Where are all the women guides?
Do men fear repercussions from rocking the boat? I do…it is constantly in the back of my mind on social media, the podcast, in conversations. I fear that to say or write the wrong thing, I’ll be excommunicated from the birding community. So, I typically try to be positive and not rock the boat. Birding and the associated community have become much of my life and I cannot imagine what my life would be like without it.
However, when it comes to women in birding, I cannot sit idly by and watch as men continue to dominate the scene and not let women have an equal seat at the table. I am not a man hater, I just feel that women deserve to be treated with respect, have a voice equivalent in the community to the proportion they make up, and be present throughout all segments of the community including leadership and those of honor. I have been put off, blown off, told off, brushed off, cut off by men in my career and the community. I have experienced men with inappropriate behavior that face no repercussions, been mansplained to (endlessly), been overlooked for tasks or questions in favor of a man, blatant sexism, ageism, among other things and I do hate that other women face the same, and worse. Especially in birding. Birds are a unifier.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2013 report, Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis, 56% of birders are women. But, as Olivia Gentile states in her 2018 article, A Feminist Revolution in Birding, “men still vastly outnumber women among the birding elite.” Gentile continues to point out that when it comes to published field guides, online forums, national birding awards, birding festival lectures, etc. men take the spotlight. Heck, before you finish reading what I have to say, read the rest of this article for yourself. The point is that women are the majority of the community…but men are recognized at a higher frequency.
In addition to all the leadership and recognition previously stated, it has come to my attention, and recently voiced by others, that the world of guiding is not as diverse as it should be. Recently, there were several very lively discussions on my favorite Facebook page, World Girl Birders (WGB), regarding this very issue and it included women (and some men) from many walks of life. This all started as I, and several others, independently leafed through birding magazines and counted the number of women vs. men mentioned, photographed, and in guide advertising and one brave WGBer actually posted about it. In fact, after a quick look through 12 tour company’s “our team” pages, I found that only about 11% of those guides listed were women.
There are many stories that can come from this, but the conversations on the WGB centered around that the guides that are photographed and listed on the advertisements for guiding companies were mostly men. So, the question is: what is keeping women from guiding?
I asked the following question in WGB and on Twitter: “If you have considered, or would consider, such a career [trip guiding], what’s stopped you?”
The response was overwhelming. Women from all ages, places, creeds, etc. chimed in. And many of the responses said similar things, which are the main topics of this next section. There are two things I should mention, (1) not all of the following barriers apply to everyone, it's likely that you don't reflect any of these barriers, you may have barriers are not mentioned, OR you may not face any barriers; (2) some of these are actual barriers and others are perceived, and just because a barrier is perceived does not mean that it is not a valid concern to that person and a reason why they did not participate.
*I’m going to make some gross gender generalizations, so please don’t vilify me. If you read through the WGB comments, assess your own personal experiences and your relationships, I am sure you can draw similar conclusions* I also want you to keep in mind that women tend to be risk-adverse, we will likely not participate in an activity if we do not have a lot of facts or do not feel completely qualified. For example, in a study about self-perceived preparedness for a promotion, women only applied when they were 100% qualified, whereas men applied when they were 50% qualified (Kay & Shipman, 2014). Men tend to jump in head first and figure it out….this is how Erik lives his life. He waits until we are on the highway until he asks me for the directions.
Getting back to guiding, birding, and WGB, here is what I found:
· There is a general lack of awareness and knowledge about what guides actually do and how these companies operate.
Several members of the WGB community cited factors that I lumped into a lack of knowledge or awareness. This includes lack of knowledge regarding working conditions, working benefits, employment procedures, etc. To those not a part of the community, guiding has many unknowns: Is a guide a contractor or paid staff? Do they receive health care? What sort of pay and pay schedule can you expect?
The general lack of awareness centers around how one gets started in this field in the first place. Are guides recruited? Where are these listings posted?
These unknowns prevent many of pursuing this field further. If one cannot picture themselves in the position, they are much less likely to consider it.
Women or men, it is tough starting out in a career that might not pay much and with few benefits. I am working on my photographic dreams on the back of a job with benefits and flexibility enough to schedule workshops. – Nancy
Didn’t know where to start (always thought of it as a start-up) - Emilie
· Women fear that this career will force them to choose the career or a family and it may also put a strain on relationships.
Women frequently have to consider their biology. We are often placed on a “timeline” to have a family (and often subject to questions about children. I am asked ALL THE TIME about the kids I don’t have.). At a full-time status, a guide will be away from home for around 130 days a year. That’s a lot of time and something to consider if one chooses to have children. Additionally, stigmas still exist regarding working mothers and even if a woman evenly splits parental duties with their partner, that’s a lot of time to miss.
Other WGBs mentioned that they fear that they would not be able to maintain a relationship while traveling so often. That their significant other would not stick around with someone who is works on the road. I’m not sure why there is a double standard when it comes to men working on the road, do men not fear their significant others leaving when they travel?
And felt that I would have a deadline (until I’m 35 yrs old, I’m 28 now) to raise a family – Emilie
· Some women are constantly plagued with self-doubt.
Women are second-guessed and questioned constantly, oftentimes Erik won’t believe something unless his co-workers echo my opinion (see “The Wedge” episode of Modern Family). A psychologist in the WGB conversation mentioned that women tend to be risk averse and are not likely to put themselves forward for fear of rejection. In the not-too-distant past, women were not encouraged to develop and demonstrate their competence and were less likely to receive positive reinforcement for personal achievements. You can see in any teen movie that girls are pressured towards maintaining relationships and boys are pressured to assert dominance.
Due to the focus on relationship maintenance, we help build up others but then doubt ourselves till the very last step. “Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology” (Kay & Shipman, 2014). This prevents us from putting ourselves out there. When it comes to guiding, if we don’t know how to get into it in the first place, we also will not likely know what skills and qualifications it requires. “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect” (Kay & Shipman, 2014).
The competitive nature of some types of birding: listing, big days, guiding career, etc. does not jive well with all women. As stated previously, women have typically not been encouraged to compete and with naturally lower levels of testosterone, the hormone that has been proven to increase competition, this can turn these women off (Bergland, 2013). After all, it’s supposed to be fun, right? “The push to constantly compete can wear on someone whose personality isn't naturally inclined to be aggressive” (Welsh). Not only can this just wear a person out, the lack of encouragement and competition can cause you to question yourself.
I’ve really wanted to but doubted my skills. – Emilie
Women are more likely than men to wait for someone to tell them they are good enough and wait for someone to invite them to apply. - Catherine
· Society pressures us into thinking what we have to be.
Society tells women “that her worth is based on her appearance, her ability to gain attention and approval, and her ability to produce a long list of accomplishments” (Choate, 2015). We have so many different pressures put on us from generational differences of our family and birding community, and what societal expects from us. As mentioned before, there are expectations about family and children, and that women shouldn’t travel or be away from home (Stepler, Horowitz, & Parker, 2017). These pressures can be overwhelming and force a woman to stay home…have a family…and not pursue these dreams.
Who you are is shaped by so many things, including what you see and hear. And this much of this is biological, we want to fit in with our tribe and do what everyone else is doing. That’s the safe thing and difficult to change. When Erik and I started birding, an activity that no one I knew does to the level that we do it, you can bet that we felt pressured to fall back in line and start careers, family, blah, blah, blah. It can be difficult to overcome these pressures that suggest women should not have a highly mobile career because how will you have a family; women should be pretty even if you are spending hours out in the hot sun looking for birds.
“…the article itself acknowledges that a woman who exhibits the same behavior as a man is often perceived negatively by both men and women” (Liu, 2014).
· Women must look out for their safety.
There was once a time when hitchhiking was commonplace (see Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman), but since Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper, and others, women have to take their safety into consideration at all times. Violence against women has increased in the US and abroad causing women to pause as they consider these types of careers.
Not to say that women are weak at all, but due to biology men are often times naturally stronger. Erik wrestled in high school and was also a rough-and-tumble boy, sometimes just horsing around, we mock wrestle and there is no way I could get out of some of the holds if put into a potentially dangerous situation. This means in order to defend myself I would have to take extra precautions like taking a self-defense class or carrying a self-defense weapon. Also, the way women are treated vary from culture to culture, potentially putting a woman in harm’s way.
· We aren’t always encouraged to participate.
American culture has screwed women over for generations. While men have been bringing home the bacon and then hang out with the boys on the weekends, the women have to cook the bacon, do the laundry, care for the kids, and do it all while looking like a beauty queen. Fortunately, this is mostly in the past and we are now having conversations centered around including women and minorities in largely white, male fields. But there is still a huge disparity in the way we treat children, pushing boys into math and science but not girls. Just look at kid’s clothing, boys have rockets on their shirts and girls have unicorns. Even in 2017, when Boy Scouts of America announced that they would allow girls to enroll in troops there was a huge uproar from all sides. Why would girls want to join BSA when they have Girl Scouts? Well, look at the curriculum from Girl Scouts to BSA and you’ll easily see that there is a huge difference in the expectations we place on our youth.
In the personal experience of one of the WGBers who was the sole woman on a field trip, the men mentioned that they did not tell a particular joke because a woman was present…did they just assume she would faint from her delicate sensibilities? A situation like this would actively discourage someone from participating again.
As humans, we look to role models we draw commonalities between us and them. How are we the same as those we look up to? Maybe if I could be more like them, than I can achieve what they have. In the business community, a lack of diversity has caused a barrier to minorities and women as they try to advance in the community dominated by white men (Laird, 2006). If it is too difficult to find women that have broke that glass ceiling, some women will not continue on that path as they cannot see the way.
“When asked to explain why there are not more women working in STEM jobs, a major reason…is lack of encouragement for girls in these subjects from an early age” (Parker & Funk, 2018).
“When given the right support women do just as well as men — it isn't an inherent ability difference between the sexes.” (Welsh)
· And then again, there’s just that ol’ systemic gender inequality.
“The system” is stacked against women, they are frequently paid less than their male counterparts, given less resources, space, and recognition. In conversations with Erik, I frequently rail against the “good old boys” network that is still alive and well throughout the world and in the birding community. I see it frequently at festivals, in magazines, and on social media. Due to gender bias throughout the years, the leadership roles that we currently see are held by men, some women are breaking in but there is still a way to go.
I believe that at this point, systematic gender inequity continues to keep women down when it comes to success as a guide. On the WGB post, a woman who is employed as a guide mentioned repeatedly that it is important for a guide to build and maintain “a following”. Many women have expressed that they are not seen as quality birders while in the field, as mentioned before, we are often mansplained to, overlooked, or blatantly disrespected. How is it possible for us to “build a following”? If they are subject to this criticism, then having to “build a following” likely prevents many women from breaking through the glass ceiling.
There are many reasons why I have not considered guiding as a possible career, including the following. You will notice that I have a combination of actual and perceived barriers to participation, I have learned more since, but prior to this research, these are the factors:
· I thought you had to be recruited, or asked, in order to get this job.
The conclusion is due to that all the guides I know are exceptional birders that seem very well connected and I’ve never seen the job listing.
· Lack of confidence in skills.
Regardless how sure I am of an ID or fact, I am timid enough that will let myself be steamrolled. This personality trait has come from a life of being mansplained to, put down, and told I’m wrong while in school, work, or personal relationships. Many times, when out birding with a group, if I see a good bird, I’ll tell Erik and have him announce it…I fear that if I do so, I’ll just be second-guessed.
· Fear of leading.
I have been in many leadership positions throughout my life: high school drum major, captain of softball teams, work positions, etc. and it always gives me anxiety, stemming that everyone is “relying on me”. Not that I have ever failed in my leadership positions, but the “imposter syndrome” is always there.
· Family and relationships.
Erik and I are probably the only couple I know that can stand spending 24/7 together and still get along, in fact we prefer it. We enjoy traveling, birding, and being together. Guiding could take either of us away from a week to a month and that just isn’t worth it to me.
I don’t know if it’s the woman in me or the millennial that needs validation and reassurance to persist in an endeavor, I don’t need a participation trophy, but some encouragement to know that I am on the right path and should be looking to what’s next. And based on the response I received and the many articles I read about confidence and women in STEM…it seems like others feel that way too. If the community and tour companies aren’t informing women about options and choices, if it is still held up in the “old boys club”, then we shouldn’t be surprised that women aren’t guiding. Seemingly no one has even presented it as an option, we don’t see anyone like us doing it, and we don’t really know what we would be doing are all barriers that need to be addressed.
This whole dive into this topic was very validating for me. Erik well knows all my thoughts regarding women and men in birding as he has stuck it out with me the 10 years we’ve been birding and the 15 years that we’ve been together. But for others to feel the way I do and voice those concerns was encouraging. As I said initially, I am always concerned when rocking the boat – will we lose listeners? will my outspokenness limit the festivals that might seek to hire us? will we lose friends? So, I hope that these conversations and this post is useful, that it helps other women and maybe some guiding companies, and that my fears are baseless.
Listen in to our episode that comes out December 5th, 2019 as we discuss guiding with three women. It is my hope to also have a follow up blog post that answers some of these “unknowns” about guiding.
Bergland, C. (2013, October 3). Testosterone Fuels Both Competition and Protectiveness. Psychology Today.
Carver, E. (2013). Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis. Arlington: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/report/birding-in-the-united-states-a-demographic-and-economic-analysis.pdf
Choate, L. (2015, July 17). Relentless Cultural Pressures for Today's Girls. Psychology TOday.
Gentile, O. (2018, April 13). A Feminist Revolution in Birding. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@oliviagentile/a-feminist-revolution-in-birding-95d81f4ab79b
Kay, K., & Shipman, C. (2014, May). The Confidence Gap. The Atlantic.
Laird, P. W. (2006). Pull: Networking and Success since Benjamin Franklin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Liu, A. (2014, July 15). Imposter Syndrome Is Not Just a Confidence Problem. Retrieved from https://medium.com/counter-intuition/impostor-syndrome-is-not-just-a-confidence-problem-dea670e59f6e
Parker, K., & Funk, C. (2018, January 9). 3. Women in STEM see more gender disparities at work, especially those in computer jobs, majority-male workplaces. Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/01/09/women-in-stem-see-more-gender-disparities-at-work-especially-those-in-computer-jobs-majority-male-workplaces/
Stepler, R., Horowitz, J. M., & Parker, K. (2017, December 5). 2. Americans see different expectations for men and women. On Gender Differences, No Consensus on Nature VS. Nurture. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/12/05/americans-see-different-expectations-for-men-and-women/
Welsh, J. (n.d.). These Are The 7 Things Keeping Women Out of Science Careers. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/7-things-keeping-women-out-of-science-2013-10