By: Beattra Wilson
Assistant Director, Cooperative Forestry
When I chose to pursue an undergraduate degree in urban forestry at Southern University and A&M College, a historically black college and university (HBCU) system, I could see myself represented in the teaching staff, administration, and student body. This was very appealing and provided me with a sense of belonging.
But I knew even then that I would face significant obstacles in securing my future. I had to ask myself, “How do I get a seat at this table when such a small percentage of this industry comprises African American women?” I realized that getting to the table meant bringing my own folding chair. Thankfully, I had the right academics, a network of support, and internships that helped me to determine my direction and take my place. It was clear to me that the public service side is where I fit in, leading me to a master’s degree in public administration. The potential to bring more sustainable social and economic improvement to communities through conservation is what has kept me in forestry for 20 years.
My experience also helped me to trust that if you see it, you can believe it. Because of this, I strive to be a mentor and a sponsor. This means using the space I occupy to help place and pre-position the next person, through transparency in building trust and instilling confidence. It also means allowing space to recognize which circles to explode, by encouraging diverse opinions. One method that I use is offering my regional program managers a small annual budget to use for tasks of their choosing, something they feel that they can invest in or fold into existing projects. At the end of the year, we talk about their programs and share their successes. Not one of them have recused themselves from this opportunity, and the shape and form of their projects have had a resounding impact in the communities we serve.
I am excited to be a part of the amazing Women’s Forest Congress and our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Collectively and individually, we are uniquely positioned as mentors and sponsors. We must continue to encourage and engage other women, more women of color, and those from diverse backgrounds, such as communicators, researchers, data masters. In this way, we have the ability to advance our mission in a way that inspires others to explore their own passions and path in finding their seat at the conservation table.