Lab Blogs

Acknowledging inequalities in conservation science


Every month, our Ecology@UVic discussion group has a theme. This November is “conservation”, where we will explore where the discipline of conservation biology emerged from and where we can take it. Although the discussion group normally meets internally, this year we decided to add public events open to the broader community in Victoria. “Conservation Week” arose in part because multiple events were already scheduled on campus: Ecology@UVic had invited Michael Soulé, Sierra Club BC had invited Harvey Locke and Jens Wieting, and our own Chris Darimont was giving a seminar in the School of Environmental Studies. What a great opportunity that they will all be in the same place at the same time!

Yet Another Only Male Panel

In the spirit of recent news around gender parity and diversity in the 42nd federal Cabinet of Canada, I’ve given some thought to the fact that our efforts that week to think about “the future of conservation biology” will be based on the perspectives of four white men. This is not so different from a North American Congress for Conservation Biology opening plenary I attended in 2014, of which some, including myself, were quite critical.

I think it warrants acknowledging that the homogenous panel of Conservation Week was not intentionally designed by myself and the other organizers, but rather (to be honest) opportunistic. Accordingly, it reflects the lack of diversity in conservation biology and beyond (i.e., in the sciences, technologies, engineering, and math, aka ‘STEM’, and across many power-based structures) is both too common and systemic.

A Call for Inclusive Conservation

Last week, Ecology@UVic read Soulé’s (1985) Bioscience paper that formally introduces the discipline of conservation biology. In it, he advocates for a diversity of knowledge systems, methodologies, and approaches to adequately address the growing conservation crisis. As a young conservation scientist, this has been my experience – the practitioners and scientists I learn, work, and problem solve with are from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, and often use ideas and tools from beyond a conventional scientific approach.

I am also grateful to reflect that my great mentors and teachers in the field and in the classroom have been from across the gender spectrum, and for the most part, they have been women. However, I do not believe this would be the norm for every emergent ecologist in the same position as me – there is much work still to be done towards diversity.

My hope is that if Conservation Week were to take place in 25 years, the panel would assemble as organically, but have a more diverse make-up. Tallis and Lubchenko (2014) speak directly to these topics in their ‘Call for Inclusive Conservation’ in Science. My hope is that when I am mentoring young scientists in 25 years, the opportunities I can offer those students and the capacity and support I have to do so (e.g. my wage, the grants I write, the research facilities I have) are not affected by my gender. I would also hope that when I looked around my cohort of colleagues, I would see a team made up of assorted gender and ethnicity, from across a spectrum of privilege and social status.

My most pressing hope is that right now, in the day-to-day, inside and outside of the academy, we support each other in strategies that encourage opportunities for a more diverse array of people to engage in science and receive the privilege that comes along with it. Doing so can help to cultivate diverse conservation priorities, strategies, and outcomes. Diversifying research perspectives and spaces is going to take considerable effort; likely consciously and purposefully privileging voices in our discipline that aren’t served by the current structure of power in science and academia more broadly, i.e. (and now I’ll be really candid) white, male, and/or upper class folks.

Conscious Efforts

How do we work towards a diversity of voices and perspectives? (Jonathan Eisen has lots of good thoughts on his blog – see here) If I look around my lab and graduate cohort, there is at least a relatively equal sex representation, though there is clearly room for improvement in opening space for more diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. If I look around campus, I can see that increasing diversity in graduate student and post-doc cohorts is not yet translating to diversity among higher power structures in academia. There is a growing body of resources out there to address these challenges and support the recruitment and retention of people from diverse ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds in STEM, academia, and the broader conservation movement.

Recently, a friend and mentor gently reminded me that

all fields of inquiry should consider who gets privilege and why, and confront the systems that perpetuate those inequalities.

Conservation biology is an action-oriented discipline working towards outcomes, but that does not mean we should work towards those outcomes without consciously sharing opportunities in the immense privilege we have as scientists and problem solvers. I encourage our community to acknowledge and lean into the challenges and the strategies presented in these resources, with the hope that intention and action combine towards a more diverse future of shared opportunities and outcomes.


Some organizations, blogs, feeds, and forums about diversity in science:


Symposium for Women Entering Ecology and Evolution Today (SWEEET) | @SWEEET_ecoevo

STEM Diversity, in Jonathon Eisen’s blog The Tree of Life | @phylogenomics #YAMMM

Associations and Organizations for Women in Science in Canada, the US, and the UK (via SWEEET)

The American Association of University Women | @AAUW

Green 2.0 – an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity across mainstream environmental NGOs, foundations and government agencies. Guardian coverage here.

Popular media coverage (blogs, podcasts, TED talks) on women in science


A quick survey of peer-reviewed literature on gender bias and diversity in the sciences (mostly via SWEEET):

Cho et al. (2014) PeerJ “Women are underrepresented on the editorial boards of journals in environmental biology and natural resource management” 

Clancy et al. (2014) PLoS ONE “Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault”

Foster et al. (2014) Conservation Biology “Increasing the Diversity of U.S. Conservation Science Professionals via the Society for Conservation Biology”

Jarvis (2015) Molecular Biology of the Cell “Surviving as an underrepresented minority scientist in a majority environment”

McClelland and Holland (2014) Psychology of Women Quarterly ‘You, Me, or Her: Leaders’ Perceptions of Responsibility for Increasing Gender Diversity in STEM Departments” 

Milkman et al. (2014) Social Science Research Network What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway into Organizations” and popular media here

Milkman et al. (2014) Psychological Science “Temporal Distance and Discrimination: An Audit Study in Academia” and popular media here

Pain (2014) Science Careers “More Action Needed to Retain Women in Science”

Reuben et al. (2014) PNAS “How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science”

Sheltzer and Smith (2014) PNAS Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women” – covered in Science and Slate

Tallis and Lubchenko (2014) Science “A call for inclusive conservation”


Megan Adams is PhD student in the Applied Conservation Science Lab, and the only woman on the Conservation Week organization committee. 🙂