To celebrate the run up to International Women's Day on 8th March, BIAZA are sharing the stories and voices of women from across the BIAZA membership.
Today's blog is from Alexandra Hughes, Education Officer at Tilgate Nature Centre.
I’ve found that a wide range of experience has held me in good stead in my career from helping with the Asian Turtle Programme in Vietnam, rescuing fresh water turtles from the illegal wildlife trade to creating a dolphin visitor centre on Brighton beach. Expanding my knowledge of conservation efforts has only increased my passion for the importance of zoos, this has led me to my current position as an Education Officer at Tilgate Nature Centre. I am about to start some new work within my role on sustainable working through a proposal I put forward – I have learnt that it’s important to carve out your own path and if you see a gap ask if you can fill it, the worst that people can say is no and it shows great initiative. As women I believe that we are culturally conditioned to go with the flow and be compliant, but it’s so important to voice your opinion and ask for what you want even if your desired results don’t materialise. One of the things that I love about working in a BIAZA zoo is the opportunity to get involved in the various working groups and make my voice heard. It provides an opportunity to have your say on welfare, conservation education and much more. If you are thinking of getting involved in a working group and your managers are happy definitely apply.
Throughout my career, as a fairly, traditionally feminine female I have experienced preconceptions on how people view me and at times been made to feel inferior from comments made. Not necessarily through my direct workplace but people I meet whilst working, who assume that I conform to a stereotype and therefore am unable to cope with important details or lift heavy objects. I speak reasonably softly, enjoy wearing different hair styles and am generally very smiley. Sometimes it seems that people mistake this for being meek and happy to follow blindly. I have found that it often surprises people that I am very outspoken and have strong opinions that I will happily voice. Having said that, overall, as an industry zoos and aquariums do seem to have many examples of females in higher positions which I find incredibly inspiring.
I’d say one of the things which affects me most is having to face the reality that surrounds us - the illegal wildlife trade, real world impacts of climate change, plastic pollution, cetacean strandings etc. As females experience a wave of hormones throughout their cycle, it is naïve to think that this wouldn’t impact their day to day roles. Emotion and monthly bouts of pain for females play a part in any industry let alone an incredibly practical one. Whatever the cause, I would never judge anyone for getting emotional, it’s very hard in this industry at times, especially for animal lovers. However, I have learnt that it’s important to let that emotion steer you forwards rather than drive you to despondence. Advice that I would give to my younger self would be to keep persevering, visualise your goals and never be afraid to speak up, speak for what you believe in and ask for what you want.
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