Tanya Ha

Tanya Ha, former presenter on ABC’s Catalyst, science communicator and environmentalist, is busy helping scientists to better communicate and has a “pet interest” in the green building and sustainable cities movement. Now she’s jumped further into diversity issues.

According to Ha, newly appointed to the to the board of Diversity Council Australia, a progression into workplace diversity is a “no-brainer” for someone with a background in sustainability.

“Not everyone knows that.”

“As much as we know that science and tech will likely save us from climate change and other challenges, we also need a better understanding of social systems,” she told The Fifth Estate.

“Diversity is healthy.”

Most workers agree with and support workplace diversity – only 3 per cent oppose it – and it’s good for business, she says.

Inclusive workplaces have been shown to be much more productive, innovative, creative and also better providers of customer service.

It’s also “part of a sense of fairness and having a fair go, that inclusion matters and everyone at work should feel safe and valued.”

“It’s just a really exciting place to be and it feels good.”

Science and technology have their own particular set of diversity challenges

Ha put up her hand for the board position for a couple of reasons. One is that science and technology fields have their own diversity challenges that she’s well versed in.

Gender equity and gender pay gap issues remain prevalent, but there are also diversity challenges in areas such as multiculturalism and sexual orientation.

Ha got to know the work of the Diversity Council Australia as the co-chair of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion working group at Science and Technology Australia, which represents Australia scientists and technologists. She liked its emphasis on using evidence to support its resources and messaging to address these challenges.

What diversity means to Ha

According to Ha, diversity in the workplace is about levelling the playing field so that everyone benefits.

It’s about creating family friendly working environments so that women are not held back form career progression. But it’s also about more equity and choice for men through parental leave so that they can take time off to support children.

“That needs to be made easy. That’s the sort of stuff that gives us choices.”

Giving scientists a stronger voice is her latest focus

In her other roles, Ha taps into her journalistic background to train up scientists in communicating their work more clearly. She’s currently the director of engagement at Science in Public, a science communication and public relations business based in Melbourne.

“My sweet spot is strategic communication that brings about change.”

Ha has long had a “pet interest” in the green building and sustainable cities movement, and has hosted more than one Catalyst episode on the field.

“When we make design choices, it’s this many tonnes or mega tonnes [of greenhouse gases] abated, that’s the difference of making a design choice in the case of new precincts and infrastructure.

“They are things that last a whopping great time, and houses with a lifespan of 40 need to be able to withstand degrees of 60.

“I do get excited about green buildings and sustainable buildings sector. If we make good choices it will save us a lot in 50 and 100-years’ time.”

She believes the broader sustainability message is suddenly striking a chord

Although recent years have been peppered with disparaging moments at the nation-state level such as the US pulling out of the Paris agreement and Australia’s inertia on climate policy, Ha says sub national actors have risen to the task instead.

“The state and local level is where good stuff is happening.”

“They are doing good and creative things.”

There’s also been a maturation in understanding of the climate change problem and how we should tackle it.

“Because we all know that electricity is not getting cheaper by building a new coal fire power station. We’ve been butting our head up against the wall and are now looking for ways around it.”

She also thinks the worsening impacts of climate change are prompting more people into action.

“It’s was an unseasonable summer, bushfires at ridiculous times, we can no longer share our firefighters with California because our fire seasons have started to overlap.

“There’s a mountain of tangible evidence now that will make people act… maybe not at the ballet box, but in other ways it’s happening.”

Ha predicts an ongoing groundswell of activity and says it’s really a matter of how quickly and effectively action will occur.

“We’re heading towards a cliff and I know we’ll swerve, but it’s a matter of how late we swerve and how much stuff we might lose out of the tray of the ute.”

“I don’t underestimate human ingenuity but some of the pain will be biodiversity and heat related illness and deaths.”

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