As a longtime proponent of diversity, inclusivity, and equity in the conservation field, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) might not be expected to intentionally exclude a major demographic group from its programs. However, after five years of conducting female-only crews in the City of Chicago, SCA is ready to call this field experiment a success.
Since 2013, an SCA team typically comprised of eight area women between the ages of 18 and 25, plus two experienced team leaders and two apprentice leaders, has taken on invasive species management and eroding trails at Chicagoland sites such as Hegewisch Marsh, Indian Ridge Marsh, and the Burnham Wildlife Corridor. But most of all, the crew has tackled outdated notions of gendered roles in the still male-dominated domain of environmental conservation.
Although the early female teams were scheduled to work only during the summer, the crews were so effective that the Chicago Park District and other funders like BP America agreed to extend their terms to six months. Last year’s group planted or propagated 15,000 native plant plugs, built or refurbished nearly 100,000 feet of trail, and improved 1,200 feet of waterfront, while acquiring chainsaw, prescribed burn, urban forestry, and First Aid/CPR certifications.
Would these advancements have occurred if men participated on the crew? Perhaps not, says Daiva Gylys, the SCA program manager. She notes on coed teams it is difficult to avoid even unintended gender bias. “For example,” she says, “when strength is needed, the young men are more apt to jump in and say ‘I got this.’
“The all-female crews are machismo-free. Everyone is more or less on equal footing. There are no gender roles and the women have proven they can handle things – anything – on their own.”