Happy International Women’s Day 2019

Bristol Zoological Society is proud to employ 143 permanent female members of staff at both Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project.

Our female members of staff work across a wide variety of departments including education, conservation, graphics, animal care, finance, data, visitor services, marketing, development, HR, maintenance, grounds and horticulture, among many others.

On International Women’s Day 2019, which aims to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality, we caught up with four female members of staff who described what makes them proud to be a woman – both in the workplace and their private lives.

Meet the women whose roles and responsibilities differ vastly but whose drive and appetite for success are mirrored across all aspects of their lives.

Jen Nightingale

Jen is UK Conservation Manager at Bristol Zoological Society. Her main roles include regular reviews of the Society’s existing projects on UK native Endangered and invasive species conservation, as well as developing new strategies and programmes and overseeing the implementation of new projects.    Her role also includes fundraising for current conservation programmes and staff members, liaison with the Society’s fieldwork partners and teaching both internally and externally, whilst providing training, advice and support to fellow conservation practitioners. Jen and her team are contracted by external partners to deliver in-situ ecological surveys. Their main Society projects currently include a white-clawed crayfish captive-breeding and reintroduction programme, an invasive species control programme, moth surveys at the Avon Gorge, toad patrols and an extensive survey, mitigation and research programme taking place at Bristol Zoo Gardens’ sister attraction, Wild Place Project. 

Jen manages two internal staff members, employs other staff periodically for specific projects, supervises internal and external undergraduate and postgraduate students and also manages several external partners as part of in-situ conservation programmes.  


Jen is also Chair of the BIAZA ‘Reintroduction Advisory Group’ and sits on the BIAZA ‘Native Species Working Group’ steering committee.

Career highlight

Instigating the South West Crayfish Project (SWCP) that was set up to help conserve our only indigenous freshwater crayfish species – the white-clawed crayfish.  The SWCP has now been running for a decade and is growing in strength. It is fantastic to see Bristol Zoological Society being regarded as national experts and pivotal to a species survival within south west England. 


First job

My first job was a voluntary position, at the age of 10, working in a local aquarium shop in Liverpool, where I carried out basic fish husbandry tasks on the shop's fish tanks.  I kept my own fish tanks as well but being able to observe so many aquatic species close-up, on a regular basis, really kindled my passion for the underwater world.

What time does your day normally begin?

I start working at 6am and usually spend an hour or so writing up my PhD thesis before checking my crayfish hatchery at home and then starting work. 

Advice to someone looking to get into your line of work

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer and, when you have done that, volunteer some more. 

Volunteering within the conservation industry will provide you with some insight into what a job in conservation will involve and you will gain essential skills that will help your CV, stand out when trying to find a job in this field.  The conservation industry is a sought after profession and many young people naturally want to work with animals.  However, the actual reality of a job in conservation can be very different to what you perceive the role to be. There is often conflict between different habitats and species that you wish to preserve and compromises often have to be found.  Keeping stakeholders happy and engaged can also be challenging, it is often as much to do with managing relationships as managing species and habitats.Plus there’s a great deal of fundraising to be done along the way.

Have you seen changes in the way women are perceived/treated in the workplace since you began your career? 

 Yes!  There are many more women in senior management roles these days and a great deal more respect for us. Our credibility ratings have risen considerably. 

What makes you proud to be a woman?

Women have an amazing ability to juggle their personal lives and careers and keep it all together - just look at Jacinda Arden for example.  

How important is it for women to lift each other up?

Women have great intuition, empathy and (usually) know exactly what to say to each other and when. Having close female friends that support me, makes my life a much calmer and happier place. 

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

Don't wish for it, work for it!

What advice would you give your 13-year-old self?

Manatees are over-rated; crayfish are your path!

Rebecca Cole

Rebecca is exhibit development manager for Bristol Zoological Society, sitting within the projects team. She covers both Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project and is responsible for the creative design, development and implementation of exhibits, taking into consideration all project objectives and balancing the requirements for animals, staff and guests.

She manages a small team of people focussed on project delivery - from content research and interpretation design to small buildings works, including theming.

Career highlight

I enjoy the satisfaction of successful project delivery, but really my highlights are being in the thick of project build and development. I really enjoy seeing exhibits come out of the ground. Due to the nature of our sites, it is necessary to do some ‘on the ground’ development and this is really interesting and enjoyable. Currently we are working to deliver Bear Wood at the Wild Place Project and the on-site development of this project is likely to be a career highlight for me.

First job

I was a Saturday sales adviser in Debenhams when I was 16. I loved that job as I had such fun colleagues. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy all of my jobs, but I do think jobs are what you make them.

What time does your day normally begin?

I have a lot of variation with start times and tasks that I do, but typically, if we have an active site, I like to go in and check on progress first thing. I like to check emails early on, but most days I won’t get chance to answer them until much later on in the day once my first round of meetings are out of the way.

Advice to someone looking to get into your line of work

Zoo design is a very narrow field and people with a variety of backgrounds can move into it. There are not many in-house Zoo designers and I’d therefore advise people to gain more general experience in visitor attraction design, exhibit design or landscape architecture. Whilst some designers work within zoos, others sit in design practices and work on a consultancy basis, so aspiring zoo designers could look to gain experience or employment within those agencies. 

A good multi-disciplinary designer should take pleasure in working on a variety of different projects and that variety of design experience is a great starting point. Perseverance is essential as is a passion for your area of expertise.

Have you seen changes in the way women are perceived/treated in the workplace?

I began my career in the United Arab Emirates and I believe the way women are treated there is hugely different to how we are treated in the UK. In the UAE I had occasions where my design direction was ignored until a male colleague would back me up. In the UK I feel an equal member of any team. It is, however, not uncommon for me to be the only female in the room, so clearly there is some way to go with regards to gender representation.

What makes you proud to be a woman?

I find that a very difficult question to answer and having discussed with friends and colleagues we all feel that we don’t really feel aligned in some way to one gender or another, a colleague suggested it was akin to being asked ‘What makes you proud to exist?’.

We all feel equal, but suspect that is because we have the privilege to have grown up in a society where we were all told we could be what we wanted to be and to be respectful of others. In my professional and social circles there is a mixture of men and women, all working together and being supportive and proud of each other.

How important is it for women to lift each other up?

It is important for women to support each other and not to feel threatened by others success. 

I believe it is particularly important for working mothers to support others leaving and returning from maternity leave as they are in the unique situation of understanding how difficult the transitions can be. My experience is that working mothers have a tremendous amount to offer their employers and colleagues and often get full time jobs completed over reduced hours.

As a manager of other mothers I will always strive to be flexible and accommodating and help my team achieve an important work/life balance. Women supporting other women in this way is incredibly important and strengthens our positions within the work place.

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers

My advice to anybody when thinking about their career is to always do what you enjoy. Pursue education and training in areas that interest you and follow the path that excites you the most. If you do this, you are on the path to a career in a job you love. Taking pleasure in your work is so important as it takes up so much of your time as an adult. For women particularly, I’d reiterate that you can do and be whatever you want as we are all in a position where there are many different paths and opportunities.

Finally, if you could go back in time and give your 13-year-old self some advice/inspiration, what would it be?

I’d tell my 13-year-old self not to waste time on people that don’t like you. There will always be people that don’t like or approve of your decisions and they don’t deserve your time. I spent too much time as a teenager trying to be nice to negative people, but I wouldn’t give them the time of day now. Also, most importantly, - all the best adults were geeks as teenagers. Having a passion and an interest makes you passionate and interesting.

Lynsey Bugg

Lynsey is the curator of mammals at Bristol Zoo Gardens. She heads up a team of 20 keepers who look after all the mammals, including seals, gorillas, red pandas, lions and lemurs at the Zoo.

She also manages up to 14 mammal volunteers a week helping the animal team on section, as well as students working on placement with the animal team too. So it’s a big and busy team.

Lynsey also sits on the BIAZA Great Ape Welfare group and is involved in two EAZA Taxon Advisory groups – Great Apes and Gibbons, as well as being involved in several other species committees as part of the breeding programmes.

Career highlight

The early introduction of Afia into our gorilla group is probably my biggest highlight. I remain so proud of how we managed to do it so seemingly easy. In reality this was after months of preparation and research to ensure we did all we could to make it successful. And now seeing how well adjusted she is as a gorilla, despite recently losing her surrogate, is incredibly rewarding.

First job

I worked in a local newsagent when I was 16. I then worked in supermarkets as I paid my way through university.

What time does your day begin and what do you do?

My day officially starts at 8am but I try and get it soon after 7:30. My first job is to catch up with the senior mammal team to ensure we are fully-staffed for the day and we have a short meeting at 8am with the whole mammal team every day to lay out the plan for the day.


Advice for someone looking to get into your line of work

Be prepared to work hard! Zoo keeping is one of those jobs that people think is all about having fun with the animals. The reality is very different and requires a lot of long hours and physical hard work, and we treat our animals very differently to how we’d treat a pet (we like them to be wild). The job needs you to be dedicated, not afraid to muck in and be prepared to drop your plans of going home if an animal gets sick – which they always seem to do on a Friday afternoon!

To show you have what it takes to move up the ladder into zoo management, you also need to shine above all the other keepers. Be prepared to go the extra mile, always think on your feet and be adaptable, and show you are good at working as part of a team.

Have you seen changes in the way women are perceived/treated in the workplace since you began your career?

I have noticed more women in general moving into the industry. I think it’s good to have a balance of sexes in the team, but I often find substantially more women apply for keeper jobs than men. When you look back 30 to 40 years ago, it’s clear that it was a male dominated environment and I think there’s still a bit of that in the industry (not at Bristol however), but as the role of zoo keeping is changing and becoming more scientific, along with changes in enclosure design meaning less heavy physical work on the body, I think it’s attracting more women.

What makes you proud to be a woman?

Everything! The fact that we juggle so much to prove our worth, especially working mums who are often running a busy household as well as holding down a job. Also that women have had to push so hard to get to where we are today. There is still work to be done, but we are making it clear we have as much, if not more, to offer society and industry than men. 

How important is it for women to lift each other up?

We are at our strongest when we are working together. There is no point putting each other down and this only gives added weight to male-dominated situations. We have the ability to be compassionate when we need to be, and we should be demonstrating this compassion with our fellow women in the workplace to ensure that everyone is treated equally.

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

You can do whatever you what to do in life, as long as you’re prepared to work hard. I’ll never let anyone use my sex as a reason why I can’t do something, in fact it makes me even more determined to succeed! Don’t be afraid to stand out and be different, that is what will make you so special.

Finally, what advice would you give your 13-year-old self?

Believe in your dreams. I always loved going to zoos growing up but I never believed working in one could be my reality. It wasn’t until after university that I had the courage to really put it out there and work at how to make it my career. My parents always told me to find a career that I’d enjoy but I never expected to fall in love with one quite as much as I have.

Angela Mather

Angela is director of finance and corporate services at Bristol Zoological Society and looks after all aspects of finance, HR, payroll, as well as legal and insurances for the Society.

Tell us about your role

There‘s lots to do and my days are always very varied but I do love a challenge!

I look after a relatively small team of 10 but I’m very lucky as they are all very passionate about the Society and what they do. I’m also temporarily looking after guest services and commercial operations at Bristol Zoo Gardens. 

I now have much greater respect for teams who work with our guests to meet a variety of needs and concerns, but who also help to ensure everyone has a great day out.  With the recent snow the team spirit to ensure the site was safe for our guests and colleagues was amazing.

Highlight of your career at Bristol Zoological Society?

I joined the Society in June 2018.  While my role has been pretty busy, part of the reason I joined was to be somewhere where I could make a difference. Having always been passionate about wildlife and conservation this was my ideal role.  So while I should probably say it’s about helping get a business case for the new Bear Wood exhibit agreed by Trustees, or revolutionising our commercial reporting to help drive change in the way the business operates, my real highlight has been the time I have spent with the animal teams learning more about what they do and seeing the animals up-close. 

First job

My first job was working on the sales counter of a bakery at 13-years-old, selling bread and cakes.  At the time I thought it would be amazing to have lots of cakes available to eat all the time but the novelty soon wore off.  I worked a series of Saturday and holiday jobs throughout school and University, before starting to train as an accountant.

What time does your day normally begin?

I tend to be an early bird so that I can have some quality thinking time before meetings start and the attractions get busy, and before the email mountain starts to grow. Working in an office within the heart Bristol Zoo Gardens means you get to hear all the sounds of the animals waking up - and that helps start the morning with a smile.

Your advice to someone looking to get into your line of work

In finance, while you need to be good with numbers, it’s actually more about being able to talk to people -ensuring you know what’s going on in the business and that all accounting and legal aspects have all been appropriately addressed.  I’m a Chartered Accountant and I personally found the exams difficult but it’s worth it in the end. 

Have you seen changes in the way women are treated in the workplace?

I joined what was a very male-orientated field where there were very few females – especially in senior roles.  Those who were in senior roles were often seen as intimidating and severe and it was assumed they would have had to have sacrificed a lot to be in that role.

I worked in auditing and clients would always defer to the male member of a team no matter how more experienced or knowledgeable I was. I am very lucky to have seen just how much things have changed and feel very fortunate that it doesn’t matter if you are male or female. Most opportunities are achievable based on your skills and personality.

What makes you proud to be a woman?

I don’t think it’s about being proud to be a woman but just being proud to be who you are and of what you have achieved.

How important is it for women to lift each other up?

I think we all benefit by team working - encouraging each other to do well and being compassionate. Seeing what other females have achieved does help to reinforce that gender no longer means there is a glass ceiling and it’s about what you want to do. 

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

I think young women need to concentrate on doing what will make them happy.  We only have one life and it’s up to each individual to do what you want to do, make the most of the opportunities they have and to help others.

What advice would you give you your 13-year-old self?

You can be whatever you want to be. Things may not come easily but if you work hard and treat people as you would want to be treated, things will work out well in the end.

Fancy joining the Society team? Find out more about our latest vacancies.


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