Women in Conservation Leadership Network

Women in Conservation Leadership Network


The ‘Women in Conservation Leadership Network’ was founded in September 2013. The network is growing every month and as of November 2017, has over 400 members. The two main focus areas for the network are institutional change and personal empowerment, both facilitated by learning from good practice.


The purpose of the network is to support women already in conservation leadership and those aspiring to these roles. The network works towards supporting diverse conservation leadership teams that make best use of everyone’s skills to enhance conservation outcomes.  We seek to build the confidence of women to lead – both those in the network and those in the wider conservation community. For this to happen, we need to drive cultural change in organisations and recruitment practices.

Operating principles

The network is a Cambridge Conservation Forum (CCF) group and will be promoted using the established CCF communications channels, mostly website and newsletters.

The network aims to

·         Be open to all (some events may be women-only meetings – transgender and non-binary welcome)

·         Support women working in biodiversity conservation

·         Support women in and wanting to move into leadership positions

·         Inspire people and promote/create role models

·         Provide practical advice on how to approach and plan for all stages of people’s career

·         Be inclusive of everyone’s ideas and aspirations

·         Be self organised and self sustaining

·         Facilitate structural/institutional change as well as personal empowerment

·         Be a collective voice to strengthen  ideas and actions that individually might not have traction

Network Steering Group

The network is led by a newly refreshed steering group chaired by Alison Johnston. Other members of the group are Secretary Pippa Heylings, Communications lead Victoria Price, Bryony Morgan, Catriona Corfield, Angelika von Heimendahl, Alice Ward-Francis, Pamela Abbott and Rosie Trevelyan.

“A leader is anyone who has followers.”

Leadership can be demonstrated in any position and is not exclusive to those appointed to positions of “formal” leadership (e.g. senior management/technical expert roles, board membership).  Some people do not aspire to be at the top levels of management in an organisation.  This network will look at all kinds of leadership and not lose the broader definition of leadership by focusing solely on positions.

Why do we need a women’s network?

·         There are plenty of well qualified women with great potential at lower levels, but not so many in senior roles.

·         There are fewer women giving high profile lectures/presentations as invited speakers, and often a lack of gender balance on panel discussions.

·         Women are less likely to voice their views, ask questions, and get their opinions across, so their valuable contributions aren't always heard.

·         In terms of appointment to “leadership” roles it’s not totally clear where the problem lies – is it women not applying for jobs, or not being selected?  It’s likely a combination of both, we would like to explore the statistics on what happens at short-listing and final-decision stages of recruitment.

Get involved!

There are a number of ways you can get involved with the network:

Join the WICL steering group. The committee is drawn from the WICL members, and takes a role in developing the strategy for the network, as well as coordinating activities, mobilising resources, and organising events during the course of the year. The group meets quarterly in the David Attenborough Building, and is open to people of all genders, and all career stages. We send out periodic calls for new members – look out for these, or send us an email to ask about getting involved. We look forward to hearing from you!

Organise an event or other activity – however formal or informal! You don’t need to be a member of the steering group to take the lead on organising an event or other project on behalf of the network. All the members of the WICL network are welcome to do this! Perhaps you’d like to take a lead on one of the ideas listed above, or you see other opportunities emerging. Please just write us a note to let us know of the event you’d like to organise –  we’ll see how we can help, including sharing information about it through the CCF communications platforms.

Join the discussion online. Join up to our Facebook group to share information with other members, and get the dialogue started. And then take it into the real world through an event or workshop!

For more information, please contact us on: 

Email: women.leadership@cambridgeconservationforum.org.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/209056369299418

To join our mailing list, please use the link at the bottom of the page. Please read on for more details of how to get involved!


·         Invited speakers (lecture style). Invite inspiring women to talk about their careers and how got where they are.  We can ask them to reflect on certain issues. Try to get gender balance in the audience. Aim is to raise awareness / promote discussion, as well as inspire. Doesn’t need to be restricted to speakers from conservation – good to get some examples of how leadership /gender equality tackled in other sectors.

·         Informal presentation/discussion and dinner.  This could give opportunities for in-depth discussion of issues and building a network of women in conservation. We could ask people to reflect on their careers.

·         Facebook group where people can post resources (TED talks, case studies, articles) https://www.facebook.com/groups/209056369299418

·         Making effort to get relevant content into CCF newsletter (talks, events). No separate section, but “mainstreamed”.

·         Researching and sharing good practices in CCF organisations. There are examples already of positive efforts being made to improve gender balance, support flexible working, return from maternity leave, etc.

·         Getting some data on the gender balance in senior management / boards of organisations in CCF.  How does conservation compare to other sectors – is it really that bad? Information is first step.

·         Discussions with HR staff to understand how gender equality is addressed in practice. Could e.g. interview training be improved? Some organisations have formal staff training on gender equality – does this then translate into equality in recruitment and opportunity?

·         Visits to CCF organisations to discuss and share good practice

·         Mentoring. Several people mentioned the difficulties of doing this within their own organisations – senior people don’t have time. We'd like to explore setting this up across CCF. We can arrange some group sessions to complement one -to-one, mentoring. We encourage people to put themselves forward as a mentor- there's always someone less experienced.

·         Group sessions – themed sessions to provide peer to peer support

·         Job Shadowing. Potentially easier to arrange than mentoring and less onerous on individual mentors and a good insight into career development opportunities

·         Sponsorship - Senior conservationists sponsor women wanting to move into leadership  to increase their confidence and capability

·         Coaching - explore the creation of a leadership coaching programme for women from across the CCF community

·         Funding - Explore the potential for CCF organisations or external organisations to fund specific activities of the network

·         Training – Encourage organisations to fund training in gender equality, find out what commercial organisations do- e.g. IBM training for women moving into senior roles

·         Social media/webinars. Could we use social media and other technologies to reach out to women in conservation beyond Cambridge?  There was interest from women working abroad- and to share ideas with the whole network

·         MOTI/MPhil project – a proposal for a MPhil in conservation leadership wasn't taken up - we need to explore alternative funding/volunteers to research the current status and actions and make recommendations for what needs to be done to enable more women to move into conservation leadership positions in CCI/CCF organisations

What presents possible barriers to leadership?

·         Confidence.  This isn’t specific to conservation.

·         Difficulties of combining family life with career.  Conservation involves a lot of travelling. Women often make a conscious decision to give up fieldwork because it doesn't fit with their out of work responsibilities. There is a long hours culture in many conservation organisations.

·         Unclear career paths. People spend a long time on short-term contracts in academia and NGOs. Difficult for all people trying to forge a career, but may be particularly off-putting for women

·         Biases in appointment. Fewer women are appointed to senior positions from where they can lead and act as a role model

What could we do to help overcome these barriers?

·         Role models, mentors and peer support

·         Policies to address gender balance issues. There are plenty of examples that can be drawn on outside of conservation.

·         Targets for gender equality

·         An award for organisations demonstrating good practice in implementing gender diversity policies, possibly modelled on the Athena SWAN Award for academic institutions

·         Awareness and support from institutions to balance responsibilities outside work including caring responsibilities and returning from maternity leave back into leadership

·         Share good practice

If an organisation is serious about more women in leadership roles, all of these things are needed, as much as possible.









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