Remarkable climate activist and JMK Women in Business Scholar shares her powerful story

Emma Beal is a core member of the climate/sustainability and energy practice areas at the Boston Consulting Group office in Melbourne, Australia. She is passionate about using economic policy and analytics tools to positively impact the global energy transition and her expertise ranges from electricity pricing in a world of renewables to carbon markets and offsets initiatives.

Emma graduated as valedictorian from the University of Queensland with a University Medal and a Bachelor of Advanced Finance and Economics (First Class Honours). While a student there, she was awarded the Zonta International Jane M. Klausman (JMK) Women in Business Scholarship in 2018.

Since receiving the JMK Women in Business Scholarship, Emma has gone on to work on energy problems across a range of industries, including private equity, funds management, consulting, research and academia. Some highlights include working on Oxford University's Economic Recovery Project to analyze the environmental and distributional impacts of the large fiscal outlay that occurred worldwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as working from Auckland to deliver an independent study on the New Zealand energy sector's pathway to decarbonization.

In February, Emma was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chair of the Zonta Spirit Working Group.

Here are some of the top takeaways from their conversation:

What led Emma to her interest in climate action

"I grew up in this household where things like camping and hiking, they were just such an integral part of our life and growing up, and that allowed me to develop this great love for the outdoors from a very young age that I've carried through my adult years as well."

"I developed such an appreciation for the outdoors, but also the fragility of lives and livelihoods exposed to our changing climate, because we get some pretty crazy weather up here. So I experienced the full trifecta from floods, droughts to fires."

"I've kind of seen it all in my time growing up here, and it's been crazy. And collectively, I think that set of experiences was really pivotal in helping me to identify a career in climate action. But more specifically, professionally contributing to a solution to the energy transition, which is reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity. And that's the mark I'm hoping to leave across my career."

"The reason I've chosen to focus on the energy component specifically is that that energy sector is the major unlock for decarbonization, and given the timing of my career, it just makes most sense to focus my efforts there. And I find it a challenging problem, but a really exciting one, because not only is electricity the low-hanging fruit of decarbonization, but reliable, affordable and low-emission energy is going to be the unlock of decarbonization in other areas of our economy, in particular things like transport and industry through electrification."

What she likes about economics

"I just love the framework that it provides you to think about problems in all areas of life in such a structured way. And I think I apply that mindset and that way of thinking daily in my course of work. [It's] such a helpful skill, and so thankful to have studied that degree, landed there by accident in a way."

Career high point

"One of my highlights has been most recently helping to develop the strategy for the closure of a Tier 1 thermal coal mine, including what that transition might look like for the local community that has been built up around this major mine. It's one of the first of probably many transitions like this that we will see around the world as our energy makes transitions. The social side of this global energy transition is something that I'm deeply passionate about and resonates with me, coming from an extended family with lots of coal miners."

The impact of the JMK Women in Business Scholarship and Zonta International

"The direct impact of the scholarship was that it allowed me to fund an exchange overseas during my university years. Over there I studied the subject on developing nations and emerging economies, so that subject further affirmed my passion to assist vulnerable nations through my professional pursuits. … I met an amazing network of friends on my exchange, two of whom I now live with in Melbourne. It's just crazy how the world works and that connected me to those great friends now."

"I've been fortunate enough to be involved with various Zonta advocacy events over the years, since 2018. But most recently Zonta was amazing in supporting me in my fundraising effort to raise A$20,000 for Australian women who were survivors of domestic violence. I did that by cycling around Australia's Island State of Tasmania. I did 1,300 kilometers in two weeks. And Zonta was really pivotal in helping create awareness for the ride and also for its members financially contributing to that fundraising effort. Zonta has been a massive part of my life over the last couple of years."

Why women must work for climate action

"Female participation is so important in this space so that we can incorporate women's unique perspective and view into solving this issue. And while we are seeing more and more women in engineering resources every day, working from a place in business and finance, I've often found myself to be the only woman in the company, the startup or the team. There's more progress to go here, and I think that women are attracted to the idea of making a positive impact in the world through something like the energy transition climate action."


"It has truly taken a network of people and role models in my life to shape me into the person that I am today. I've grown up with an amazing extensive family friend group where we have multiple generations of women in that group, and some have taken on mother roles for me, mentor roles for me … And then there are other girls who are younger than me or closer to my age, and they feel like friends or younger sisters. And within that group I can go to different individuals. I can also go elsewhere in my life for advice on different problems, and I can get multiple perspectives to the same issue. I have this beautiful kind of peer-to-peer network of mentorship and leaders to draw upon amongst the women in my life as opposed to that single role model figure that I would call upon in all situations."

"Some of the best leaders and mentors that I've had helped me become a leader. And I think, personally, that one of the greatest strengths you can have as a leader is the ability to leverage the diverse perspectives of people around you, be them mentors or mentees, to develop a better understanding on a problem or collaborate on a better solution."

"Great mentors or leaders are the ones who come in from potentially a greater position of wisdom, but take a genuine interest in my views and concerns in the world and listen to my ideas and really genuinely trust in my abilities … and it's those situations where I feel most empowered to take ownership over things and lead the thinking and action myself, and use my mentor as more of a sounding board as opposed to just waiting for them to tell me what to do. … I think that whole process is really important in allowing the next generation of leaders to develop and come through."

Leadership strength

"One of my greatest strengths is my ability to bring others on the journey. In particular, I find that when I'm impassioned by a cause, whatever that cause is to me is this sort of source of energy—and not just an energy for me to be able to bring my best self and my talents to the situation, but also to be able to share that energy with others, to unite them around that same course as well."

Overcoming challenges

"I was just a couple of days in [to the 1,300 bicycle ride]. … I can't remember the accident. But I was pretty banged up, didn't know where I was or what day of the week it was. And there was a concern that I had potentially broken my neck. … Thankfully, everything was OK. I was very fortunate because cycling accidents can often go a lot worse, and I kind of got away with some nasty gravel rash scars all the way up the side of my body … and I just had some pretty bad concussion, headaches and whiplash. … I took a couple of days off but did get back on to the bike to finish the ride. And I think that sort of highlights for me that experience—the importance of really being purpose-driven in any sort of leadership ambitions that we take on—because having that purpose is so important and maintaining the resilience that we need when we do front up with these kind of big challenges that we come across. If I was just doing that cycle for myself or for the thrill of the challenge, I don't think I would have had the strength or the need, or really the courage—I have a good fear of gravel now—to get back up on the bike. But because I was doing it to help those women who were going through arguably much worse situations than I was in that moment, I was able to get back on the bike and finish it off."

Facing discrimination in the workplace

"I've been told that I'll definitely struggle to have presence with a client because I am small framed and blonde. I've been asked to send through older-looking headshots for panels that I've talked on so that I'll appear to be more of an expert on the topic. And I've also been rejected from a graduate banking role because, despite having the best technical responses and understanding of the candidates—who were all the same age [and had] the same experience levels as me, I was not suitable for the role because I appear too 'young and bubbly.' "

"I have worked really hard to build credibility on paper through my experiences. So, when I do manage to get an invitation to the table, I have had to face this challenge of therefore owning my voice in that situation, and I've had to try various different approaches to how to deal with this when people might have incoming biases against me by virtue of my appearance. … What I've pretty much figured out from all of this is that the best approach is just to be myself in those situations, because someone's always got something to say, and I've just learned that there's a reason that I'm in that room."

Proudest moment

"One really pivotal moment for me … was the 120 K [bike] ride that I eventually built up to. … I didn't think I was capable of digging that deep and pushing myself to achieve something that was so hard at the time. And so I think, just kind of knowing what I'm capable of now, and what that threshold is, which is being just brought up to this new high level that that's all thanks to that experience and something that I'm really proud of going beyond what I ever thought I could achieve."

Words of encouragement and advice

"Go try some fun, new activities that might be a bit out of your comfort zone. And you can make it really fun, you can do it with a friend in a very low-pressure environment. … I think doing something like that is just such a great way to feel self-confidence and empower yourself and show yourself what you are capable of in a fun way, and maybe find a new hobby at the same time."

"Leadership does come in many different shapes, sizes, appearances, and everyone really is a leader in the corner of the world that they've carved out for themselves. Just don't be afraid to step in and own that space that you've made and created for yourself, because you're the best person to own it."

To keep up with Emma, follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Watch Emma's Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories video below:


8 MARCH 2023