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Women in Conservation – Dr. Sheila Colla

This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, SCB North America is highlighting women in conservation who inspire us.

We would like to introduce you first to Dr. Sheila Colla. Dr. Colla is an Assistant Professor, York Research Chair in Interdisciplinary Conservation Science, and Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change at York University. We asked her to share a little about what she does, about her experience as a woman in conservation, and to name a woman who inspires her.

I am a conservation scientist researching wild bumblebees in Canada and the USA. In addition to studying their ecology and conservation status, I’ve recently moved my research program into understanding stakeholder perception and disrupting mainstream narratives. I help run the community science program BumbleBeeWatch and co-authored “The Bumblebees of North America: an identification guide” (Princeton University Press 2014). For SCBNA, I’m on the EDI and policy committees and am the North American Coordinator for the IUCN SSC Bumblebees Specialist Group. 

Being a woman, and a woman of colour, in conservation is extremely challenging, despite the many privileges I have. Despite my accomplishments, my expertise is often overlooked, especially in the field of entomology which is very much white, male-dominated. I have had grants rejected because I am “too much of an activist and not a scientist” because I call out injustices and broader oppressive systems as I see them. I have left committees where I see racism and sexism run rampant. I avoid conferences and social events which lack diversity. Now that I’ve moved into a new stage of my career, I am lucky to be able to be more selective and to surround myself with folks I trust and give my energy where I think it is valued. 

In terms of inspiration, the climate justice writer Mary Heglar wins as someone everyone should know and follow. Her piece “Home Is Always Worth It” is incredible. It serves as a reminder that despite all the struggles we face, socially and environmentally, the work we do is still important and worthy. 

Thank you so much to Dr. Colla for sharing her experiences with us. To keep up with her work, follow her here:

Lab research: www.savethebumblebees.ca

Finding Flowers Project: http://findingflowers.ca/

YorkU BeeC Research Group: bees.yorku.ca

Twitter: @savewildbees