Story | 14 Feb, 2024

International Day of Women and Girls In Science: Meet IUCN Species Survival Commission member Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai

Today we commemorate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an annual observance that celebrates the achievements and contributions of women and girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This day recognizes the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the scientific community.

In this interview, we will be hearing from Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai, a Commission member of IUCN with the Species Survival Commission. The Species Survival Commission is a science-based network of thousands of volunteer experts from almost every country in the world, all working together toward achieving the vision of "a just world that values and conserves nature through positive action to both prevent the loss and aid recovery of the diversity of life on earth."


Briefly tell us about yourself and your role

I am a Principal Consultant and Research Scientist with Talanoa Consulting. I provide a range of services and support to different organisations largely focused around gender, fisheries, nature-based solutions, disasters and climate change. At the moment, there is a high demand for support on the integration of gender, disability and social inclusion into nature-based solutions, including fisheries. I am helping to build capacity in organisations, co-create tools and conduct gender analysis to improve social outcomes within their projects. For example, I am with funding from SPREP, I am co-managing a community of practice with Mereoni Chung (at Talanoa Consulting) to provide trainings and share learnings on how to better integrate gender, disability and social inclusion into nature-based solutions for climate adaptation.

Reflecting on your journey so far, how does it feel to be a woman working in the field of science?

It has been empowering and rewarding, and I have enjoyed working in solidarity with other women scientists to break barriers or glass ceilings that stop women becoming scientists, or doing well as scientists. There are so many strong women scientists out there, who have had to overcome enormous gender barriers to get where they are. I love working in the intersection of biological and social sciences - trying to do research to solve some of our more pressing issues or knowledge gaps in conservation and fisheries. And then working with managers and practitioners to use science or evidence-based to make good management and policy decisions. 

Can you share some highlights and memorable moments since starting your career in this industry.

A highlight of my career was when I received the highly competitive Pew Marine fellowships in 2018 to work on mainstreaming gender and human rights into small-scale (or coastal) fisheries in Melanesia. The fellowship allowed me to lead research to investigate how  fisheries organisations in the Pacific institutionalise gender and integrate it into fisheries. It allowed me develop a partnership with regional organisations such as Pacific Community to develop handbooks and tools to help practitioners develop knowledge and skills to improve gender integration into their fisheries work.

Were there any barriers or challenges faced due to your gender during your academic or professional pursuit? If yes, how did you navigate past them?

Some of the greatest challenges is when I found myself  on committees or working groups that were male dominated. In these spaces, it can be hard to have your voice heard and some men can be quite dismissive. I found myself having to be more aggressive, pushy and stand my ground. I also found good male allies to work with who have stronger commitment to gender equality and inclusion. 

Considering the theme of 'International Day for Women and Girls in Science,' what message would you like to convey to aspiring female scientists?

Do not let anyone stop you from being a scientist. These days there are more and more women in the sciences. So find a good mentor or someone who inspires you, and build a strong network of like-minded people around you. Find the thing you are most passionate about, and set a path for yourself towards that goal. And it is definitely not a sign of weakness to ask for help along the way. 


Do not let anyone stop you from being a scientist.

Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai in Kiribati

Does your cultural or socioeconomic background influence your perspective on nature conservation? How so?

Yes, being from Fiji of mixed ethnicity and cultures helps me think through the solutions that work for us here in Fiji, in the wider Pacific. Being lucky and privileged enough to travel and work in other places, has helped me see the bigger global picture when it comes to nature conservation. It makes you appreciate differences in ideas, values, and viewpoints, and how to find common ground with people who are different from you.

Mention one skill you believe is crucial for succeeding in your line of work.

Being able to think critically and then write in a clear and concise way. This is what I think has helped me further my career and personal goals I have set out for myself. And none of this is easy. Most people assume I am a natural writer. But in reality I struggled with technical writing in my 20s. So I purposely (and with much grit and stubbornness) invested in developing those skills through my work and grabbed any opportunity I could. I knew I was weak in analysis and writing, so decided pursue a PhD to develop those skills, and I found mentors to give me "tough love" and critique my work. Writing academic papers was really hard for me  - and still one of the most challenging styles for me. So I treat it like my Mount Everest. I practice and practice, give up weekends and sometimes holidays to write, and push past my securities to lead papers from beginning to end. It probably took a decade for me before writing has become more natural, and now brings me joy (and there is a lot less cursing!). 

Highlight any advancement or achievement brought forth by your presence in the team.

I feel proud to be part of Talanoa Consulting's efforts to localise the consultancy space. We try to work with development partners and a wide range of organisations to have them value the knowledge, skills, relations and deep understanding of place, local consultants have. 

How you envision the future of women in science and the potential impact on nature conservation?

I think there are more and more women drawn to science and conservation. When you have gender balance, I think you bring more viewpoints to the table, and this leads to more solutions, or more impactful solutions. We cannot solve the problems of nature conservation and the health of our planet, if we are excluding half the population. Women need to have an equal opportunity at the decision-making tables.