How Female Biologist Earns Peer Respect in Male Dominated Industry – Alayne Cotterill

August 16, 2019

Erik: How have you been able to navigate a
male dominated conservation biology industry as you’ve built your career? Alayne: When I first started it was definitely
male dominated and I sort of negotiated that – I didn’t
want to turn into a man in order to do that, and so I made sure I stayed very much as a
woman, but you have to quietly and assertively sort of show that despite being a woman and
despite not being so physically strong – I’m not wrestling lions, you know. I can pull
a dart gun trigger as accurately as a man can and you don’t need physically brute
strength, but you do need to be quite tough and I couldn’t afford to ever show much
weakness to be quite honest, um in the early days. So, if you wanted to – if everything
goes wrong and you want to cry, you’re on your own in the dark and you’re scared,
you had to just sort of get on with it and not make a fuss. And I think by quietly doing
that, people respect you, and then actually I got a great deal of support after that and
so it gets easier once you get past – there’s that initial hurdle where like, “Arr, is
this woman going to be able to do the job?” And you have to prove that you can and then
actually get a great deal of support. Erik: Who did you turn to for support during
that time? Alayne: Well, to be honest, a lot of the time
I was on my own. Um, and I guess I didn’t have any immediate support. I have an extremely
supportive family, so I could write – actually humor was the way for it because what I would
do is write these ludicrous emails – well it wouldn’t be emails then, it was letters
then. I didn’t have email access then – and send them off to my family and they would
always see the funny side of it as well and write back. And it was sort of this story
exchange, which actually really helped me. Then I only had VHF radio, I could very rarely
get to a telephone, I didn’t have email or anything like that. Today, obviously, I
can go get on Skype and have a quick chat with my mom in the U.K. But then it was a
very slow process, and actually through the sense of humor, seeing the funny side of it
– and there is always a funny side of it, but you have to have a very black sense of
humor or a dark sense of humor. But you can normally sort of cheer yourself up with that,
and the thought of writing about it later sort of helped me through the moment quite
well, even if I was on my own at the time.

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