Dr. Rae Wynn Grant posing in Nevada for a photoshoot for National Geographic.
Dr. Rae Wynn Grant poses in Nevada for an event with National Geographic. Courtesy photo/Rae Wynn Grant

African-American women are largely absent from male-dominated careers; such as environmental science, finance and investigative journalism.

Rae Wynn Grant, who has a Ph.D. in ecology and evolution, presented a talk about amplifying black women in the sciences at the Charles B. Washington Branch, Omaha Public Library on Feb. 16. Omaha Performing Arts Center hosted the event.

Grant, a California native, said she is currently the only Black woman in the world who is a carnivore wildlife ecologist. She specializes in studying carnivores, like bears. She said the goal is to keep them around forever.

Grant said she has always had a passion for wildlife but did not always excel in school.

Grant gave advice to others during her presentation.

“To not be too intimidated by academics,” she said.

Grant said many young people go into college thinking that they will not be successful if they don’t maintain a perfect GPA.

“When I was in high school, I did not get very good grades in math and science,” she said. “When I was applying for college, I had a D in one of my math classes. There was a time where there was no evidence that I was going to be a scientist, or use any high-level math for a living.”

Grant said her main point in sharing her personal journey was to not confuse passion with performance.

“It’s not about how well you study for tests,” she said. “It’s more about, do you have the energy for this? Do you have the passion for this? Do you have good ideas? A test isn’t going to save the environment, but really good ideas and energy is.”

Grant uses her voice to inspire women of color to get involved in the sciences. She said she believes all kinds of people can find themselves working in a wildlife career.

“We see women and women of color falling out of math and science early,” Grant said. “In middle school, is when society tells us it’s too hard for you. It’s not. It is hard for everybody.” 

Jennifer Yuma, an editorial staff writer intern for Variety Magazine and UNL Alum, has also struggled with inclusion in her past workplace.

“I was in a job for many years that did not make me feel like I was included simply because I was a woman,” she said. “I was in the same higher-up position that my white male colleagues were in, and they were given more responsibility than me.”

Yuma and Grant have similar backstories, where there were times they felt inferior. However, both women have challenged themselves and gained very admirable careers.

“At Variety, both of my editors in chief were women, most of my supervisors were women, and it really does make such a difference to know that you are among strong, badass women every single day when you’re working,” Yuma said.

Grant discussed how to get involved in a wildlife career, and why some may be hesitant to do so. 

Most people think you need to be outdoorsy and willing to not shower for two weeks, to have a career in wildlife ecology, but according to Grant, that is not the case.

“In order to protect wild animals, we need scientists like me outdoors,” Grant said. “We also need computer scientists, and we need teachers in the classroom, artists, writers and journalists.”

Grant said people need to start normalizing the sciences as complex and challenging for everyone, not just women. She said people do not need to be excellent 100% of the time to have a future in wildlife ecology, journalism, or whatever future job they desire.

“If you don’t want to be out in the wilderness, you can still play a really big role in the environment and protecting animals,” she said. “That is another really great way to increase diversity in this field.”