Leadership: the Act of Making Way for Others

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Studies in Conservation
Conservation in the United States (USA) is an elite field of mostly white, upper-middle-class women. While there have been efforts over the decades to diversify the field, they have not been successful in significantly changing the demographics. In January 2020, the authors embarked on addressing one aspect of diversification: shifting the culture from one of exclusion to one that listens to and takes direction from those who are excluded. We planned a workshop we thought was designed to include the excluded. We found it was still steeped in practices that maintain the dominant culture. This paper outlines how the experience of the global pandemic, the move from an in-person to an online workshop, and the impact of the social justice uprising resulting from George Floyd’s murder fundamentally changed how we designed and led this workshop. Our growth was shaped significantly by developing an understanding of White Supremacy Culture (WSC), a system where perfectionism, defensiveness, paternalism, either/or thinking, individualism, and objectivity help maintain the status quo. This new perspective informed the creation of a series of sessions where we acknowledged, examined, and deconstructed power and privilege. We learned that if we want to achieve inclusion, we must understand the current culture of exclusion and the ways it prevents the work of building inclusive spaces. Though WSC as defined here is specific to the USA, cultures of exclusion exist worldwide. Lessons learned from trying to dismantle WSC in US conservation can be applied more broadly to create equitable professional and social communities around the world.
This article was originally published in Studies in Conservation. The version of record is available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00393630.2022.2065956
Equity, inclusion, white supremacy culture, conservation, leadership
Joelle D. J. Wickens & Anisha Gupta (2022) Leadership: the Act of Making Way for Others, Studies in Conservation, DOI: 10.1080/00393630.2022.2065956