Meet Wendy Anderson; gender equality advocate in the wildlife industry.

What is your current job/degree, and what did your pathway look like to get here?

My current position is Western Region Assistant Director and Supervisory Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Wildlife Services (WS) – a program with the U.S. Federal Government. I have a B.S. Degree in Natural Resources Sciences/Wildlife Biology from Washington State University and a Masters Degree in Public Administration (MPA) from Troy University (Alabama).

My path in the field of wildlife biology (the short version of my resume): I grew up in Alaska and spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying nature. During summers, I worked my family’s commercial salmon fishing business. From these experiences, I knew I wanted to go into the field of wildlife biology.

My first job after college was as a Zookeeper at The Phoenix Zoo (Arizona) and then as an Environmental Compliance Specialist with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. These positions gave me professional experience, but were not my vision of the ideal job in wildlife. In 1998, I was hired as a field Wildlife Biologist with WS’ program in Arizona where I worked to address urban wildlife conflicts, including resolving wildlife hazards at airports to enhance flight safety. In 2002, I accepted a position as an Environmental Coordinator with WS at the headquarters level (stationed in North Carolina) where I developed policy documents to ensure our activities did not adversely affect the environment.

In 2007, I became the State Director of the WS program in New Jersey where I administered a wildlife damage management program with a staff of about 20 wildlife biologists, technicians, administrative staff, seasonal employees and interns. In 2014, I moved to Colorado for the Assistant Manager position of WS’ National Feral Swine Damage Management Program where I coordinated with WS’ programs in 41 states and 2 U.S. territories that receive federal feral swine allocations, and their multi-agency partners, on managing damage caused by non-native feral swine through population suppression or, where possible, elimination. In 2018, while still stationed in Colorado, I became WS’ Science and Policy Advisor to the Deputy Administrator at the headquarters level where I led program-wide strategic planning efforts, policy development and implementation, records management, and organizational structure review. As of 2020, I am the WS Western Region Assistant Director overseeing our wildlife damage management programs and employees in the 10 western-most states/territories in the U.S. I have now been with WS for 23 years. I am also a Certified Wildlife Biologist with The Wildlife Society

What prompted you to write your paper “The changing face of the wildlife profession: tools for creating women leaders”? Why do you think that this is an area that needs addressing? What are the key areas that you believe most urgently need to be addressed? 

I was compelled to write the paper as a result of my experiences in a variety of different positions, in the last 23 years, in the male-majority field of wildlife biology and from mentoring other female wildlife biologists who brought similar experiences to my attention. Although things have changed some over the last 23 years, I feel there is still much more work to do on improving diversity and inclusion. I was (and am still) often the only woman working on a project, at the table during meetings, or located in my agency within the state, which can lead to feelings of isolation, exclusion, and marginalization. I wanted to find out if this was the case across the wildlife field and what could be done to fix the problem. Fixing the problem, in my mind, involves equipping managers, women, and colleagues with the tools to be successful in making organizational change.

This is an area that needs addressing because, as I mentioned in my paper, an inclusive and diverse workforce is more creative and productive. Organizations with higher numbers of women in leadership roles perform better and employees on diverse and inclusive teams work harder, stay longer, and are more dedicated and committed to the mission.

Most urgently, I believe we need to do more to encourage mentoring relationships (including matching well-suited mentors and proteges), improve connectedness and networking, and ensure hiring practices (i.e., application, interview, and decision-making panels) include a diverse team so that the best applicant is selected for the position.

What are your next steps? Are you looking into doing further work in the area of gender equality in wildlife biology?

I am very happy in my current position as WS Western Region Assistant Director and plan to stay in this position for a few years at the very least. While in this position, I will continue to focus efforts on succession planning and increasing diversity of employees in the WS Western Region and, as applicable and allowed, across the entire WS program nationally. I am also interested in writing or co-authoring a paper on the value of mentoring women in male-majority professions, specifically.

What is your advice to younger women wanting to pursue a career in a male dominated industry such as the field wildlife biology?

My advice to other women is two words: Tenacity and Perseverance! At the same time, however, don’t try to be someone you’re not. As was quoted in my paper, “You don’t have to be one of the boys to be an outdoorswoman, wear your lipstick. You don’t have to fit a model to fit in. You get respect being the person you are. Be yourself and be it well (Springer 2004).”

Another bit of advice that I often give to mentees is to not pigeon-hole yourself into one path within your industry or field. Tunnel vision could lead to not being prepared or not wanting to take a risk if a new or different job opportunity or project comes along. Stay open-minded to lots of different prospects as you move forward in your career. When interviewers ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?” My answer is always, “I don’t know because I don’t want to limit myself to one course of action or one career path. I do know that I want to be challenged, I want to try new things, and I want to be needed and make a difference in whatever I’m doing. If a new opportunity comes along where I think I will be challenged and make a positive difference, then I want to be open to that opportunity.”

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