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Conflict and adaptation at the intersection of motherhood and conservation leadership

Authors: Megan Jones*, Colorado State University, Jennifer Solomon, Colorado State University
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Women, Environment
Keywords: conservation leadership, motherhood, role conflict, qualitative, women, gender
Session Type: Paper
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Conservation leadership science has focused on identifying behaviors and characteristics that make individual leaders effective, but has yet to address contextual challenges that differentially shape various groups’ pathways to leadership positions. We sought to understand one such challenge, how motherhood affects women’s careers, by conducting interviews with 56 women conservation leaders and analyzing the data using grounded theory. All participants described how conflict between motherhood and conservation expectations affects women’s leadership, particularly for mothers of young children. Mothers in conservation reported pursuing many adaptive responses to manage this conflict, including gradually returning from maternity leave, restructuring schedules, working part-time, reducing travel, foregoing opportunities, and occasionally changing jobs. These adaptations were shaped by multilevel systems factors at individual, family, organization, and conservation profession scales. We found that having to navigate these factors can undermine women’s wellbeing and lead them to restructure their careers, which may jeopardize organizations’ abilities to fulfill their conservation objectives. Conversely, greater compatibility between women’s motherhood and conservation leadership work may make conservation practitioners and institutions more effective. As more women advance in conservation leadership, our findings suggest that the profession should consider ways to better integrate motherhood and support conservationists to have sustainable careers.

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