Women in Adirondack Conservation Advocacy & Policy Conference

Monday, February 26, 2018
By: Mary Godnick - Adirondack Council Marketing and Development Assistant

Be at the table. This was one of the many takeaways from the Adirondack Research Consortium’s Women in Conservation Advocacy & Policy Conference at Paul Smith’s College on February 15. Over 60 people gathered to hear women conservation leaders from the non-profit and government sectors speak on their experiences navigating the Adirondack conservation field.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/womeninconservationconference/WomenConservationGroup_ADK.jpg
In many science and policy careers, women face gender barriers in advancing their careers and having equal opportunities. As mentioned by some of the speakers at the event, the Adirondack Park has a culture that values masculine characteristics and skills and that is traditional in its attitudes toward women. The Adirondacks often feel behind the times compared to urban environments. The idea of an “Adirondack Woman” chopping wood and being tough and grizzly doesn’t always exactly match reality, but it’s not that far off for some of us either.

If you walk into most meetings or gatherings concerning important conservation decisions in the Adirondacks, you will find the room is filled with mostly white men. However, Adirondack organizations often have more women than men on staff (and still almost ubiquitously white). So what is missing? Why aren’t more women at the table when Adirondack conservation decisions are being discussed? To take a deeper look, the conference invited many of the inspiring women that have worked their way up in the field to share some insights.

The conference was kicked off with a talk by Dr. Jillmarie Murphy, Professor of Women’s Studies at Union College. She spoke on the dangers of online bullying and harassment of women, the importance of fundamental concerns such as feeling safe in a workplace, and the concept of gender as it relates to our connections to sense of place (both external and internal). 

Learning from Environmental Policy Leaders

Following Dr. Murphy’s remarks, Diane Fish Deputy Director of the Adirondack Council, facilitated a panel discussion with four leading women in conservation advocacy and policy. Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York, Jessica Bassett, an independent strategic communications consultant, Jessica Ottney Mahar of The Nature Conservancy, and Kathy Regan of the New York State Adirondack Park Agency shared their experiences navigating a male-dominated field of conservation and policy. They shared examples of difficult professional situations they’ve been in, and how they overcame adversity. They provided tips for other women looking to move up in the field, and how we can all support a better workplace for everyone.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/womeninconservationconference/DPastor_JBowen_MGodnick_ADK.jpgSome of the women on staff at the Adirondack Council - Deb Pastore Director of Fund Development,
Jackie Bowen Conservation Fellow and Mary Godnick Marketing and Development Assistant

Jessica Bassett shared how growing up and later in college she felt empowered and supported by those around her. But once she entered the tough world of Albany politics, she was surprised by things that were said to her that probably wouldn’t be said to her male colleagues.

Liz Moran shared that the environmental advocacy field requires knowledge of a lot of facts and science. Advocates need to be confident when delivering this information. She also reminded the audience that citizen voices have a lot of power, and urged us all to reach out to elected officials to make change happen.

Kathy Regan shared some tips for being successful in the field:  Don’t take things too personally, it’s not about YOU, it’s about an issue; Strengthen skills in conflict resolution; Don’t give up on your ideas, repeat it as many times as you need to until you’re heard.

Jess Ottney-Mahar shared her experience as a working mom. She emphasized the importance of finding a real work-life balance that works for you so you don’t become burnt out.

Kathleen Moser, 30+ Years of Experience, Mistakes and Successes

The keynote speaker Kathleen M. Moser Deputy Commissioner, Natural Resources, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) spoke transparently and openly on the topic of “Supporting Women in Conservation: 30+ Years of Experience, Mistakes and Successes.” She shared many experiences she had working for non-profit conservation organizations, and then advancing into senior leadership at the DEC. Some of the advice she shared, (inspired by Sheryl Sandberg): show up at the table, it’s okay to take a moment to process things, and listen to those you’re working with.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/womeninconservationconference/DFish_KMoser_ADK.jpgKathy Moser Deputy Commissioner, Natural Resources, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
and Diane Fish Deputy Director of the Adirondack Council

Kathy underscored the advantages of horizontal leadership styles. When the input of the entire team is taken into account, decisions may take more time to be made, but the follow through will be stronger and more efficient if everyone is on the same page. This more equal distribution of sharing and decision making is more frequent when women are in leadership roles.

What’s Next?

Following the presentations (and lunch provided by host Paul Smith’s College), attendees broke into small groups to brainstorm Adirondack action points that could help support women in Adirondack conservation careers. Many of the ideas centered around gathering data, providing support and breaking down barriers that keep women from succeeding in Adirondack conservation, advocacy and policy careers.

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/womeninconservationconference/Board.jpgSome ideas generated during the brainstorming sessions in small groups. 

One of the main takeaways from the day was that we need all hands on deck to address gender inequity in the Adirondack conservation field. We need to strengthen a professional culture in which women support each other through the recognition of good ideas, stepping in and up when help is needed, being a mentor/mentee, having conviction and confidence, and being resilient. We also need more data; how many women are in this field in non-profit, government agencies, and private companies compared to men. What roles do they play? Are they compensated equally? We can’t determine how to support women in conservation unless we have the data to show where the gaps are.

But the burden of change is not on women alone. We need men to reflect on and act upon what they are or are not doing to support the women in their office space and culture (e.g. speaking over people and making inappropriate comments are things we are all familiar with). We’re all fighting for many common goals. If we treat each other with respect and celebrate and encourage diversity of all kinds, we can get more done together.

A huge thank you to the Adirondack Research Consortium and the partners and sponsors that made the conference possible.


About the Author

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/staff-headshots/MaryJ.jpgMary joined the Council in August 2016. As the Marketing and Fund Development Assistant, Mary works with the team to coordinate marketing and fundraising efforts. She develops, manages and implements strategic social media and marketing campaigns to grow the visibility of the Council's efforts. She also works with the Fund Development team in the production of materials, mailings and reports to help expand our support to preserve the Park for future generations.

Mary grew up in Harford, NY. She is a graduate of SUNY Oswego and earned a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Public Relations in May of 2014. Previously, she has worked in digital marketing, search engine optimization, and social media management. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, blogging, gardening, yoga, and enjoying all that the Adirondack Park has to offer.

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