I have always been proud of my gender. Growing up with three brothers made me feel special as I was different from my siblings. It also meant a bagged my own room from a young age which was a plus. The only downside was when one of our games was 'girls vs boys' which left my a bit at a disadvantage...
My mother worked long hours when I was young but she always made the effort for our 'girl time'. The boys would be set some kind of task, often involving trains, and we'd head off on our own adventure. I felt very grown up. Occasionally I would join my mother as she briefly popped into her office. I was filled with admiration in those moments as, even at my young age, I could tell she was in her element. She exuded confidence. Having a strong female role model has made me the woman I am today. Having a kind and respectful father has shaped how I expect to be treated. I am very lucky.
Despite this, on too many occasions in my career I have been left feeling inadequate. Volunteering is crucial experience in the wildlife conservation industry and I spent long periods of time working on reserves in my earlier years. This often involved 'practical tasks' which sometimes made me feel a bit hesitant to say the least. I would recall the scrutiny from a agricultural lecturer I met when scoping a potential college at the age of 16. Keen to get some more practical skills I was excited to look around. The judgement and mild amusement in his eyes when he described how I would drive a tractor made me shrink away. I didn't attend that college. This experience made me highly aware of surprised glances from people watching me fix fences on reserves. I couldn't let go of that little niggle in my mind that I didn't belong.
But I needed my work. Saving wildlife is all I'd ever dreamt of. This was strong enough to push me forwards. Before I knew it, I had bagged a management role within the RSPB at the age of 25. I had gone from unpaid intern to assistant to officer within the space of 6 months. It almost felt like a mistake when I got the call. 'Capercaillie Advisory Officer' sounded far too grand. But I loved these birds and I was eager to throw myself into this role.
I quickly discovered that capercaillie conservation had traditionally been a 'man's world'. All the capercaillie officers before me had been older men and the people that I would be spending most of my time with (land managers) would also be men. I didn't mind this. Growing up with brothers meant that I was very confident around men. However, no matter how confident I was, I couldn't help but notice that I wasn't always what people expected. I take a moment for a deep breath before firmly introducing myself to another clearly surprised gamekeeper. I'm here to do a job and it is a job I do really well. Capercaillie need people on their side and I am their voice. My gender will not quieten that voice.
I'm almost two years into my job now and I am thrilled to work amongst incredibly engaging and respectful men and women all fighting for this cause. I know I am in a privileged position which I am acutely aware of when I meet people at the beginning of their conservation career. I regularly encounter new interns and volunteers at the RSPB and I always take the time to learn a little about them and perhaps offer a little support. I see the uncertainty in their eyes and I want them to know, no matter what their gender, that they got this. I feel proud to work for such an inclusive organisation and I see young women thriving all the time in their critically important work. What a blessing.
This world may never be perfect but I am proud to be a 27 year old woman fully confident in her place in this world. I'm taking that as a win.