Taking Action for Gender Equity: Women in Leadership AZA Conference Session Summary

The 2019 AZA National Conference in New Orleans marked the sixth year in a row that Kathy Wagner, Zoo Advisors Senior Associate, presented a session exploring the opportunities and challenges for women in AZA organizations with a focus on gender equity.  More than 150 women (and a growing number of men) joined the conversation. #AZAWomenLeadNow

Executive Summary: Five Actions You Can Take to Improve Gender Equity

  1. Be your own advocate; be confident and speak up. We can’t expect others to solve the problem—we need to be active participants and invite others to join us.

  2. Support other women. “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” —Madeleine Albright

  3. Seek a mentor or sponsor; be a mentor or sponsor—pay it forward. Seek sponsors—individuals in positions of power who take a direct role in your advancement, open doors, and provide access—and return the favor.

  4. Use your privilege for good. Push to correct wrongs. “If you see something, say something.” Don’t tolerate harassment in any form.

  5. Don’t worry about every battle; win the war. Focus on the long game; don’t get distracted by the little things.

Our Panel Shared These Experiences:

  • They have experienced some form of gender discrimination and bias in the workplace, from being denied promotions to receiving lesser salaries and being subjected to unwanted sexual advances.

  • They’ve forged their own paths and succeeded in male-dominated workplaces and situations by always being themselves, not accepting the status quo, learning to adapt, and seeking mentors and sponsors.

  • “We can’t paint gender equity with a single brushstroke.” Ask, listen to, and work with others, women and men alike, to understand their different ‘mental models’—how they see the world, what their ideas are.

  • Intersectionality matters: across the board, women of color are paid less than their white counterparts; in Louisiana, for example, black women are paid 47¢ for every $1 earned by white men.

  • It’s important to recognize support when it’s given—“my organization supported the ‘whole’ of who I am.” Seek out opportunities to recognize success.

Our Audience Then Shared How They’re Feeling About the State of Gender Equity.

Looks like we see some improvement, but we’re not there yet. We’re hopeful, but frustrated!

Gender Equity_audience perspective.png

What Can You Do at Your Organization? Recommendations From Our Panel:

  • Start a “lunch and learn” discussion series for all

  • Seek out a sponsor

  • Conduct an internal audit on equity; urge your organization to conduct a salary review and increase transparency; remove salary history questions from job applications; go “gender blind” on resumes by removing names

  • Initiate some research to see what it would take to close the gap; e.g., educational opportunities, training, salary adjustment, and how to address inequities

  • Identify high potential employees and create succession plans and career paths and provide equitable opportunities and exposure to committees, meetings, presentation opportunities

  • Don’t accept or perpetuate stereotypes like “men are passionate; women are emotional” or “femininity = weakness”

  • As individuals, support legislation to address equity issues

What Will You Do? What Were Our Audience’s Pledges?

Women in Leadership_audience pledges.png
  • Sponsor

    • “Own my own ability and empower other women”

    • “Promote the women on my team by increasing their visibility”

    • “Lift up other women” “Lift up women of color”

  • Be my own advocate; be confident

    • “Change my mental model and be a champion for myself”

    • “Continue to take it one person, one conversation at a time to use my voice to change minds”

    • “Know my worth”

    • “Negotiate for a reclassification for myself and other women”

  • Pursue organizational change

    • “Ask for a disparity audit from my organization”

    • “Ask AZA to create a pay transparency and equity task force”

    • “Evaluate my organization with a women’s leadership scorecard to facilitate discussion on this topic”

    • “Hire thoughtfully and promote intentionally”

  • Speak up

    • See something, say something, DO SOMETHING!!!”

    • “Speak up and call it out”

    • “Stop mansplaining”

    • “Use my privilege to speak out for others”

  • Support legislation

    • “Vote!!”

    • “Support candidates for government that support and work for equity”

    • “Research local legislation to support”

Thanks Again to Our Great Panel

Three accomplished women leaders shared their varied personal and professional journeys. A special thanks to them for sharing their thoughts on challenges, achievements, and advice for driving change.

  • The Honorable Helena Moreno
    President/Council Member at Large, New Orleans City Council

  • Lisa Peterson
    Director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

  • Cassandra Ray
    VP Finance/CFO, Saint Louis Zoo

“What a thoughtful session with outstanding speakers offering deeply personal and brilliant professional insights. Bravo!” —Sarah Hezel, Wildlife Conservation Society