Women in Science: Meet BirdLife Researchers to Bridge the Gender Gap

Ngone Diop Coastal Seabirds Project Officer, BirdLife Africa

Women make up 50% of the world’s population and therefore half of their potential. But did you know that currently less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women? According to the latest data from the United Nations, the number of female students in computer technology (3%), science, math and statistics (5%), and engineering, manufacturing and construction (8%) is particularly low worldwide. “

Even today, entrenched prejudices and gender stereotypes are distracting women and girls from scientific fields. However, given the current challenges of climate change, the loss of nature and COVID-19, it is more important than ever to leverage all the talents and innovations that are available to us. To do this, we need to encourage participation from all walks of life.

Mr. António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time and the greatest challenge to human rights in our world. Here at BirdLife we ​​want to lead by example and inspire the next generation of women conservationists. From Patricia Zurita, our managing director and the first woman from a developing country to follow The BirdLife partnership leads an international conservation organization to amazing researchers measuring albatross eggs on remote islands or project managers who have been doing community work in South America for more than 10 years. She is full of amazing women of all ages and stages in their careers.

Read on to discover some of the biggest challenges they faced and their advice for other women looking to develop careers in science:

Itala Yepez

Head of Nature Conservation at BirdLife International – Americas

What challenges did you face as a researcher?

“I am originally from Ecuador and have been working in nature conservation on an international level for 15 years. Between 2012 and 2018 I moved to Mexico and worked for an American conservation organization called Rare. Without a doubt, it was one of the most challenging moments of my career.

At the time I was divorced with two young children and the new position required that I move to Mexico. Getting a management job with a lot of responsibility and constant travel to the US and Latin America and trying to balance it with family time was challenging, but it has helped me build my career and I am passionate about what i do, so i did the job and learned a lot in the process. “

Do you have any advice for women pursuing careers in science?

“I would tell them to make their dreams come true, face the obstacles society imposes, and be the best version of themselves every day. The world is facing increasingly complex global challenges and we cannot afford to forego half the population in solving them. The absence of women in science means giving up all of the knowledge, talent, and potential that this group can generate. “

Sanja Duranović

PhD student studying endemic fish species in Livanjsko polje – project approved by the CEPF through BirdLife

What challenges did you face as a researcher?

“Given that I am a young scientist at the beginning of my career, the biggest challenge for me so far has been to do what I love in my country without leaving it. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country, building a research career can be a big challenge. It is very difficult to be a scientist here because the country invests little in scientific progress. This can be very demotivating for any young scientist emerging from her degree and looking to make a contribution to the world and make them feel that the only option they have is to build a career abroad.

I was persistent and was thankfully able to find a job here and do what I love. My dream is to contribute to the advancement of science in our country, so that as many young scientists as possible stay here and help change our little world for the better. That will be my next challenge. “

Do you have any advice for women pursuing careers in science?

“Don’t get demotivated – things that are worth taking take time. Through my studies I have learned that it is wrong to observe an ecosystem from just one point of view. To get a complete and accurate picture of a system, we have to look at everything from all angles. It is therefore important that girls and women have equal rights, access and participation – not only in science and technology, but also in all areas of life – because only then can we give a complete and clear picture of every problem and contribute to the progress of the Society, science and ultimately humanity. We women do not seek superiority over men; We seek equality and that our words, research, and solutions are heard as well as theirs. “

Ana Veiga

Coordinator of the BirdLife seabird project Cabo Verde

What challenges did you face as a researcher?

“I’m very passionate about nature and since I was a child I wanted to be a scientist! After completing an MSc course in Conservation and Biology, I returned to my home country Cabo Verde and worked for the National Directorate for the Environment for six years.

The biggest challenge for me was when I decided to quit my government job as I didn’t want to just work in an office. Although I was very determined, I did not have any support from some of my relatives and friends, as although government work is synonymous with financial stability and leaving my career could end. I just wanted to follow my dreams and implement my own project ideas. It wasn’t easy, but I can say it was worth it. I have established partnerships with other NGOs, expanded my network of contacts and contribute to improving knowledge about the biodiversity of the island of Santiago and the sustainable development of their communities. “

Do you have any advice for women pursuing careers in science?

“Women and men should have the same access and participation in science and technology as in any other field. However, there are not always opportunities for girls and women.

I would say fight for the development of science and the diffusion of knowledge and support more women so that they can access and participate in science and technology. In this way you contribute to sustainable development worldwide. Discrimination against women can be an obstacle, but it is important not to give up. Women can make a valuable contribution to human development. “

Asuncion Ruiz

CEO of SEO BirdLife (Spanish partner)

What challenges did you face as a researcher?

“In my case, I wouldn’t be talking about the most difficult moment of my career, but about changes I’ve made in my commitment to society. These started when, during my career in biology, I decided to transform myself from the white coat of a geneticist into the muddy boots of an environmentalist. These crucial twists and turns have followed one another throughout my professional career, and the path eventually led me to take on the crucial commitment of working in an NGO to fight for real equality.

As Executive Director of SEO BirdLife, I am very proud that we are technically and financially one of the largest Spanish environmental NGOs and enable us to develop current and future strategies to protect nature. “

Do you have any advice for women pursuing careers in science?

“From an ornithological point of view, I would tell them that nothing and no one should ever cut their wings and that in difficult times they should band together and flock together. We are all needed so that science can aim high and reach its full potential. It is utterly inconceivable that in 21st century society we believe that we can make progress without girls and women having access to equal participation and progress. A society can only move forward when all people have the same opportunities. “

Ngone Diop

Coastal Sea Bird Project Manager, BirdLife Africa

What challenges did you face as a researcher?

“Being a bird watcher takes a strong personality and hard work to gain trust. I studied biology at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar and had no idea at the time that I would end up doing ornithological research and getting enthusiastic about birds. On my first day of fieldwork when I was doing my master’s degree, I couldn’t identify any species of bird, but was impressed by the number and diversity of the birds.

This encouraged me to join a national NGO dealing with the protection of birds and biodiversity (Nature Communauté Développement), where I became the focus for important bird and biodiversity and coordinated the monthly monitoring of water birds in Dakar and the surrounding area participated in several biodiversity conservation activities. ”

Patricia Zurita

CEO of BirdLife International

Do you have any advice for women pursuing careers in science?

“For a woman, especially from a developing country, it has been difficult, but not impossible, to get to where I am now. It takes a lot of patience and you have to work harder. Being a working mom is an added challenge. You need to make sure that you build a good team among you that you can rely on and have a supportive team of loved ones at home. It may be a juggling game, but if you enjoy it, it’s definitely worth it. “