Guest column: Women lead, and have led, in conservation

A couple of weeks ago, I sat on the tailgate of my truck with a dear friend and colleague — also a female and also an executive director of another nonprofit — and found comfort in our shared exhaustion. While there are more women at the table where decisions are being made than ever before, we are still in the minority. And in some cases, by quite a lot. Another added societal kicker is that if you are a woman with a family, who prizes your career WHILE also prizing your family… the cards are stacked even higher against you.

Society tells us that we are supposed to be the main caretaker for our families at home, while putting in the exact same hours (or more) and effort at our careers without complaint, exhaustion, or being “too pushy” in our efforts. Women around the world were standing and cheering during the mind-blowingly spot-on monologue spoken by actress America Ferrera in last summer’s blockbuster movie Barbie, which starts with these words, “It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. We have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.”

That’s right, gals. We must do it all, be it all, achieve success greater than men to be placed on an equal level as them. But we also still need to bake those cookies for school parties, never miss a band concert, and host neighborhood functions in a spotless home all while looking well rested and a decade younger than what our drivers’ licenses indicate.

We live here and raise our families here because of the amazing quality of life. Trails out our front doors, national parks a few miles away, annual elk hunts with family and friends, and neighborhood parks and ball fields aplenty make Montana the absolute best place to be a kid. It’s for these reasons that myself and other busy, working, moms are drawn to conservation. And it’s because of our kids, and theirs, that we continue to charge ahead despite an unfair playing field and unreasonable expectations.

A few weeks ago, a columnist from Helena penned an article heralding Montana’s visionary conservationists. All were men. And yes, all were important to Montana’s conservation heritage. But what about the Robin Tawney Nichols, the Diana Blanks, the Tracy Stone-Mannings, the Martha Williams, and the countless other women who have invested in conservation in Montana with their expertise, smarts, and dollars? And who — undeniably — have impacted our quality of life to a much greater extent than many of the male conservation champions that have historically led such lists for generations.

They were left off the list. Again. Which ties us back to my friend and I, sitting on my truck tailgate, exhausted.

For years I worked for the big, legacy, conservation organizations who have done impeccable, incredibly impactful work on behalf of public lands, wildlife, and climate for generations. I was and am so grateful to them for their great work, and happily partner with them. Yet many times, women and particularly mothers are not their target audiences, despite continually being the largest group supportive of conservation in polling for years.

We launched the Mountain Mamas a decade ago as a test to see if we can organize around values rather than issues, to bring mamas together despite political divides and focus on our commonalities and intense love and appreciation for our quality of life… and our kids. And most importantly, to give women a seat at the table we are so often left out of. As we forge ahead into 2024, we hope you’ll join us.

Becky Edwards is the executive director of the Mountain Mamas, and lives in Bozeman with her husband and three daughters.

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