across at the end of the day. But how I frame that messaging is really important.
The worst advice I received was actually a microaggression. I was told that as long as I’m Black, a woman and have a degree, I’m fine. I don’t have to be smart. Someone felt comfortable saying this to me in 2019. Thankfully, I am all those things and also smart and passionate about what I do. But it’s important for women of colour in spaces that aren’t that diverse to know this: you might not always get the best reception. But don’t let that determine who you are or your skill sets.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Featured photos courtesy of Faith Edem.
(Faith Edem is a valued member of Environment Journal’s Advisory Board.)