Gender Bating, or the Quick Road to Avistardom

Web debates devolve. Rather than uplifts they are down-drafts. Dénouement is achieved through ad hominum attacks, name calling, and streams of invective. Participants end knowing less than when they began.

A female birder recently invited such a debate by publishing an article on the glass ceiling in birding. She noticed an absence of women in the higher levels of birding such as listing, rare bird committees, etc. She approached the topic in a traditional manner – she counted. She tallied the numbers of women in these positions and came to the conclusion that a glass ceiling does indeed exist.

The woman published her article on the American Birding Association (ABA) blog, a group not known for its interest in the social dynamics or characteristics of birding. Of the 13 members of the ABA board, only two are women. The president of the organization is a white male. The ABA, more than venue, could be seen as evidence of Brooke’s suppositions. In any case, the ABA published the article.

Her article elicited a few responses from the ABA readers, but, in general, the tone of the discussion remained tepid. No names were called, no profanity was used, and no patrimony was questioned.

Until recently.

Sharon Stiteler is a one-time store clerk and part-time park ranger who refashioned herself as the “Birdchick.” Sharon is one of a new generation of avistars, people who have mastered the digital media to bypass the traditional hard work and glacial pace once required of those who become known and respected in a field such as birding.

Birding is hardly the exclusive domain of avistardom. Traditional journalism has been practically obliterated by people with a keyboard, blog, and a point to make. Yet avistars do suck up much of the air in the birding atmosphere, and groups such as the ABA have gone to great lengths to cater to their likes and dislikes.

Sharon, aka Birdchick, took offense at the article. She responded on a podcast available through her own Birdchick blog. Birdchick is refreshingly irreverent, and I do like her chippy retorts. I am not sure that I understand her Dolly Parton references, and I must admit to being surprised that she simply missed the essential point about the absence of women. I would have expected more thought behind her comments, especially given the time and effort invested in the original article.

Birdchick failed by not taking the time to investigate the issue before responding in public, a classic web faux pas. The original article presented an opinion that women are underrepresented in birding (and, by my extension, conservation). In response, Sharon threw out a few names of women whose existence, she believed, countered the original argument. But for some reason she stopped. Why not take this argument to a logical conclusion?

Mary Barra is the first female CEO of a major automaker. She now leads General Motors, an organization of 212,000 employees spread over 23 time zones.  If you are interested in  women in the auto industry, you begin at the top.

What about the position of women in birding and, by extension, conservation? Let’s begin at the top. Are there any Mary Barras in the birding world that would counter the original claim? “Glass ceiling,” after all, is generally understood to mean obstacles that keep women from attaining the highest levels of employment in their chosen fields. What about birding and conservation?

With a little investigatory effort, Birdchick could have added a great deal to this discussion. However, let me make that effort in her stead. Here are the top 20 birding and conservation groups (that come to my mind) and the gender and race of their chief executive officers.

American Bird Conservancy
White
Male
American Birding Association
White
Male
AOU
White
Female
Conservation Fund
White
Male
Conservation International
White
Male
Cornell Lab
White
Male
Defenders of Wildlife
White
Female
EDF
White
Male
International Crane Foundation
White
Male
National Audubon Society
White
Male
National Wildlife Federation
White
Male
NPS
White
Male
NRDC
White
Female
RSPB
White
Male
Sierra Club
White
Male
The Nature Conservancy
White
Male
Trust for Public Land
White
Male
USFS
White
Male
USFWS
White
Male
World Wildlife Fund
White
Male

Let’s summarize these results. These people are the chief executive officers of the agencies and organizations that represent the recreation, birding, and the resource, birds. If I focus strictly on birding (recreational) organizations (ABA, ABA, NAS), not only are all of the CEOs white and male, but there have never been any leaders other than white males in their histories. Ignoring race for the moment (consider how you would feel being an African-American female looking at this list), we see that only 3 of the 20 CEOs are female.

This is as far as I need take this argument. Only 15% of the birding and conservation groups are led by women. My next question is simple. If there is no glass ceiling, then how do you explain the absence of women in these positions?  Women are well represented in the lower ranks of these organizations. About 58% of all bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates in biology are awarded to women, so education is hardly the issue.

If experience and education aren’t factors, precisely what are the factors that are keeping women out of these key positions? If there is no glass ceiling, exactly what are the barriers to women in birding and conservation?

 

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