Diversity is our Strength – Ashley Shaw

The complexity of conservation research and issues in Alberta require creativity and innovative problem solving; the more people from diverse backgrounds we have working on these issues, the more likely we are to define new and effective solutions. In this new web series, the ACTWS is celebrating the diversity of Alberta wildlife professionals.

Meet Ashley

As a first-generation Person of Colour (POC), I have grown up knowing the sacrifices my parents made to ensure my access to opportunities that were not available for them. As a woman, I am also aware of the expectations my family and our culture have of me. The intersections between these identities have affected my research and perspectives as an environmental scientist. Specifically, as a member of the BIPOC community, there are many invisible barriers that I had to either accept or overcome in research and academia. One such barrier, which impacted me significantly, came with the sense of responsibility of being a first-generation post-secondary student. I was acutely aware of what my family sacrificed to get me to this point, which came with anxiety of ensuring that I did extremely well. I began to realize that the mental health needs of first-generation students may differ from other students.

From 2012 – 2015 I worked across diverse fields involving entomology and wildlife ecology. Even then, I was aware of how I occupied spaces that were not usually filled by researchers who looked like me. I would sit in the audience and listen to panel after panel filled with older, Caucasian males. These men were, and still are, experts in their fields. I admire their work and I appreciate the advances they have made in their respective fields. However, continuous thoughts would churn in my mind: could I ever see myself on a panel like this? Would they place me in the middle, to make it look more inclusive somehow? Would I be taken seriously as a female and POC scientist? And, most importantly, why aren’t there more people who look like me on these panels? This disconnect almost completely steered me away from the environmental sciences because the sense of belonging and acceptance I aspired to have in these communities felt almost entirely non-existent.

At the end of 2015, I was excited with my first publications. Each time, however, I questioned how to sign my name. I toyed with Ashley Shaw, A. Shaw, A M Shaw, and Ashley S. frequently. It is uncomfortable to look back at this challenge and know that I found safety in ambiguity, because I did not think I would be taken as seriously as a female author.

From 2015 – 2019, I worked with Indigenous communities to meaningfully include Indigenous Knowledge in existing forest and natural resource management and planning processes in Saskatchewan, Canada. Learning about wildlife through the lens of Indigenous Knowledge opened my mind and helped me view our environments in exciting new ways. It was around this time that I recognized my passion for research and the confidence I had in my ability as an environmental scientist. This confidence has allowed me to own the space I occupy and continue to try and be a dynamic representative of the BIPOC community.

Currently, I work as a regional consultation coordinator for the Métis Nation of Alberta for Region 2. My work parallels my support for marginalized communities and the need to amplify our voices to make an impactful difference in the policies that shape our environment and resource usage.  My struggles have made me a better scientist. I am aware that my presence may make others uncomfortable, but I see that as an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of diversity in our profession. I will continue to trek through the path that has been built for me with gratitude and respect.

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