Celebrating International Women’s Day 2022: Break the Bias

Posted: 8th March 2022

Photo: Magnus Lundgren

This week we celebrated International Women’s Day on 8th March 2022, by recognising some of the women who are working to restore nature as part of the Endangered Landscapes Programme. This year’s theme of ‘Break the Bias’ is all about examining some of the biases that face women in the sector, as well as celebrating the passion that fuels their work. We hope these stories will demonstrate some of the great work that women are doing across the ELP-funded projects, and help to inspire the next generation of women in landscape restoration.

Megan Critchley

Megan is a Programme Officer in the Nature-based Solutions team at UNEP-WCMC and has been working in the organisation for two years. Her work focuses on ecosystem service mapping and modelling, as well as climate change mitigation, and she is part of an ELP-funded project which is investigating climate change mitigation benefits and opportunities across ELP Restoration Landscape projects.

This year’s international women’s day theme is ‘Break the Bias’. What does this mean to you?

To me, breaking the bias means that we ensure inclusive spaces and opportunities are created for people of all different backgrounds. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we shouldn’t allow biases to prevent anyone from having their say or getting involved. I think this is particularly relevant in the field of conservation and ecosystem restoration. These interventions are only successful if everyone is on board and when we listen – in particular, to those voices who are primarily affected by and living with the outcomes.

What do you like about working in landscape restoration?

One of my favourite things about working in landscape restoration is uncovering just how connected and far reaching the benefits resulting from restoration interventions can be. Restoring landscapes can improve habitat for biodiversity and bring back species which were previously lost, help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, improve water quality, soil fertility, coastal and storm protection, provide socio-economic opportunities… the list is endless! I’m really fascinated by the cascading effects and how they feed back on each other through time. Landscape restoration occurs over long periods of time, but even seeing the first signs of ecosystem health improving is really rewarding.

Funda Kok

As Conservation Manager at the Mediterranean Conservation Society (MCS / AKD) – a local partner in the Gökova Bay project – Funda is responsible for development and management of marine conservation projects. Before her role with MCS, Funda worked in the finance sector for nearly decade, specialising in commercial loans and portfolio management. She is now studying for a Masters degree at Ege University Environmental Research Centre, focusing on marine ecosystems and conservation.

What message would you want to send to young women interested in landscape restoration? 

I always enjoyed watching wildlife documentaries and spending time in nature. I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to play in the woods, to go camping with my family and to snorkel and discover the pristine waters of the Mediterranean. It is heart-breaking to see the biodiversity from my childhood in dramatic decline, and it’s visible now more than ever.  

I started to work in conservation after spending more than 10 years in different sectors and felt sorry that I could have started earlier. On the other hand, I’m happy to be able to transfer my skills and experience into conservation, which makes me think that we should possess a holistic approach in conservation. My advice for the young women interested in landscape restoration is to never stop learning (not only in their area of expertise but a wide range of areas), stay up to date, speak out your values and ideas, don’t be afraid to try and do challenging tasks, be great leaders and encourage younger conservationists to work against exploitation of our mother nature.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?  

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is from my dad – he used to say that “if you are doing something, do your best, don’t blame conditions or others if you fail, try again, do differently and take lessons from your failure. Failure isn’t always a bad thing, doing nothing, being indifferent against injustice is bad.” 

Ellie Dimambro-Denson

Ellie is the Monitoring Officer for the ELP-funded Cairngorms Connect project and has been in the role for nearly three years. She began working in conservation through an internship with the RSPB nearly four years ago, shortly after graduating with a BSc in Biology. Her diverse role with the project ranges from spending nights at the tops of mountains surveying for moths, to monitoring translocations of rare plants such as montane willows and twinflower, to monitoring waterflow in the peatlands to surveying for deadwood beetles in Ancient Caledonian Pinewoods and surrounding plantations. 

This year’s international women’s day theme is ‘Break the Bias’. What does this mean to you?  

Breaking the bias would mean breaking the often rather obvious surprise people find upon seeing the person carrying the 80L rucksack full of survey equipment or driving a 4×4 out to remote corners of the Cairngorms is actually a young woman! 

What message would you want to send to young women interested in landscape restoration?   

To go for it! Volunteering at a local reserve is a great way to begin to build experience, but simply paying close attention to the natural world around you every day is one of the most empowering first steps you can take to help work towards a career in landscape restoration. We can’t protect what we don’t understand. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?  

The future will always be unknowable, and the past can’t be changed, but we can decide what we do in the here and now. That’s what matters. 

Hólmfríður Arardottir

Hólmfríður works for Fuglavernd (BirdLife Iceland) – a proud member of BirdLife International – which leads the ELP-funded Grunnafjörður Watershed project. She has been working for nature conservation organisations for 13 years (“Lucky me”, she says!). Fuglavernd is focuses on bird protection, both species and of course habitat, and Hólmfríður never tires of telling people the importance of bird conservation – birds are a good indicator of planetary health, and for her are therefore a good warning system.

What do you like about working in landscape restoration?

Seeing small actions lead to a big one, and that nature will have more space – managed or not. Untouched and pristine wilderness is an important part of Icelandic identity and uniqueness, but if you look closer, those areas are fewer and fewer – and getting smaller. 

What message would you want to send to young women interested in landscape restoration?

That I envy them to be part of a new thinking, where humans may not have the same status as before, where nature will have a value in itself, and nature will have more space. But also building on all the knowledge that is being acquired along the way – and maybe having society more accepting of conservation. Everything changes – even untouched nature.

Georgina Mayhew

Georgina is the Capacity and Networks Coordinator for the Endangered Landscapes Programme team, based in Cambridge, UK. She has worked for the programme since 2018 – almost since its beginning. Georgina’s role is to facilitate knowledge exchange and relationship building across the network of ELP-funded projects. She has a BSc in Zoology and MSc in Environment and Development, and is particularly interested in how ecosystem/landscape health interacts with human wellbeing.

This year’s international women’s day theme is ‘Break the Bias’. What does ‘Break the Bias’ mean to you?

For me, it’s about recognising that we subconsciously have certain expectations about women (and that this intersects with other factors like race, sexual orientation, cultural expectations and age). Bias can look like underestimating women’s ability to cope with physical work in the field, or emotional sensitivity being perceived as a weakness. It can also look like being expected (or asked to) make tea/coffee, remember colleagues’ birthdays, and keep the office tidy – often these ‘caring’ roles fall disproportionately to female colleagues. A lot of this is subconscious, so I think it’s important for everyone (women as well as men) to ask themselves if they would have these same expectations of a man. Conservation is one of the least diverse sectors, and I think having more gender diversity and celebrating the traits that are often perceived to be more ‘female’ – like collaboration, empathy, inclusivity (while also not expecting women to exhibit these traits) – can only be a good thing.

What message would you want to send to young women interested in restoration?

That there isn’t only one way to ‘fit’ into a conservation career. When I first started studying and working in conservation, I put a lot of pressure on myself to have good technical and research skills, and it’s taken me a long time to accept that my natural strengths are more in creativity, communication and empathy – which are just as valuable to the cause! So my message would be not to limit yourself or expect to know what you enjoy/what your strengths are before you start a job – pay attention to how you feel when you actually do the work. Which parts feel like a slog, and where do you come alive? If you follow those answers (and have a bit of compassion for yourself), you can’t go far wrong!

We thank all contributors for sharing their experiences for International Women’s Day today, and their efforts to help deliver landscapes for life.

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