Women, Science and Diving Into Leadership

I was scuba certified and exploring the complex and beautiful world below the ocean’s surface by the age of 16. Few get to venture into that world, but many should. My first underwater experience was on a 90-foot wreck dive in the cold, murky waters off the New Jersey Shore; I later had a vibrant, colorful dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, experiences like those simply will not be available for future generations if we don’t address the threats to our oceans from climate change, pollution and overfishing. With the waters I loved facing such dire straits, I entered a career in science focused on ocean conservation.

Getting here wasn’t always smooth sailing—and when times were tough, I had great mentors of both genders, though I’ve always found it useful to consider the accomplishments of women who succeeded before me.

One of these women is Rachel Carson, who truly struggled to be recognized for her scientific achievements in a gender-biased world. She fought tirelessly against the use of DDT because of its effects on the environment and the birds that she loved. It was rare at that time for women to be on the front lines, and her opposition was deep-pocketed and powerful. So it’s not surprising that she was portrayed by her critics as a hysterical woman, prone to being less rational and more emotional. She was attacked fiercely by the chemical industry and shunned by magazines unwilling to publish her work. But her now-famous book, “Silent Spring,” paved the way for the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 – perhaps her greatest vindication, though it happened long after her death. And her resilience in the face of tough odds continues to inspire many of us today.

Four decades later, the situation for women in science has improved, but there is still a long way to go. The same is true for the business sector and the non-profit sector, in which I work. Fortunately, there has been a lot of progress and I’ve never been more hopeful and confident that times are changing than I am today.

As senior vice president for U.S. oceans at Oceana, I’ve led campaigns that have fought the expansion of offshore oil drilling, reduced cruise ship pollution, promoted shark conservation and more. Most recently, we launched Global Fishing Watch, a groundbreaking new digital tool that allows governments and citizens around the world to improve fishery management to bring back ocean abundance and strengthen food security. I’m proud to be involved in this exciting new era of fisheries management, and I’m here today because of female role models, both past and present.

Today there are many. Their actions, their successes and most importantly, their words of advice have been invaluable to me.

On the double standard that exists for women in the workplace, this quote from Hillary Clinton really stood out for me. She told Susan Page of USA Today, “Any woman who wants to be on the stage — whether in politics or business or journalism or anything — just has to toughen up.” She then added, “If you allow it to define you, if you allow it to adversely impact you and your dreams, then you’re going to be blocked, and you’re going to be blocking yourself.”

The last thing we want to do is to block our own success.

Another source of inspiration is Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Susi Pudjiastuti. Minister Susi is a self-made entrepreneur and even created her own airline, Susi Air. But what I love about her is that she is relentlessly fighting against illegal fishing. She has seized, prosecuted and sunk more than 200 vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters—a dramatic but effective tactic to deter bad actors in her country’s waters. Minister Susi is a partner with Oceana in Global Fishing Watch, and spoke at its launch in September.

Women in leadership positions offer us continued inspiration. They inspire us with their strength and their accomplishments.

I hope I can help our resilient oceans return to abundance so that future generations can enjoy their many benefits. I hope that my position can offer one more example to girls and young women beginning their careers— that science is a field for women and that leadership is an opportunity for women as well. I hope more women and girls will explore our oceans and never hesitate to dive into any field that inspires them.

I’m grateful to the women that have shown so clearly that we all have the potential to change the world, and I intend to pass that on. 


Jacqueline Savitz is the Vice President for U.S. Oceans at Oceana, where she previously served as senior scientist, senior campaign director and deputy vice president of U.S. campaigns. Prior to her work with Oceana, Savitz served as Executive Director of Coast Alliance, worked as an environmental policy analyst with the Environmental Working Group and worked as an environmental scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.