Women in Science and Conservation
On the ground and in the office, these are some of the inspiring women driving our science-based conservation in Massachusetts.
Globally, less than 30 percent of researchers are women. Women also still have less than two-thirds of the economic opportunity that men have. It’s time to change these kinds of statistics—one scientist at a time. From the Berkshires to the Atlantic coast, The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts’ scientists are on-the-ground, analyzing data, advocating for smart policy and leveraging partnerships to help people and nature co-exist. Meet some of the women pioneering this critical work across the Commonwealth.
Alison Bowden: Director of Rivers, Coasts and Oceans
I grew up on the Ten Mile River in East Providence, Rhode Island, a few miles from the birthplace of the industrial revolution in the United States. In the 1980s, the Ten Mile was named one of the most polluted rivers in America by the EPA, impacted by two centuries of damming, diversion and dumping of industrial wastes. The links between environmental health and human health and safety have been clear to me since I was very young. I got degrees in environmental science and water resource management to learn how to use science to make things better for people and nature.
I’ve worked at TNC for 19 years. My favorite part of my job is seeing the results of big projects, like the Mill River restoration. In a 1920’s report, a state biologist declared restoration of the Mill River herring run “an impossibility.” I started working on that project in 2005; removal of 3 dams and construction of a fishway was completed in 2018. Today, the river herring run is growing, water quality is improving and the risk of flooding are reduced.
Diversity within an organization or team, including gender diversity, is associated with increased productivity and creativity. We need everyone’s creativity and talents—working across science, engineering, social science and policy—to solve the greatest challenges for people and nature.
Sara Burns: Water Resource Scientist
I took an ecology course in college that taught me a new way to interpret the world around me—I was hooked into a career in science from there. I love developing solutions; I currently work on a variety of freshwater protection and climate adaptation strategies for TNC. Helping to chart a path forward for people and nature in the face of climate change is a big challenge, and I’m very grateful that I get to be a part of the solution.
Science and nature are powerfully hopeful fields as we look forward to a more sustainable future. Women, as well as other groups that are under-represented in science and academia, have different and valuable ideas for realizing this power. These ideas are vital to all our futures. Everyone can use science in their lives—be curious about the world; ask yourself why something happens and you’ve done it!
Jessica Dietrich: Geographic Information System (GIS) Manager
Since I was very young I’ve always loved being outside and exploring, and I knew I wanted to work in the environmental field. I like looking at the big picture and understanding how the elements of a landscape are connected and influence each other. I studied landscape ecology and a big part of that was learning GIS as a tool to answer questions about where to focus conservation in order to have the most impact.
My favorite part of my job is the variety. I love studying and analyzing data, and at the same time, I love sitting down with my colleagues and partners to strategize how best to apply these data, whether that be prioritizing where to protect a piece of land or restore a wetland, identifying critical wildlife corridors, creating maps that communicate our work to a wider audience, or measuring the impacts of an urban tree planting project. And of course, I love getting out into the field to ground truth and see the places I’ve studied and mapped from my desk.
Who we see as role models really matters. Women bring different perspectives that are relevant to understanding our world and envisioning solutions to the challenges we face. The more visible we are, the more the next generation will see they have a place as well, and be inspired to put their talents and energy to work for nature.
Karen Lombard: Director of Stewardship
I majored in biology and environmental studies and when I learned about TNC’s work, I said to myself "I would like to work for that organization." I had an internship with the National Park Service in Hawai'i, which led to volunteering and then an internship at TNC, and aside from some time off, I’ve been here for nearly twenty five years.
I love how the job has a lot of variety—every day is different and the job is always changing. I manage properties on the ground, oversee restoration projects, work with partner organizations and collaborate with other TNC colleagues beyond the state. It turns out that my strengths are in project management—I make things happen—and TNC provides lots of opportunities for that.
Science and nature are for us all, so it makes no sense that this field should be dominated by just 50% of the population. At least in Massachusetts, preserve management and restoration work has included women from the start and there are a lot of women in this field, which is great to be a part of.
Kim Lutz: Assistant State Director
My early experiences in the outdoors with my grandfather—an avid fisherman who knew every bird, plant and more—cemented my conservation trajectory, leading me to study biology in college and graduate school, and to do my thesis research on prairie restoration. I now manage field work rather than conduct it, but I still think back to the great experiences I’ve had over the years in the field. Early on in my career, I was a field biologist charged with inventorying a large military base in southeast Georgia, home to some of the most significant longleaf pine forests in the southeast. We had to couple the biological with the human dimension on this project—and were able to do so with success. We identified over 3,000 plants, including my discovery of a shrub that hadn’t been seen before in Georgia.
What I’ve loved about every job I’ve had at TNC is the creativity with which I’ve been encouraged to approach problem solving. Our work is complex scientifically and socially and it’s very rewarding (and fun!) to develop novel solutions to pressing conservation problems.
I believe that it’s important for everyone’s stories to be told, and of course that includes women. I hope that in seeing stories like mine and those of other women at TNC, it makes it more likely that someone else can see themselves here as a voice for conservation.
Emily Myron: Government Relations Specialist
If you asked me ten years ago where I would be right now, I would have never guessed. I studied ecology in college and hoped to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. Then, in my first job after graduate school at a very small NGO, I was encouraged to take on some of our policy work. I was nervous to step out of my comfort zone, but, to my surprise, it completely lit me up. I was able to use my scientific knowledge, communication skills and passion for relationship building to advance causes that I deeply cared about.
Today, as part of the government relations team for TNC in Massachusetts, I get to work with my colleagues, countless partners and decision makers to ensure that we are investing in nature and tackling climate change both in Massachusetts and nationally. I like to describe my work as trying to solve a puzzle that is always moving. I love that this work challenges me to be patient and requires me to be persistent.
To my younger self and others, I would say to be open to new opportunities and challenges; you never know when you will find your spark. Conservation needs voices of all kinds—scientists, as well as advocates, communications experts, economists, health professionals, philanthropists, community leaders, and the list goes on. If you are passionate about the environment, there is a place for you at the table! I am proud to work alongside many incredible women every day who are leading change and reshaping the way we think about the connection between nature, our communities and our well-being.
It is so important to amplify women's voices and make sure that we include women front and center in leading the change that we need to effectively deal with the climate crisis.
Leslie Pond: Volunteer
I’m a biochemist/immunologist/cell biologist by training and have had a career in scientific publishing and managing a postdoctoral training program. After retiring, I wanted to pivot to work on urgent environmental issues such as climate change, so have been a research intern at TNC for the last year. I’ve created an info sheet that focuses on the nexus of climate change, health and equity, and am currently writing a report on potential pathways to create a green infrastructure workforce development program, as part of a partnership with a Boston-area neighborhood development corporation. I’m always excited to engage with community members in climate conversations and actions.
Women have essential roles in society, and in many regions, women and girls are often differently and disproportionately impacted by environmental and climate disasters than men. It is estimated that globally, 80% of people displaced by climate change are women, and women are more likely than men to experience poverty. Women across the world are already bringing their incredible and diverse skills and perspectives to bear on environmental issues, such as climate change adaptation and mitigation. Therefore, it is so important to amplify their voices and make sure that we include women front and center at all levels and across sectors in leading the change that we need to effectively deal with the climate crisis.
Angela Sirois-Pitel: Stewardship Manager
I fell in love with field work when I started doing wood turtle tracking in New Hampshire right after college. I was then hired for a Student Conservation Association internship with TNC in the Berkshire Office, to do wetland restoration and help with bog turtle research. 15 years later, I’ve gone from that internship to running the landscape office, having gotten my masters studying bog turtles and hosted and mentored over 35 seasonal staff and interns during that time. It’s been incredible! Protecting and preserving the bog turtles and their habitat in Western Massachusetts really holds a special place in my heart—I love the blend of science, management and human components that my work offers.
I think women weren’t always welcome in these positions and were under-represented until my generation. I’m lucky to have had a lot of great women role models at TNC who have supported my career. I really value my opportunity to supervise and mentor the next generation of conservation leaders, many of whom have been women. It’s really important that we continue to provide opportunities for women and girls to be connected with nature and understand its benefits.
Markelle Smith: Landscape Partnership Manager
My favorite part of my job as part of TNC in Massachusetts’ landscape conservation team is meeting landowners and listening to their stories about their land—how they came to own it, the wildlife they encounter and their future vision of the land. I have lots of fun stories about meeting landowners in snowstorms and around kitchen tables.
When I first started with TNC in the Western Massachusetts program—it was the only job I applied for after completing my graduate degree in forestry—it was just two of us working out of a small office overlooking Gobble Mountain in Chester, Massachusetts. Now, I get to work with a diverse team of TNC colleagues and partner organizations to complete land protection projects and collaborate on the policy and partnerships that make them possible.
Women make up 51% of the global population—as a majority, we shouldn’t just be visible in science and nature, we should be well-represented too! Historically, women have not been, and it’s nice to see that trend changing. I am so pleased when my daughter says science is her favorite subject in school and has role models like Greta Thunberg to emulate. Science has never been more relevant to our daily lives and it’s invaluable to see critical and visible connections made between public health, community resilience, family well-being and science. Nature can be a climate solution!