When I was asked to write about my experiences for International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I had to pause and reflect.
I’ve always thought of myself as a wildlife biologist, not specifically a woman biologist. All I ever wanted was what anyone—regardless of gender—wants, to pursue my studies and my career in the field of my choice, and to be respected for my hard work, contributions and achievements.
Yet like millions of women, I’ve also faced challenges most men didn’t have to face. I was the only woman in my graduate advisor’s program. I was warned repeatedly that my field work could be “dangerous”—warnings I don’t believe were issued to male classmates. I was told that working with wildlife was not a place for women; that I should pursue lab science or teaching.
As I advanced in my career, I ran into attitudes and behaviors that were disrespectful or dismissive. As a senior government official, I was called “little missy” and “honey” by a U.S. Senator. When I became pregnant as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, people asked me when I planned to resign.
These days, I continue to navigate the treacherous waters that all professional women do, where being strong, decisive or assertive—usually considered positive qualities in male leaders—can make some people see you as uncaring, unapproachable or worse.
Most of the time, I do what women have always done and continue to do. I clench my jaw, focus on the work, forge ahead and let my actions speak more loudly than my words. But I never give up hope that someday women in science, or in any career, will be judged solely on the basis of their knowledge, expertise and leadership.
As I reflect back on my own journey today, I see the exciting advances we’ve made in the growing number of women in science careers. I watch our Defenders of Wildlife TV show, Wildlife Nation, and I am awed by the increasing numbers of women in conservation—as veterinarians, scientists, technicians, animal caretakers and wildlife refuge managers. I see Defenders, full of bright, talented people who are doing what they love, standing up for wildlife and for each other.
I hope I have opened a few doors over the years; that my career as director of a high-profile federal wildlife agency and now as president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife has helped pave the way for young women and girls. I also hope it’s helped them believe that pursuing their passion, following their dreams and not letting anyone hold them back is a right and courageous course of action.
And that’s what I say to anyone who is considering a career in science. You’re making a great choice! Just be you! Go for it and don’t look back! No one can dash your goals or push you to be anyone other than who you are and who you aspire to be.
Representation in science hugely matters. When we come to the policy table or collaborate in the field with a diverse group of talented people, we come up with better solutions and more enduring outcomes.
So, if people say you do things “differently” because of your gender, age, race or background, be proud! Consider it one of your superpowers. Diversity matters and makes everything and everyone around us stronger. It’s going to take all of us to save our planet. Let’s do it!
Jamie Rappaport Clark
President and CEO
Defenders of Wildlife
Each person’s experience of their gender identity is unique, personal and cannot be known simply by looking at a person. This has been written from the point of view of a cisgender female in honor of International Day of Women and Girls in Science and is not intended to exclude any person or gender.