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Challenges and supports for women conservation leaders

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Abstract

Leadership and inclusivity are increasingly recognized as fundamental to conservation success, yet women's leadership within the conservation profession is understudied. This study identifies gender‐related challenges women conservation leaders experienced in their careers, and supports helping them advance. Using an intersectionality framing to identify intersections between gender, race/ethnicity, age, and leadership position, we conducted and analyzed semi‐structured interviews with 56 women leaders in conservation organizations across the United States. All interviewees reported experiencing or witnessing a gender‐related workplace challenge in at least one of six categories, and the vast majority reported encountering four or more of these challenges: salary inequality and difficulty negotiating, formal exclusion, informal exclusion, harassment and inadequate organizational response, assumptions of inadequacy, and assumptions of wrongness. Participants also experienced two categories of supports: structural supports and supportive relationships. Women's experiences varied based on age, race and ethnicity, and leadership position. Our results indicate more effort is needed to identify effective strategies for making conservation a more inclusive, empowering, and appealing profession in which to work.
CONTRIBUTED PAPER
Challenges and supports for women conservation leaders
Megan S. Jones | Jennifer Solomon
Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
Department, Colorado State University, Fort
Collins, Colorado
Correspondence
Megan S. Jones, Human Dimensions of
Natural Resources, Colorado State
University, 1480 Campus Delivery, Fort
Collins, CO 80523-1480.
Email: ms.jones@colostate.edu
Funding information
Colorado State University Libraries Open
Access Research and Scholarship; Human
Dimensions of Natural Resources
Department at Colorado State University
Abstract
Leadership and inclusivity are increasingly recognized as fundamental to conserva-
tion success, yet women's leadership within the conservation profession is under-
studied. This study identifies gender-related challenges women conservation
leaders experienced in their careers, and supports helping them advance. Using an
intersectionality framing to identify intersections between gender, race/ethnicity,
age, and leadership position, we conducted and analyzed semi-structured inter-
views with 56 women leaders in conservation organizations across the United
States. All interviewees reported experiencing or witnessing a gender-related work-
place challenge in at least one of six categories, and the vast majority reported
encountering four or more of these challenges: salary inequality and difficulty
negotiating, formal exclusion, informal exclusion, harassment and inadequate orga-
nizational response, assumptions of inadequacy, and assumptions of wrongness.
Participants also experienced two categories of supports: structural supports and
supportive relationships. Women's experiences varied based on age, race and eth-
nicity, and leadership position. Our results indicate more effort is needed to identify
effective strategies for making conservation a more inclusive, empowering, and
appealing profession in which to work.
KEYWORDS
conservation, equity, gender, inclusivity, intersectionality, leadership, organizational management,
semi-structured interviews, women
1|INTRODUCTION
Inclusive, diverse leadership is increasingly recognized as
fundamental to conservation success. Conservation scientists
and practitioners have argued that the profession will more
effectively protect biodiversity if it includes different gen-
ders, races, ethnicities, and cultures (Tallis & Lubchenco,
2014) and represents a plurality of values and viewpoints
(Matulis & Moyer, 2016). Including local women as
knowledge-holders and decision-makers in community-
based conservation has been linked to improved outcomes
globally in protected area management (Allendorf &
Allendorf, 2012), community forest governance (Agarwal,
2009), fisheries management (Leisher et al., 2015), climate
change mitigation (Larson et al., 2015), and water conserva-
tion (Kevany & Huisingh, 2013). Women have also been
influential leaders of grassroots environmental activism cam-
paigns at local, national, and international scales (Bell &
Braun, 2010). However, women's representation in leader-
ship positions within the conservation profession itself has
been understudied in peer-reviewed literature. This study
aims to address this by extending the research on conserva-
tion leadership to analyze women's experiences of gender-
related challenges and supports.
Received: 14 January 2019 Revised: 8 March 2019 Accepted: 22 March 2019
DOI: 10.1111/csp2.36
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
© 2019 The Authors. Conservation Science and Practice published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Society for Conservation Biology
Conservation Science and Practice. 2019;e36. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/csp2 1of11
https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.36
Any discussion about leadership and gender must recog-
nize that gender inequalities operate within many socially
constructed systems of privilege that control individuals'
access to power, knowledge, and resources (Johnson, 2006).
Intersectionality theory (Crenshaw, 1991 is a framework to
investigate how intersecting axes of social difference
including gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, sexuality, and
disabilitycombine to shape people's heterogenous experi-
ences (Healy, Bradley, & Forson, 2011). In this study we
employ an intersectional framing to understand how women
conservation leaders' experiences of gender-related chal-
lenges interweave with race and age at different levels within
organizational hierarchies. In so doing we combine literature
on workplace gender inequality with research by feminist
political ecologists such as Sundberg (2004, p. 61), who
calls for studies to examine if and how conservation, con-
servationistsand researchers are implicated in the (re)pro-
duction of unequal social relations in the daily discourses,
practices, and performances of conservation.
A plethora of evidence of gender inequality exists across
U.S. society. Women were historically excluded from many
leadership positions, and gender parity has yet to be reached
at the top of many occupations: women comprise 33% of full
professors, 20% of U.S. Congress people, and 6% of Fortune
500 company chief executive officers (CEOs) (Center for
American Woman and Politics, 2018; Snyder, Brey, &
Dillow, 2018; Zarya, 2017). In conservation, research on a
subsection of U.S.-based organizations suggests women
occupy most junior positions, for example, internships, but
fewer senior positions such as executive directors (Taylor,
2015), and that White women fill more senior leadership
roles than women of color, who also navigate racial inequal-
ities (Taylor, 2014).
It has been extensively demonstrated that gender imbal-
ance at the tops of organizations derives at least partially
from pervasive gender prejudice and discrimination. Gender
discrimination occurs when women receive fewer leader-
ship opportunities than men even with equivalent qualifica-
tions(Eagly & Carli, 2007, p. 67, emphasis in original),
and is rooted in prejudice result[ing] from the mismatch
between the stereotyped attributes that people ascribe to a
group and those they ascribe to a particular social role
(Eagly & Carli, 2007, p. 96). Prejudice against women
leaders thus derives from people's divergent expectations of
leaders and women, and manifests in resistance to women's
leadership. Working women often receive less approval than
men for the same behaviors, and less support, mentorship,
respect, and recognition (McClean, Martin, Emich, & Wood-
ruff, 2017); experience sexually harassment (McLaughlin,
Uggen, & Blackstone, 2012); and struggle to appear both
competent and warm (Eagly, 2007). Gender discrimination
manifests in unequal salary, hiring, and promotion processes
(Moss-Racusin, Dovidio, Brescoll, Graham, & Handelsman,
2012). In this paper we use the term gender-related chal-
lengesto encompass these difficulties.
1
Various supports have been identified that can
strengthen women's professional leadership. These include
transformed hiring practices, organizational analyses of
diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), trainings, mentoring
programs, role models, championing by senior leaders,
women's groups, and peer support. The utility of different
support structures has been extensively debated, especially
regarding how women's needs vary with inequalities of
race, class, and age (Healy et al., 2011) and the tensions
between organizations' responsibilities to change and
expectations placed on women to navigate unequal systems
by themselves (Van Oosten, Buse, & Bilimoria, 2017).
These types of support structures can be beneficial to all
employees, but are widely recognized as being particularly
necessary for people who are disadvantaged in the work-
place by social, political, and economic systems of privi-
lege such as gender, as well as race/ethnicity, class,
disability, and so on (Shore, Cleveland, & Sanchez, 2018).
Gender equality is considered a human right by the United
Nations, and gender diverse leadership correlates with high
managerial performance (Dezsö & Ross, 2012), increased orga-
nizational profit (Litz & Folker, 2002), and improved employee
well-being (Melero, 2011). Gender diversity has been linked to
effective conservation: an international comparative study of
46 natural resource management groups found women's partici-
pation was associated with significantly more collaboration,
reciprocity, persistence, and conflict resolution (Westermann,
Ashby, & Pretty, 2005). Similarly, a 10-year study of Fortune
500 companies found companies with women CEOs and on
the Board of Directors pursued more environmentally friendly
business strategies than those with fewer women (Glass,
Cook, & Ingersoll, 2015). The central role women play in
protecting biodiversity and preventing climate change at all
decision-making levels has been recognized by international
targets such as the Convention on Biological Diversity
(Alvarez & Lovera, 2016). Given these implications, it is cru-
cial to assess the current situation in the conservation profes-
sion. With that aim, we investigated U.S.-based women
conservation leaders' perceptions of how gender roles have con-
strained their careers, and what supports helped them advance.
2|METHODS
2.1 |Data collection
Interview participants were identified using snowball sam-
pling, beginning with a seed group drawn from the authors'
professional networks (Newing, 2011). Participants met five
inclusion criteria: self-identify as a woman, be currently
2of11 JONES AND SOLOMON
based in the United States, work for an organization with a
conservation mission, be employed in a leadership role, and
have a natural and/or social science background. Using a
positional definition of leadership (Bruyere, 2015), partici-
pants were considered conservation leaders if they occupied
midlevel to senior leadership positions (e.g., scientist/pro-
gram coordinator through superintendent/executive director).
Through these parameters we sought to understand how
women occupying central and influential roles felt con-
strained or empowered within their organizations.
Reflecting our grounding in intersectionality theory, we
used purposive sampling to solicit greater participation from
women of color, who often encounter distinct challenges
given their positions at multiple intersecting axes of discrim-
ination (Crenshaw, 1991). We also used purposive sampling
to reach participants of diverse ages, located across the U.S.,
working at various leadership levels, and based in different
organizational types. Interviews were conducted until satura-
tion was reached, that is, additional interviews contributed
few novel insights (Newing, 2011).
Potential participants were contacted via email. We
contacted 110 women, 79 of whom responded. Ultimately
63 women were interviewed. Interviews were conducted
in person (19%), over the phone (44%), and via Skype
(37%) from June to September 2016, lasted 4590 min
(averaging 58 min), and were transcribed by the first
author and a research assistant. Participants gave verbal
informed consent and were informed that their interview
would be redacted of personally identifiable information
and that they could withdraw from the study at any time.
Semi-structured interview questions (see Supporting
Information), derived from a literature review, focused on
participants' experiences of gender-related challenges
throughout their conservation careers, and supports to over-
come those challenges. Demographic information was col-
lected on participants' age, education, race/ethnicity, marital
status, children, and location.
2.2 |Data analysis
Interviews were analyzed using grounded theory, a system-
atic methodology for identifying emergent themes and incor-
porating them into theoretical models (Charmaz, 2014). We
first parsed the interviews into concepts (i.e., specific chal-
lenges and supports) using initial coding and then, based on
comparisons across the transcripts, clustered these concepts
into categories using focused coding. Memos were kept
throughout. To mitigate acquiescence bias, participants were
coded as having experienced particular challenges or sup-
ports only when they expounded on their experience
(Newing, 2011). Combining grounded theory driven analy-
sis with a deductively developed interview guide allowed us
to contextualize the data within the wider intersectionality
literature on working women and leadership while allowing
for participants' unique conservation experiences. In our
analysis we focused particularly on connections participants
made between their race/ethnicity, age, leadership level,
organization type, and gendered experiences.
3|RESULTS
3.1 |Characteristics of the participants
Fifty-six interviews qualified for analysis based on the inclu-
sion criteria.
2
At the time of the interviews 15 participants
worked for federal agencies, five for state agencies, 31 for
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and five for other
conservation organizations. Three participants self-identified
as African American, one as African American-Hispanic,
one as Asian American, four as White-Hispanic, and 47 as
White non-Hispanic (16% of color, 84% White). Participants'
aged ranged from 26 to 64 (median age 44) and were based
in 19 U.S. states.
3.2 |Gender-related challenges in the
conservation workplace
We derived six categories (see Figures 13) of gender-
related challenges that participants had perceived experienc-
ing in the conservation workplace. All participants reported
experiencing or witnessing a gender-related challenge in at
least one category while working in conservation; the vast
majority reported experiencing or witnessing a gender-
related challenge in four or more of the six categories.
3.2.1 |Salary inequality and difficulty
negotiating
Encompasses women conservation leaders' experiences
being paid less than men and/or struggling to negotiate
effectively (Figure 1). Some participants working at NGOs
lamented that their organization provided no transparency
about salaries, while others at agencies noted mandatory sal-
ary transparency merely allowed them to ascertain they were
being paid less than male colleagues. Some stressed that
even when equity adjustments are made, a legacy of inequal-
ity endures: as Participant 19 wondered, how many years
have I been being underpaid?
3.2.2 |Formal exclusion
Captures women conservation leaders' experiences being
denied opportunities to advance or seeing other women
denied advancement, particularly by being passed over for
JONES AND SOLOMON 3of11
promotions (Figure 1). Participants at NGOs, and federal
and state agencies offered recent examples of men in senior
leadership positions promoting more junior men over well-
qualified women. Several participants noted this seemed
most common in senior leadership.
3.2.3 |Informal exclusion
Comprises occasions when women are denied opportunities
to participate in decision-making, such as being excluded
from scientific and leadership tasks (Figure 1). Many
Formal
Exclusion
Informal
Exclusion
Women do not receive
promotions
Men are promoted more
quickly than women
Less competent men are
hired in over more
competent women, rather
than promoting the
women
Women are not invited to
(or not present in)
decision-making spaces
Women are talked over,
interrupted, or not
invited to talk in
meetings with men
Men restate women’s
ideas and receive
recognition for the idea
that the women do not
Men ask women to do
administrative tasks that
are not part of the
women’s leadership roles
“[He is] being promoted to potentially be the lead of
this topic for which my [female] colleague is much,
much, much, much more qualied. I mean he basically
has no qualications for that role.” (Participant 22)
“To me that is what the old boys’ [club] is, it’s like
these informal side conversations where people are
making huge decisions that are then brought back to
the table without collaborative, collective decision-
making.” (Participant 39)
“I have heard from other women who have had higher
positions than me – you know, Ph.D.'s, well-respected,
very accomplished, that they have had the experience
where in a meeting, men talk over them a lot, interrupt
them a lot, take credit for their ideas.” (Participant 47)
“When I rst started the last job there was a lot of
ganging up against the few female employees that
there were, a lot of them didn’t last. A lot of ‘you can
make my coffee, you can make my photocopies’ and it
was like, ‘I’m actually the biologist here’ [laughs].”
(Participant 57)
CATEGORY ATTRIBUTES EXEMPLARY QUOTES
“I also just don't think women get moved up as quickly.
Even if they’re doing the same level of work […] Men,
I feel like, would get the bump [up] before they took on
more responsibility.” (Participant 10)
Salary
Inequality &
Difculty
Negotiating
Organizations fail to
assess or address
gendered salary
inequality
“So you can go online and look up people's salaries
[…] I was the lowest paid person in my job class in my
last job, and I’m the one of the lowest paid people in
my job now.” (Participant 57)
Women are paid less
than male colleagues at
the same level
“Literally, her [the HR representative’s] mouth
dropped open and she was like, ‘I cannot believe you
are making so little, why are you at this level?’ and I
was like ‘I do not know!’ There is no transparency in
how salaries are set.” (Participant 20)
Women feel unequipped
to negotiate
“I also didn't even enter this job knowing things like
negotiating my salary, or that I could.” (Participant 5)
“They sent a very loud message of, ‘no we don't really
want you up here.’ Even though I was obviously leaps
and bounds the most qualied to do that job. And that
hurt.” (Participant 54)
FIGURE 1 Gender-related challenges experienced by women conservation leaders: Salary inequality, formal exclusion, and informal
exclusion
4of11 JONES AND SOLOMON
participants stressed that this occurred across positional
and generational power imbalances, with more senior men
excluding more junior women and/or older men excluding
younger women, while others noted that informal exclu-
sion still occurs despite them having attained senior lead-
ership positions. Participants of color noted informal
exclusion that White participants did not, with all but one
describing a sense of isolation being the only, or one of
the only, people of their race/ethnicity at their organiza-
tion and in most conservation spaces. Many reported that
colleagues tended to exacerbate this through direct com-
ments (positive or negative) and requests that they take on
additional DEI work. Participant 39 explained that White
women might struggle to sit at the conservation table, but
for women of colorwe haven't even stepped into the
building.
3.2.4 |Harassment and inadequate
organizational response
Encapsulates women conservation leaders' accounts of being
harassed and/or sexually harassed at work, and organizations
tacitly tolerating this (Figure 2). Many participants empha-
sized that this occurred across asymmetries in formal and
age-related authority, through which older men in senior
leadership roles harass younger, more junior women. Some
participants in their 40s and 50s reported that although they
were no longer objects of harassment, they were still
Harassment
& Inadequate
Response
CATEGORY ATTRIBUTES EXEMPLARY QUOTES
Women experience
verbal or physically
threatening behavior
from male supervisors
and colleagues
Women do not report
incidents because of a
fear of retaliation or a
belief that reporting will
not lead to change
If organizations do take
formal action, women
believe it is not sufcient
Women who do report
harassment experience
retaliation from
colleagues or supervisors
Organizations do not
take action when an
incident is reported
Women experience
sexual harassment, i.e.
unwelcome sexual talk or
behavior from male
supervisors and
colleagues
Harassment policies and
reporting mechanisms are
only put into place after
an organizational
harassment scandal
“There were some harassment issues, of a male
harassing a female, at [location redacted]. And the
person in charge, the supervisor, was a male, and then
the next supervisor was a male, and so the issue never
got taken care of.” (Participant 17)
“It was denitely not like a ‘good for her for standing
up for herself.’ It was more of like a, ‘wow, what a
troublemaker, couldn’t she have handled that
herself’.” (Participant 37)
“It’s certainly something that has come up for younger
[female] colleagues of mine who are potentially in
direct supervision relationships with older males who
– and it’s more of an inappropriate language, and
maybe the supervising individual doesn’t even realize
that they’re making someone feel very uncomfortable.”
(Participant 7)
“I’ve thought about reporting it and then I was like,
why? He won’t be held accountable for change. It
would be on me, and it would be something like, ‘you
need to take that less personally’.” (Participant 9)
“And how it’s been handled – well it appears that
there may have been a settlement here or there […]
but is it really solved? I doubt it, because I think that
individual is still around.” (Participant 32)
“[We] had a really huge sexual harassment scandal
this past winter and spring and so since then, they have
totally overhauled their policies.” (Participant 61)
“There was a man who was purported to punch a hole
in the drywall next to a woman’s head and he didn’t
get red. I’m not even sure he got reprimanded.”
(Participant 43)
FIGURE 2 Gender-related challenges experienced by women conservation leaders: Harassment and inadequate organizational response
JONES AND SOLOMON 5of11
CATEGORY
“They’ll still be surprised like, ‘oh, you got that job?!
Really!’ You’ll be like, ‘yeah, I did, why are you
surprised? [...] you’re surprised because I’m a
woman,’ and it – it’s just insidious, it just is. But then
you keep being battered by it along the way [...] the
impact of that is like, ‘woah, maybe I shouldn’t have
gotten that job’.” (Participant 45)
Assumption of
Inadequacy
Assumption of
Wrongness
Men disbelieve or are
surprised at women’s
successes
Men assume that women
cannot be the authority
gure in a given situation
Male employees or
colleagues challenge
women’s right to be in a
leadership position
Women feel they have to
work harder than men
Women strive not to fail,
because they perceive
every mistake counts
against them
Women who claim
authority by being
assertive are perceived
negatively and critiqued
by their colleagues and
supervisors
Women who do not
behave assertively are
told to be more assertive
Women are seen as being
the wrong age: too old,
young, or middle-aged
Women are perceived as
being too overtly
feminine to do their job
“I denitely encountered a lot of people that either
outright told me that I shouldn’t be where I was or that
they didn’t believe that I could do the work, or it was
pretty obvious that that was the case, and you had to
make sure that people saw that you were competent.”
(Participant 55)
“She was brilliant and incredibly assertive – everyone
hated her. Other people that were brilliant and
incredibly assertive that weren’t women, didn’t have
that level of, you know, negativity surrounding them.”
(Participant 37)
“The number of times I’ve been told by my
predecessors or the kind of community here in
[location redacted] that I’m not erce enough or I’m
not loud enough or I’m not assertive enough or I’m not
aggressive enough...” (Participant 45)
“I would never wear high heels to a conservation
conference [...] it’s a judgment of, you know, that’s –
that means that you’re not serious about this work and
you’re not ready to get out in the eld and you know,
do what needs to be done.” (Participant 7)
“I go into a lot of situations knowing, ‘Okay, I’m going
to be with all men, and I have to be on my game’
because they are going to look at you as less than
equal, that’s a given.” (Participant 33)
ATTRIBUTES EXEMPLARY QUOTES
“He was like, ‘are you sure you’re old enough to be
here?’ [laughs]” (Participant 27)
“Especially in the eld sciences, being out in the eld
[…] I have been in situations where men assumed that
the women scientists wouldn’t be able to do as much as
the men scientists, or that they shouldn’t be in charge
of certain tasks.” (Participant 18)
“Most women that I know who are very high-level
conservation professionals are super organized, super
dedicated, go above and beyond – you know, and some
of the men who are in leadership positions, they can’t
even like keep a calendar straight.” (Participant 34)
FIGURE 3 Gender-related challenges experienced by women conservation leaders: Assumption of inadequacy and assumption of wrongness
6of11 JONES AND SOLOMON
sometimes expected to listen to male colleagues' sexual
comments about other women. Several mentioned that sex-
ual harassment was more egregious when doing fieldwork.
3.2.5 |Assumption of inadequacy
Encompasses an underlying impression, suggested by men's
(and occasionally other women's) statements and actions, that
they believe women are incapable of doing conservation sci-
ence and/or being conservation leaders (Figure 3). Race and
ethnicity intersect with gender here: two participants of color
reported comments from others demonstrating their assump-
tion that women of color are not (and cannot be) conservation
leaders. Participant 61 explained: most of the time people
just don't think that I'm a scientist.Many participants
reported experiencing this assumption predominantly when
they were younger and less senior, while others experienced it
throughout their career. Several observed how men assume
women lack fieldwork skills, such as changing truck tires,
driving boats, or identifying birds (Participants 8, 56, 11).
3.2.6 |Assumption of wrongness
Encompasses an underlying impression, suggested by men's
(and occasionally other women's) statements and actions,
that they believe women are unfit for conservation leader-
ship (Figure 3). Many participants underscored the tension
in conservation science between femininity and fieldwork.
To appear feminine is to undermine one's credibility as a
field scientist, and downplaying one's femininity feels partic-
ularly important for younger women, whose credibility may
already feel jeopardized by gender and age. Two participants
of color stressed the difficulty of disentangling multiple
marginalities of race/ethnicity and gender when others
assume they are too young to lead. Several participants in
their 40s and 50s also noted they are discountedfor being
older (Participant 45). Finally, many participants highlighted
that women of all ages and leadership levels struggle to be
both assertive and well-liked.
3.3 |Supports mitigating gender-related
challenges in the conservation workplace
We derived two categories comprising the professional sup-
ports that participants described as most meaningful for
overcoming obstacles and advancing in their careers
(Figure 4).
3.3.1 |Structural supports
Encompasses formal opportunities offered by conservation
organizations, societies, and fellowships, and structural
changes adopted by conservation organizations. Formal
opportunities include mentoring programs, coaching, and
trainings in DEI, leadership, and resilience. Structural
changes entail efforts by organizations to improve the work-
place for women, including assessing diversity, improving
harassment policies, and evaluating salaries. Several partici-
pants who stressed the benefits of organizational trainings
were based at federal agencies, while one worked at a big
international NGO (BINGO). Others at BINGOs lamented
the lack of funding for leadership development. A few par-
ticipants suggested that formal opportunities became more
accessible as they advanced in rank, but are not always visi-
ble: the resources are there if you ask. Do you know that
you can ask? Like, I didn't know!(Participant 10).
3.3.2 |Supportive relationships
Includes relationships with leaders (advisors, supervisors,
upper management, and mentors) and peers (colleagues
across organizations). Most participants stressed five catego-
ries of important behaviors that leaders of all genders could
adopt: provide opportunities, learn women's individual
needs, give feedback and guidance, connect women to their
networks and champion their work, and demonstrate confi-
dence in women, thus building women's own self-
confidence (see Figure 4 for illustrative quotes). Women
leaders specifically were described as providing additional
support by being role models: Seeing women who are com-
petent and in leadership positions is really important too.
You can make your own way, but it's definitely harder if
you don't see where you can get(Participant 68). Partici-
pants of color emphasized that role models and mentors of
their own race/ethnicity are particularly helpfulbut often
difficult to find. Participants also described support from
peers who share experiences of workplace challenges, and
men who demonstrate their belief in gender equality. Both
leaders and peers provide support by being trustworthy peo-
ple with whom participants could have honest conversations.
Although participants mentioned that some younger male
colleagues seem more egalitarian than older men, many
underscored that they believe inclusive leadership by older
people is essential because of these leaders' greater posi-
tional power within organizations.
4|DISCUSSION
The six categories of gender-related challenges emerging
from our analysis suggest women conservation leaders navi-
gate various forms of gender inequality in the conservation
workplace. In our sample gender biases spanned many
arenasincluding organizational structures, supervisor-
supervisee relationships, and interactions with colleagues
JONES AND SOLOMON 7of11
and were experienced by women of various ages, working in
diverse organizations, and from junior leadership to execu-
tive roles. Women of color reported struggling with race-
related informal exclusion and assumptions of inadequacy.
Young women encountered more sexual harassment than
older women, particularly from older and more senior men,
assumptions of inadequacy, and perceptions that femininity
is incompatible with field science competence. More senior
women reported obstacles to formal promotion. These
results corroborate research on women's workplace
“What’s been really helpful is participating in some
leadership trainings, some really good ones, and then I
think that taught me the skill to seek a mentor, to seek
mentors or to seek assistance where I probably
wouldn’t have done it.” (Participant 53)
Structural
Supports
Supportive
Relationships
Formal opportunities for
women to gain skills
Structural changes to
make organizations more
gender equitable
Provide opportunities
Learn women’s
individual needs
Give feedback and
guidance
Connect women to their
networks and champion
their work
“The [male boss] was a wonderful mentor to me and
really gave me opportunities to grow and to learn and
took me into his condence and made me sort of his
right hand person, and I just grew leaps and bounds in
that experience just because he believed in me and just
gave me opportunities.” (Participant 40)
“So it’s not just about having the right mentors to
interact with, and role models, but also people who
you’re responsible to who have the capacity, for
everybody they supervise, to kind of understand them
as an individual and gure out how to equip them to
be successful.” (Participant 13)
“What is most helpful for me is having someone who
can work with me pretty regularly, so either a direct
boss that’s a woman that is really focused on my
advancement, or a close colleague, because they can
catch the sort of day to day things or decisions that we
make, that we could be making in a better way to
promote ourselves or advance our positions.”
(Participant 42)
“Just people believing in me. People that made me feel
like I could do it, or assumed that I could do it. I think
that made a big difference for me, just sort of have that
and these other things are just kind of smaller little
bumps then, and don’t become big barriers for you.”
(Participant 59)
“Having the sexual harassment support system, having
that in place […] then you can be a fully condent,
competent woman in your job, and you don't have to
worry about will I lose my job, […] being so careful.”
(Participant 68)
Demonstrate condence
in women, thus building
women’s self-condence
Leaders who:
“I watch her in action, and she’d always promote me
and make sure I had exposure and experience and
opportunity and always introducing me, just very
cognizant. She was a great role model on how to be a
good mentor. She still is.” (Participant 62)
CATEGORY ATTRIBUTES EXEMPLARY QUOTES
FIGURE 4 Supports experienced by women conservation leaders: Structural and relational
8of11 JONES AND SOLOMON
leadership experiences in STEM and other professions in the
United States, and are indicative of widespread sociocultural
constructions of gender roles whereby women are often per-
ceived as unfit for or incompatible with leadership, and
treated accordingly (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Purcell, Mac-
Arthur, & Samblanet, 2010).
Questions remain about whether and how these patterns
are changing. Many older White participants reported
experiencing fewer gender-related challenges as they gained
age, experience, and seniority, but complex interactions
between these factors preclude easy explanations of causal-
ity. Some participants of color emphasized that efforts to
increase gender equality in conservation do not automati-
cally transition to racial equality unless race is specifically
considered, an observation reinforced by previous research
(Bowser, Roberts, Simmon, & Perales, 2012). Participants
also described many supports helping them advance that
may transform conservation workplaces. Some support
structures are issue-specific, such as organizational investi-
gations into salary inequity and sexual harassment. Others,
such as leadership and DEI trainings, are more comprehen-
sive efforts to change institutional culture and empower indi-
viduals. Supportive relationships with peers and leaders, but
particularly those in senior positions, were seen as critical
for increasing women's access to opportunities, building
women's skills and confidence, normalizing women's repre-
sentation in senior leadership, and creating inclusive conser-
vation workspaces. These supports may also be useful to all
people, regardless of gender. However, these findings reflect
the wider literature, where mentorship and inclusivity specif-
ically have been shown to benefit women leaders to help
address gender imbalances such as men's tendency to have
greater self-confidence than women, and men's dispropor-
tionate access to benefits from homophilous (i.e., based on
shared characteristics) social networks with more senior
male leaders (Purcell et al., 2010; Schipani, Dworkin,
Kwolek-Folland, & Maurer, 2009).
Questions remain about whether and how workplace gen-
der inequality undermines conservation's ability to achieve
its goals of biodiversity protection and ecological steward-
ship (Matulis & Moyer, 2016; Tallis & Lubchenco, 2014).
The challenges identified here may limit women conserva-
tionists' leadership directly, if they are promoted less fre-
quently than men, or indirectly, if they are perceived as less
competent or less fitted for leadership. They may also erode
women's confidence or lead them to perceive workplaces to
be unfair, unwelcoming, or unsafe. For instance, a Depart-
ment of the Interior study suggests many employees who
experience workplace harassment report that it damages their
working relationships, undermines their well-being, impairs
their work, and prompts them to attempt to leave their job
(CFI Group, 2017). Research suggests sexual harassment is
also common in scientific fieldwork (Clancy, Nelson, Ruth-
erford, & Hinde, 2014), and women scientists are more
likely to quit than women in other professions (Glass,
Sassler, Levitte, & Michelmore, 2013). Gender inequality at
all levels can thus be deleterious to organizational success.
In this study we used intersectionality theory to explore
women conservation leaders' perceptions of how gender
identity has affected their careers in interaction with the
unique circumstances that different individuals navigate
(Healy et al., 2011). Findings suggest that further research
could productively apply this framing to disentangle the
complexities of doing conservation work globally. For
instance, this could include investigation of how perceptions
about women's conservation leadership challenges and sup-
ports vary across cultures (Straka, Bal, Corrigan, Di
Fonzo, & Butt, 2018) or within specific organizations
(e.g., Belmaker, 2018), as well as exploration of how women
may themselves uphold or dismantle systems of privilege in
conservation. More comprehensive investigation is also needed
into the perceptions and experiences of women of color in con-
servation leadership, particularly the differences and similarities
amongst their experiences, as well as those of other marginal-
ized groups such as those whose experiences are shaped by
social class, sexuality, or gender identity (Bowser et al., 2012;
Taylor, 2016). Finally, research is needed to understand how
men in conservation perceive and take action about issues of
gender, intersectionality, and difference, and to identify actions
conservation institutions are undertaking to become more inclu-
sive and just (Bennett, 2018).
Conservation is avowedly a crisis discipline, in which
human, technical, and financial capital is widely recognized
as insufficient to overcome the environmental challenges we
face (Bottrill et al., 2008). It is therefore counterproductive if
people working in this field are being subtly and systemati-
cally excluded, intentionally or otherwise. More effort is
needed to identify effective strategies for making conserva-
tion a more inclusive, empowering, and appealing profession
in which to work.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This work was supported by the Human Dimensions of Nat-
ural Resources Department at Colorado State University and
the Colorado State University Libraries Open Access
Research and Scholarship fund. The study was conducted
under CSU IRB Protocol 16-6599H. We thank our study
participants for giving their time and sharing their
experiences.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
JONES AND SOLOMON 9of11
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
J.S. conceived the idea. M.S.J. and J.S. designed the study.
M.S.J. collected the data. M.S.J. analyzed the data with sup-
port from J.S. M.S.J. led the writing of the manuscript with
support from J.S. Both authors approved the final manu-
script for publication.
DATA ACCESSIBILITY
Due to possible sensitivity of human subjects' data, inter-
view files and transcriptions are only accessible to the
authors.
ETHICS STATEMENT
The study was conducted under CSU IRB Protocol
16-6599H. Participants gave verbal informed consent for
their interview to be audio-recorded, transcribed, and dis-
seminated with personally identifiable information redacted.
ENDNOTES
1
Although it was not the focus of this study, it is worth noting that
people of all genders can be negatively affected by narratives of mas-
culinity and femininity in the workplace, such as in organizational
cultures where men feel they must provetheir manhood or when
men are victims of workplace sexual harassment (e.g., Berdahl, Coo-
per, Glick, Livingston, & Williams, 2018).
2
Seven of the 63 interviews conducted did not meet the inclusion
criteria and thus were excluded from analysis for the following rea-
sons: interviewee was based outside the United States at time of inter-
view (n= 2), was primarily based at an academic institution (n= 1),
did not have a science background (n= 1) or leadership role (n= 2),
or interview audio-recording quality was too poor for analy-
sis (n= 1).
ORCID
Megan S. Jones https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4284-3650
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SUPPORTING INFORMATION
Additional supporting information may be found online in
the Supporting Information section at the end of this article.
How to cite this article: Jones MS, Solomon J.
Challenges and supports for women conservation
leaders. Conservation Science and Practice. 2019;
e36. https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.36
JONES AND SOLOMON 11 of 11
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... In other cases, conservationists can face hard choices when trading-off objectives 23 , which could be compounded by ideological con icts with peers (e.g., 24 ). These challenges are not equally experienced within the sector and can vary by job role, geography, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, gender, and other identities and social relations [25][26][27] . For example, several recent studies examine workplace stressors -such as isolation from family, poor health and safety, and inadequate compensation -experienced by conservation rangers 22,28−32 . ...
... Respondents had a mean Kessler-10 score of 20.9 (standard deviation (SD) = 7.0) and median score of 20.0 (inter-quartile range = 9.0, see SI 3 for the distribution of scores). Among the respondents, 14.8% had scores suggesting moderate distress (25)(26)(27)(28)(29), and a further 13.0% had scores indicating severe distress (> 30). Personal characteristics and workplace conditions associated with psychological distress Two structural equation models were implemented with 2306 observations ( ve respondents with nonbinary gender identities were excluded from the sample for reasons described in the methods). ...
... Similarly, resident communities and Indigenous groups play crucial roles in conserving nature, but our study does not explicitly explore their experiences. Future research could explore these dimensions, potentially using in-depth qualitative methods to provide nuanced insights (e.g., 27 ). ...
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... We are aware that our data reflect a significant gender bias in the leading positions of Protected Landscape Areas Administrations (except 1 woman, all our respondents were men). However, we were not able to influence structural gender inequality (Jones and Solomon, 2019) due to the nature of the purposive sampling process aiming at heads of the Protected Landscape Areas Administrations. Lastly, we would like to stress that the views of our respondents represent particular perspectives (of protected area managers) and not a general view or a view of different stakeholders. ...
... (2) Ensure there are early and equitable career development opportunities for women ECRs r Offer women ECRs early opportunities to manage and lead research, beyond that of their degree. r Superiors to provide opportunities for women ECRs to expand their external collaborative networks and assist them in taking up opportunities for skill development and leadership Jones and Solomon, 2019;de Winde et al., 2021). r Provide more compensated opportunities and resources for women ECRs to facilitate equitable access to publishing (Llorens et al., 2021;Maas et al., 2021;Mori, 2021;Schipper et al., 2021). ...
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... Biodiversity conservation and management increasingly considers gender equity as integral to inclusive decision-making (Tallis & Lubchenco, 2014;Matulis & Moyer, 2017;Lau, 2020). Even though women play influential roles in conservation, environmental activism, and leadership at local, national, and international scales (Bell and Braun, 2010), gender inequality in conservation remains pervasive (Jones and Solomon, 2019;James et al., 2021). This is a serious problem because gender inequality hinders the achievement of biodiversity protection and ecological stewardship (Tallis & Lubchenco, 2014;Matulis & Moyer, 2017). ...
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