The workshop, convened by University of Florida as part of the Global Women Scholars Network, was a full day for women in Latin America to convene, network, and provide solid information on important contributions women provide, barriers women face, and tools women have in the arena of leadership in environmental stewardship.
We learned about the journey different women took to get to where they are today. Speakers included: Sonia Canavelli, National Research Coordinator of Biodiversity and Ecosystems at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology; Barbara Saavedera, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Chile; Diana (Tita) Alvira Social Conservation Program Manager in the Field Museum in Chicago; Noemi Porro Researcher at the Center for Agricultural Science and Rural Development; and Veronica Vasquez, Professor in the Department of Rural Development at the Colegio de Post Graduados.
We also discussed the importance of mentorship: Who makes a good mentor? What is the role of a mentor? How can we be a good mentor to others within academia and outside it. Speakers included: Citlalli Lopez, Researcher of the Centro de Investigaciones Tropical of the University of Veracruz, who has over the years provided mentorship for a remarkable number of women entering into the social sciences; Susana Padua who set up Instituo de Pesquisas Ecologicas, a phenomenal center which provides support for businesses, tools for conservation, and even masters degrees in conservation biology; and finally Maria Fernanda Checa, currently a PhD Student at University of Florida in Ecology and Conservation who has worked with students in her home country of Ecuador providing advice, support and mentorship on working in the area of butterfly conservation.
There were several major themes which emerged from the brain storming session on the major contributions and barriers women face. Women are uniquely collaborative, readily able to network, have a systems view of nature, and can easily juggle multiple tasks. However, they often face the burden of having high expectations for achieving family and career goals or sigmas that women are not as smart, bold, or strong as men. Additionally, women may not feel they have the finances and support to accomplish their goals.
Perhaps the most constructive part of the workshop were the tools and partnerships developed. We discussed the need for women to establish networks both within and outside academia who can provide support and information (e.g. information on jobs, women’s advocacy groups). We identified the importance of having a mentor and role model in the lives of women. Finally, there was an important benefit in participating in organized events such as this workshop to share information, establish long-standing relationships, and creatively think about solutions to the challenge women face.