Words of Wisdom from current Australian Coastal Society President, Peta Leahy.
Throughout my younger years there were limited role models in the environmental sector. Does anyone remember Ranger Stacey from Totally Wild? Ranger Stacey, A Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Ranger was the closest we got to a prominent female in the industry. And I wanted to be her so badly! I then embarked on a journey to gain experience and land a job in NRM or National Parks. It was then that I quickly learnt that this industry was a man’s world, limited by the perception of a woman’s lack of strength and resilience to undertake such a role. My perceived inability to mend fences, build walking tracks and wield a chainsaw was evident in my pursuit of a career in this industry. I was feeling a little down and out but then I met a female coastal engineer who convinced me that I should change tact and pursue a career in coastal management. This led me to leave Sydney and head for the Gold Coast and into the coastal field. A field which is albeit a “male dominated” field, but less limiting for a female.
In 2012, I joined the Australian Coastal Society as the Treasurer and in 2016 I became the Society’s first female President. To be honest though, when then President Geoff Wescott called and told me of his plan to nominate me as President at the next AGM I nearly said no. I had a very clear idea of the direction of which I wanted to see the Society go in but that meant inciting change and this was something that I was very nervous about doing. I was a young female coming into a position in an organisation that had been created, run and occupied by some of Australia’s leading coastal experts who all happened to be older, white males who had many, many years of experience and knowledge. However, I did say yes. I put myself out there, outlined to the committee where I wanted ACS to go and found that I had the full support of the Board including the very intimidating former male Presidents. Creating the change was much smoother than I thought!
In saying that I have had to work hard to get where I am. I completed my Masters Degree while pregnant, I organised the Queensland Coastal Conference while on maternity leave, have attended many meetings with my two young children in tow and I have stood my ground against those that have said a woman does not have the “strength” to be in the field.
But even though there is a perception of gender inequality particularly when it comes to women’s strength in roles, my overall experience in the coastal management field has been a positive one.
While we have a long way to go in creating equality we as women need to realise that sometimes we are our own worst enemy and that we need to not feed the stereotypes build by ones own lack of confidence. We need to work on building each other up not tearing each other down.
So my advice to women in this field… Take opportunities as they arise, find a strong mentor and believe in yourself because you are worthy!
[editor note: Peta originally gave this speech at a Women in Coast event held as part of Coast to Coast, 2018 in Tasmania, AU]
About the Author:
President, ACS. (https://www.australiancoastalsociety.org/about-us/people/)
Peta Leahy works at the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management and spends her ‘spare’ time running around after two little beach babes (her children), organising family vacations and managing the accounts for ACS.
Originally from Sydney, Peta was lured to the sunny Gold Coast for study after her earlier work with National Parks and Wildlife in NSW. It was here on the Gold Coast that her passion for our iconic coastline started and continues today.Posted on: 23/04/2018, by : Kristen Splinter