As conservationists, we are in many ways united by our shared dedication to nature and aspiration to make a positive change for the planet. However, our work can be a solitary and lonely experience, often carried out in remote locations or alone at a desk. It is therefore unsurprising that a feeling of isolation or disconnection can be a challenge for many in our field. Additionally, women in conservation face further, distinct hurdles.
WildHub member Megan Jones and Jennifer Solomon (2019), scholars at the Colorado State University, USA, recently explored the pervasive gender-related challenges that women conservation leaders experience in their careers, including salary inequality , and formal and informal exclusion. They also highlighted the crucial role of structural supports (e.g. formal opportunities like mentoring programmes, coaching or training) and supportive relations (e.g. with leaders and peers) in mitigating gender-related challenges.
The Women in Conservation Canterbury Network (WCCN) was formed in April 2019 for those who identify as women and who work towards conservation goals to offer meaningful peer support. “Our mission is to advance inclusivity and gender equality in conservation”, mentioned Thirza Loffeld. “We provide the space and support to connect, share information and build our capacity. Dominique Gonçalves and I started WCCN because we felt such a space was lacking and we wanted to support other women in overcoming hurdles and to help each other thrive in our personal and professional missions. We spent several months developing our WCCN mission and vision as a group and we are proud of our achievements of this first year.”
Natalie Yoh and Anna Jemmett, WCCN members and PhD researchers at Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent, produced a short video celebrating the achievements of WCCN thus far: “Since our formation, we have participated in 14 monthly meetings, hosted three Action Learning Workshops led by a professional coach, and organised an Autumn Wellbeing Walk through the woodland paths of Campus”, highlights Natalie.
All the way from India, Shaleen Attre, DICE Alumna and WCCN member, shared:“Women in conservation have some unique hurdles and challenges they have to go through, with "not being heard" as a common issue spanning different demographics and cultures. Being part of something like an Action Learning Workshop, facilitated by coach and WildHub member Ross Rowe, helped us communicate better and really listen. This proactive method helped us learn how to focus and delve into the issue, while giving a secure space for every voice in the room to be heard, without anyone being overshadowed.”
Together with students in social anthropology, WCCN also hosted an ‘Encounters in the Field’ workshop, which provided the opportunity for postgraduates at the School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC), University of Kent, UK, to openly and informally converse about the challenges they had faced during field work. During this workshop, participants found common ground and support within the SAC community. This event was linked to the development of the Procedural for Preventing and Dealing with Behavioural Misconduct during academic activities in a non-University setting by Professor of Biological Anthropology, Tracy Kivell, and advised upon by WCCN.
WCCN member Janina Robinson (right) together with professional coach Katie Hilton (left)
Another workshop was led by WCCN member and lecturer in Conservation Science at DICE, Janina Robinson, who brought in career coach and psychologist, Katie Hilton. This event was open to all postgraduate students at SAC and Katie helped them unlock their potential by reflecting on their strengths.
As WCCN embarks upon their second year, the group will continue working towards their founding vision: to foster a conservation sector which is equal, representative, and respectful to all workers regardless of gender. WCCN will work to continue growing their network (it currently comprises 66 members across four continents) whilst providing guidance on inclusivity when designing conservation projects, promoting safety in the field for conservation students, fostering a dialogue on motherhood and conservation and much more!
Lets make conservation a field welcome to all!
WCCN is a community that welcomes women of all ages, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
The group holds a monthly meeting on the last Tuesday of each month so, if this sounds like something you would like to get involved with, be sure to come to the next meeting on 27th October.
Find out more on the WCCN Facebook group.
An adapted version of this blog, compiled by Sarah Humphrys, was also published on the website of the School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC), University of Kent.