Jen Solomon: WCNR Women Making Change

WCNR associate professor Jen Solomon with her two children in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
WCNR associate professor Jen Solomon with her two children in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

In honor of Women’s History Month, celebrated annually in the month of March, we highlight women in the Warner College of Natural Resources who are making change to create opportunity, invite and celebrate diversity and lend their voices to the natural resources fields.

Solomon in Belize where she has collaborated with organizations on projects related to protected area management and invasive lionfish.
Solomon in Belize where she has collaborated with organizations on projects related to protected area management and invasive lionfish.

Jen Solomon is an associate professor in the department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. Solomon studies the human dimensions of biodiversity conservation with a focus on human behavior.

Solomon collaborates with practitioners in organizations who are working to impact conservation “on the ground.” Recent projects revolve around management of invasive lionfish, women in conservation leadership, and non-compliance with resource regulations.

She has received the Outstanding Mentorship Award from the College of Natural Resources and the Diversity and Inclusion Award from the department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources.  She is a Fulbright Fellow, Boren fellow, Center for Collaborative Conservation fellow and has served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Nicaragua.

Q&A with Jen Solomon

Can you share with us a career highlight?

The highlights of my work are doing research that has “real-world” impact in collaboration with fantastic students. For example, some of the findings from our studies on women in leadership are now being used in trainings by state agencies and non-governmental organizations. Collaborative work with ecologists on invasive lionfish management has shaped national policy. The best days are ones where students call me telling me they landed their “dream” job. Many of them are now leading their own conservation efforts, locally and abroad.

Do you have any women who have inspired you or mentored you in your NR career? If so, who? What was their influence?

My inspiration comes from those who came before me, as well as those who are rising in the fields of conservation and leadership.  I grew up in a rural area and my mother was a wildlife rehabilitator for years, so I was always around wildlife. Her work impressed upon me the importance of seeing wildlife as individuals rather than just populations to be managed.  During graduate school, I was lucky to take classes from women who were open to sharing their whole lives, not just their scientific endeavors. In addition to being stellar scientists they were partners, caregivers and community leaders. By sharing their personal lives, they sent a message that you did not have to forfeit what is important to you to be a good scientist.

Today we finally have a few women leaders in charge of entire countries (approximately 10 percent) who are doing this at a global level. Jacinda Ardern, for example, is the Prime Minister of Aotearoa/New Zealand. She is demonstrating on a world stage what many women already know: that you can lead a nation most effectively with compassion (and do so while simultaneously being a mother to a young child).  Kamala Harris (Vice President) and Deb Haaland (Secretary of the Interior) have been leading on the national stage, placing a high priority on social justice issues. Dr. Katalin Karikó’s early research into mRNA laid the groundwork for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and her story is a reminder of persistence in the face of adversity. I read that at one point she thought of giving up. Without her tenacity we likely would not be holding classes in person today.

The women in conservation with who I work are dedicated and overcoming formidable challenges. They speak up when it is safe, and their words are likely to have impact. When it is unsafe, these women leaders work creatively behind the scenes to push for changes so the field of conservation will be a more equitable and inclusive place to work. They inspire me to do more work to understand and promote women in conservation leadership.

What advice do you have for women entering the natural resources fields?

Solomon with CSU undergraduates in Bladen Nature Reserve, Belize.
Solomon with CSU undergraduates in Bladen Nature Reserve, Belize.

While things are improving, we still have far to go, especially for women of color. For example, in the U.S., women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the gap is larger for women of color. The U.S. is the only industrialized country to have no national paid family leave policy. Women publish peer-reviewed research less than men and there are fewer women in conservation leadership roles, especially women of color. While things may be improving, the pace is slow, and the pandemic has slowed progress even more. Research demonstrates that the pandemic has stalled gains made on the gender wage gap, and pushed women’s labor participation back by more than 30 years.

Research we have done demonstrates that in the field of conservation there are also significant challenges. If you are a woman and have experienced challenges in the field of conservation such as harassment, salary inequity and difficulty negotiating, formal or informal inclusion, among others, know that you are not alone (see Jones and Solomon 2019 for more on the challenges and supports for women conservation leaders). Seek out allies of all genders to confide in and work together to support one another. Identify inequities in your workplace and collaborate to change things.

We cannot make the needed changes alone, and together we are stronger. Finally, and importantly, don’t forget to prioritize your mental and physical health, as without it you are less able to work effectively on the things that mean the most to you.