When Maggie Anderson moved to Montanas Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in 1986, she was one of four female refuge managers nationwide. She says she felt pressure to make a meteoric rise because there were so few women in the field. The numbers have grown steadily since. By 1999the earliest year official data are available60 women were refuge managers or refuge supervisors. Today, 110 are.
Still, as Anderson retires from Minnesotas Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge after 38 years in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenges for women remainand recommendation 22 of the Conserving the Future vision directs the Service to diversify its workforce overall.
When Anderson took her first management position at Lee Metcalf Refuge, she was six months pregnant. I always felt physically I had to be out there hauling sacks of corn and not asking for help because a guy wouldnt, she says. Women had to work harder to prove themselves. Men were trusted until they were proven otherwise.
In 2007, when Kelly Purkey became manager at Louisianas Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, she was also pregnant and still had to prove I have value. My experience in the Southeast has been hook and bulletthats a mans world ... Some in the public were mad as a hornet about something on the refuge and wanted to yell at someone. But when they saw me5foot3 and pregnanttheir demeanor would change. I spent a lot of time disarming people.
Southeast Region refuge supervisor Elizabeth Souheaver came to Floridas Merritt Island Refuge with the Youth Conservation Corps in 1978. People paid more attention to my performance because there were not many women in the Service, she says. I was encouraged to apply for more positions because I was a woman. When I did apply, I got the job because of my abilities.
Bringing women into the Refuge System has long been emphasized. In 1979, thenSecretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus encouraged the hiring of qualified women for career positions throughout the Department.
In some cases, women have been told outright they were hired because of their gender. In other cases, they suspect it.
Purkey and Anne Sittauer, manager at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota, say they have received calls to apply for positions to meet recruitment targets.
Being a woman has been an opportunity, says Sittauer. People are interested in moving along women who are competent. But Purkey worries that such thinking can lead to people being placed in positions before they are ready.
For a 1991 publication about the Northeast Region and the 0485 wildlife refuge management job series, Anderson interviewed current and former Service female employees. Most striking to her was that a majority of respondents had experienced harassment, usually verbal, because they were women. Sittauer believes there is less discomfort caused by such issues today, and she says: If someone is going to be chauvinistic, I dont let it affect me.
Anderson says worklife balance has been her greatest challenge: I would like to have had a couple more moves, but we told the kids they could be in high school in one place.
Sittauer accepted collateral duty involving watercraft safety policy and training at a time when I couldnt move every three years because I was considering the needs of my family.
The 1991 survey predicted that careerfamily issues would become less gender specificand it appears to have been spot on, given that men now struggle with familymobility issues, too.
As Anderson closes the gates at Agassiz Refuge on the last day of deer season for her final time, she recognizes that times have changed dramatically and the struggle has been rewarding.
While I have often had to be persistent, she says, I have always felt extremely blessed and privileged to work for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Karen Leggett is a writereditor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.