International Women’s Day – blog by Polly Burns, Aquaculture Interactions Manager for Fisheries Management Scotland

Even though I have only been in my current role with Fisheries Management Scotland since July 2020, I originally joined the wild fisheries management sector straight out of university back in 2013, working for the Spey Fishery Board. There were women doing roles similar to mine, and I always looked up to them. But I can remember in most places, on the river, at conferences or public meetings I was in the minority as a young female. And I was young don’t get me wrong, but age doesn’t reflect experience or someone’s ability to do the job (and is often a matter of perception whether someone think you look ‘old enough’). I do tend to get underestimated; I have literally had men come up to me after conference presentations and tell me they had “low expectations but were pleasantly surprised” – thanks! Most of the men I engaged with in my working life were supportive and did not ever make me feel like I was not deserving to be there. For some external people though, there was a feeling of I had to prove myself first – and proving myself often resembled showing how ‘tough’ I was.

The reality is that how masculine or tough my skill set is does not warrant a ranking on how capable I am of doing my job and says a whole lot more about the person testing me that way. My approach may be different, or not done in the way someone thinks it should be, but I am good at my job, proud to be a woman working in a male dominated sector and for the most part feel incredibly empowered in the workplace. The results from a study in 2011 showed that when teams contained more women, the team makes better decisions. None of the concerns someone has about a woman doing a job actually matters, and women often make things better.

Coming back into the sector last year after a 5-year absence, I was pleased to see that things had changed. We have more woman in senior positions within Boards and Trusts across Scotland. But there is still work to do, and the opportunities for women are vast.

Alison Baker is the Clerk to the Forth District Salmon Fishery Board and Trust Director for the Forth Rivers Trust, and a board member for Fisheries Management Scotland. She commented “There are many opportunities for woman to engage positively and lead within the fisheries sector.  Whilst there are some vestiges of traditional male ‘hunting, shooting and fishing’ mentality, any sector like ours which is based on science, the law and communications is a place for women to show prominence.  There are no jobs within the sector which would be a no-no for most women and some such as enforcement which may seem un-inviting are now based on mediation and communication rather than any macho ideals of ‘lock em up and thrown away the key’. Inequalities remain, the Forth DSFB and the Trust only have one female board member who sits on both boards and that is something which needs to change, but that is not unique to our sector.  Providing support and inspiration to help woman to get to the top-level decision-making positions is a key objective.”

In these days where social media reigns, there is such an opportunity to show the fisheries managers of the future what is possible in our sector. Running a Fisheries Trust in a time when salmon and trout populations are at crisis point across Scotland is no mean feat. Sure, it might not be as glamorous as diving in the Maldives looking after sharks (hello waders) but it is the same principle, and everyone has a niche. If I had any words of wisdom for young women starting out in their career it would be just go for it – what do you want out of your career? Male or female, we all have our insecurities and the voices telling us we can’t do something, but since we all have them it’s a level playing field. Any men (for the record, in my case it always is) who want to have a go, you go for it – I will just continue to work hard to protect wild fish alongside my colleagues.