Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Oregon
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Jones, M. S., Teel, T. L., Martinez, D. E., & Solomon, J. (2020). Conflict and adaptation at the intersection of motherhood and conservation leadership. Biological Conservation, 243, 108487.


Conservation leadership science has focused on identifying behaviors and characteristics that make individual leaders effective, but has yet to address contextual challenges that differentially shape various groups' pathways to leadership positions. We sought to understand one such challenge, how motherhood affects women's careers, by conducting interviews with 56 women conservation leaders in the United States and analyzing the data using grounded theory. All participants described how conflict between motherhood and conservation expectations affects women's leadership, particularly for mothers of young children. Mothers in conservation reported experiencing stress from this conflict and so pursued adaptive responses, including gradually returning from maternity leave, restructuring schedules, working part-time, reducing travel, foregoing opportunities, and occasionally changing jobs. These adaptations were shaped by multilevel systems factors at individual, family, organization, and conservation profession scales. We found that having to navigate these factors can undermine women's wellbeing and lead them to restructure their careers, which may jeopardize organizations' abilities to fulfill their conservation objectives. Conversely, our results suggest that greater compatibility between women's motherhood and conservation leadership work may make conservation practitioners and institutions more effective. As more women advance in conservation leadership, the profession should consider ways to better integrate motherhood to support a more sustainable and diverse conservation movement.