#EcoHeroine series: The Work we leave behind

Tracy Melvin

Our featured Eco-heroine this week is Tracy Melvin, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University. She is also co-coordinator of The Leadership Institute at Michigan State University and Director of Strategic Partnerships for Ecologists Without Borders. We sat down with Tracy to talk about why we need more diversity and equity in conservation leadership, and the benefits of feminine leadership.

– Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I am finishing up my PhD at Michigan State University, where I am studying how to best manage for biodiversity conservation in ecosystems transforming from the direct pressure of climate change. We do most of our work in Alaska, although I’ve also done some work in Fiji. I work with incredible people across the US and in other countries, and my favorite thing is to collaborate with folks on big conservation issues. I help run MSU’s Leadership Institute, and work a bit with Ecologists without Borders and the Women in Nature Network. I hope to work towards helping the world conserve biodiversity for people and nature with the IUCN, Conservation International, or as a university professor. I got one of my degrees in aviation and have a commercial multi-engine pilot’s license. I love painting, volunteering, being in nature and adventuring with my husband.

– Why is it so important to have more women in leadership in conservation?

It’s important to have representation from all peoples to lead conservation efforts. This means diversity of races, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, social classes, political beliefs and citizenships. This means introverted and extroverted people, people who are tidy and messy, all people. The point being all these people care about moving the world forward effectively and efficiently, they recognize the urgency and magnitude and complexity of the problem – it will truly take an effort equal in magnitude to the threats to conservation to solve it. Women and women-identifying people, I have noticed, are very much in tune with a sense of service, community, and empathy. It takes all of these attributes to be a successful conservationist. I think anyone can have these attributes, however, I think women tend to easily tap into this within themselves perhaps.   

– What leadership qualities or strengths do you see women bringing to the table?

Like Simon Sinek said, leadership is not about being in charge, but rather taking care of people in our charge, and creating the right environment in which people can thrive. I see women and women-identifying people as bringing this type of leadership style to the table –  a courageous vulnerability, an immense empathy, a silent power, the creation of space for people as almost a natural component of who they are.

– What advice do you have for women conservation leaders? What’s the one action you’d recommend they take to thrive as leaders or change their environments in which they work?

Talk to each other authentically. Stop worrying about what people think of you. Focus on the good work that needs to be done, and bring people with you on this journey – gather them up! Realize that you have made pseudo-constraints to what you can accomplish and ferret them out. Read a LOT. Be a cheerleader for the people around you who are being authentic, vulnerable and courageous. It’s not about you or me, it’s about the work we leave behind and the way we made people feel along the way.


P.S. You can join the conversation in the Collective, a diverse, supportive women conservationists from around the world who are sharing stories and resources, and cheering each other on!

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