Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
March 2005

Editorial:The Evolution of Women's Roles at ADF&G
“Is the glass ceiling made of fish scales?”

By Diana Cote, Executive Director, Alaska Boards of Fisheries and Game
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Diana Cote, Executive Director, Alaska Boards of Fisheries and Game

When I began working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as a secretary in 1983, it was easy to see that the place was a male-dominated department, with men holding the greater majority of top level positions. As I asked friends for advice on how to advance my career and myself, I received opinions such as “deepen your voice,” and “think in sports analogies.”

Although those suggestions seem silly today, it is still true that the department is falling short of taking full advantage of the talented women looking for opportunities to demonstrate their skills and credentials.

After four years as the commissioner’s secretary, my next thought was, “Do you need to go out and shoot something to advance around here?” Instead, I left the department in 1989 to finish my degree in business administration, and ran the University of Alaska’s math and English tutoring center for three years before returning to Fish and Game as the Executive Director of the Board of Game. Although I never did deepen my voice, I worked hard to prove myself and apply my talents and abilities in running that program. Between the time I began with the Game Board and now, as Director of Boards Support and managing both the Boards of Fisheries and Game programs, I’ve been privileged to work with female research coordinators, assistant directors, project leaders, and many other capable women who daily contribute to the success of this department.

Many women at Fish and Game share histories similar to mine—whether we are administrative, biological/science, or anthropological professionals: we maneuver our way up to a certain point with hard work and skill, then advance no further. Other than traditional administrative support roles such as Division of Administration and Boards, this department has fallen behind in employing women in direct program delivery. There are, of course, exceptions (thank goodness!) and it’s exciting to see: the director of the former Habitat Division was a woman, and the Subsistence Division currently has women filling the two top roles as director and assistant director.

Over the last ten years, more women have been hired in various positions as biologists and as fish and wildlife technicians. More recently we have seen women fill roles as leaders of new or special programs, such as federal subsistence, the nongame program, etc. giving women a stronger footing in the department. Alas, of the six ADF&G divisions, each with three or four regional supervisors, only Subsistence has employed a woman at the regional supervisor level. The department continues to be deficient in employing women as top leaders of biological, management, and science programs even though they may have the education, background, and experience.

In most Alaska state agencies, women have historically filled leadership roles in programs that deliver general support services versus direct program delivery. However, we’re starting to see a welcome shift in this trend. Women are filling commissioner positions not only for agencies that oversee what are considered traditionally women’s issues or services: education, health, and administration; recently women have led departments considered nontraditional for women: Corrections, Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and Lieutenant Governor.

In its 50-plus years of existence, ADF&G has never had a woman commissioner or deputy commissioner. It is also one of the few departments in the state that has never had a woman director in one of the management divisions. However, women are slowly gaining ground, and many women and men wait with great expectation and anticipation for the first woman commissioner of Fish and Game.

Look around during this month of March, National Women in History Month, and take notice of how many women have already transcended gender lines in workplaces across the nation. Celebrate and honor the successes and question or challenge organizations or factions that fail to allow women greater achievement and success when deserved.

Women at ADF&G do not deepen their voices, or always think in sports analogies, to get ahead. When asked for advice on how I advanced my career, first I tell people that I am still in the process, and as with any great achievement, that it takes sacrifice and hard work. Then I advise them to wear red cowboy boots, and don’t be afraid to use them!

Diana Cote, Executive Director
Alaska Boards of Fisheries and Game

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