Wildlife biology. As someone immersed in the field now, those words mean many things: research, conservation, exploration. When I declared them as my major at North Carolina State in 2010, I was naive to the path women before me paved in my field. But it didn’t take long to realize most of the core wildlife faculty, most of my classmates were male. Still, I never felt out of place, less than, or in the wrong being a woman in wildlife. Let me tell you why.
At freshman orientation, it was a woman (Rebecca) who grabbed my arm and forged a lifelong friendship fueled on dining hall food, late night study sessions, and a mutual love of the outdoors. As a junior working in a lab at the nature museum, it was a woman (Morgan) graduate student and woman (Ariel) research assistant who showed me the ropes. That summer, the women (Alex, Danie, Lauren, Lindsey, Julie, Erica, Elysha, Elizabeth) of wildlife camp formed a sisterly bond over morning bird quizzes and evening beers by the river.
When senior year rolled around, a woman (Dr. Gardner) professor taught the class notorious for being the most difficult in the wildlife curriculum. A woman (Lisa) interviewed me for my final internship as an undergraduate student that year, too and became a lasting mentor; she still challenges, “Are you doing what you want? Pursue only what you want.”
In my post-graduation internship, a woman (Stephanie) proved that glamour has a place in wildlife and a team of women (Troi, Mary, Natalia, Christina) interns lent helping hands on the others’ projects. Toward the end of that summer, I interviewed with a woman (Marcella) professor who hired me for my first real technician job. When I got to work, a woman (Jenna) trained me. The woman (Dana) graduate student on the project heard when I asked for more and gave me the opportunity to present and publish research on the data I helped collect. When that work was done, it was a woman (Cordie) graduate student who offered a job on her squirrel project. During her brief absence to attend a conference it was a woman (Emily) technician who came to assist me in the field.
When I moved to Missouri, I first worked for a woman (Rami) in a wildlife physiology lab, then with a woman (CJ) on a deer capture crew. The woman (Chloe) graduate student on the deer project balanced her responsibilities with the capture crew and coursework flawlessly. Later, I was hired by a woman (Roxie) to head up an invasive plant removal crew, where I worked with women (Michaela, Hannah) crew members.
When my graduate position on spotted skunks was still only maybe going to happen, it was a fellow woman (Colleen) mesocarnivore adorer who offered excitement. I ultimately accepted that graduate position and when I requested help from my lab prepping field equipment, it was two women (Lauren, Abby) who volunteered. The only woman (Lori) on my committee was the most enthusiastic of four members to join my thesis efforts.
Of course my journey in this “male-dominated” field included men too. An undergraduate advisor, for example, who believed my language-learning, study-abroading, non-wildlife-related pursuits were valuable. A boyfriend, who in response to whatever new dream job I discover, asks how, not whether we will achieve that dream. A professor and supervisor who will always write that letter or pick up the phone and call his contacts to vouch for me when I apply for a new job. A family that just wants to hear my stories, to know why I love the work I do.
It’s a gift to be surrounded by men who can’t fathom the type of person who would sexually discriminate or harass a woman in our workplace. But they know as well as we do, ladies, that our work isn’t done. Women don’t represent half of the wildlife field yet; the stats are even worse for women representing other minorities as well. Multiple women mentioned in this story told me experiences of sexual discrimination at work. That’s what today is about. Thousands of women are gathered in Washington, D.C., standing strong in the face of an uncertain future. Still thousands more are walking in sister marches worldwide. Today is about us standing in solidarity, in celebration, standing together.
To every strong woman in the wildlife field: thank you. You are proving to me, and the world, that we belong where we go. We are carving a space for ourselves and we’re not here just to look good or just for fun or just until our babies are born. We know our work, our contributions aren’t done. That’s why we’re here. Proudly. Unapologetically. For good.
Signage from the January 21, 2017 Women’s March on Washington sister march in Columbia, Missouri.