Interview by Rachel Goldstein

 Daniella Rubeling (she/her) is the visitor experience manager for the Parks Canada Banff Field Unit. In this role, Rubeling oversees visitor experience across most of Banff National Park. She started in this role eight months ago, one day prior to the transition to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Daniella has since returned to her office in the Banff townsite, which is where I reached her. 

What was your professional career path?

I have a Bachelor of Science in animal biology. In my summers outside of university, I worked in Kananaskis country with Alberta Parks in interpretation. I then did my master’s in arts and environmental education and communication at Royal Roads University. My thesis was on volunteerism in parks and how to take people from being just a visitor to being a participant within parks. During that master’s, I ended up getting a full-time job with Alberta Parks and never really looked back. I spent about 17 of my formative years in Alberta Parks in interpretation and education, working with volunteers and park messaging around getting people to care about parks. Then about a year ago, while participating in the CPCIL Leadership Development Program in Victoria at Royal Roads University, I heard about this job and applied. I never really thought I would leave Alberta Parks, but I was also really ready for a leadership challenge and for a next step and this happened to be the one. 

What motivates you in your work and what are your professional goals? 

I have a passion for leadership and for challenging leadership norms. I spend a lot of energy and time thinking about how I show up as a leader and what that looks like. How do I create a space and amplify diverse voices so they can be heard? How do I ensure that people can feel safe at work and feel comfortable in voicing challenging opinions? 

Especially right now with conversations that are happening on a global level, I think it really is incumbent on leaders and people in leadership positions to reflect regularly on what leadership means. Parks have some dark histories that we don’t always talk about and acknowledge very easily. I think that’s where we’re headed, but we’re not there yet. 

I also really care about landscapes and protected areas. Going from being a child spending a ton of time outside, I had really formative transformative times in protected areas. I also had the luxury of living in a provincial park for 10 years in staff housing and seeing things change from day-to-day and season to season. I’m passionate about supporting my team in working towards protecting those areas but also providing a way for other people to connect to those landscapes, too. 

In terms of staying motivated, I’ve had to try and learn to decouple parks and my motivators a little bit. When your identity becomes so entwined with it, it’s really hard to step back when you need to and we all need to take steps back at some points, depending on where everything else is at in our lives. I don’t do that perfectly by any stretch, but that has helped me. I still have purpose and passion. And if I lost this job tomorrow, I could still do those things in a different way and that doesn’t make me less of a person, less of a mother, less of anything. Those are things that motivate me, but I don’t have to be here. I just get to be here and do those things too, which is a privilege. 

What are you working on right now?  

A lot of what I’m doing is around supporting my team during a global pandemic. A large chunk of my team is in the field and I want to know that they feel safe and looked after and protected from a pandemic perspective. And then I have this other group that is working from home and feels isolated and cut off and disconnected. I’m trying to keep the team connected and motivated and I’m doing a lot of check-ins. 

On a personal note, I’ve felt in the past that I wasn’t being challenged in the way that I needed to be at work. I was trying to figure out how to take the things that I’m passionate about, like leadership in parks, and raising awareness of voices, amplifying certain things, and put that together. That’s where I got this idea of bringing women who are in the conservation and Parks field together to have conversations about leadership, representation, decolonization, and things that aren’t easily talked about. The group meets monthly and I set up a topic to have a facilitated discussion on. It compliments my professional work, but it is deeply personal because it’s something I really care about and would be doing regardless of where I was positionally.  

As a white, cisgender, straight female it’s about doing some of that education work myself and not putting it on communities that have been marginalized to try and educate me. Earlier on in my career when Truth and Reconciliation started to become a bigger conversation on a national scale, I would think, ‘I’m going to go get an elder and they’re going to come and speak to us’. It was very transactional. It was all about asking for something as opposed to asking myself, how do I show up in their community? How do I educate myself? It’s not incumbent upon them to be the ones educating me, reliving certain traumas potentially, or having the same conversation over and over again. We have an opportunity here to do some self-education so that when we enter into those conversations, we can be more nuanced. We can have a better understanding; we can ask less questions and listen more. 

I’m by no means perfect or have read everything or looked at everything but I’m trying to at least incrementally support that where I can and do some of the work to educate myself so that I can make a difference in my workplace too.  

I’m also a parent. I have a six-year-old son, so this happens after bedtime in the wee hours when I have a few minutes to carve out. 

Daniella and her son, Parker

What is it like being a woman in a historically male-dominated field? And how do you think that’s affected your professional journey?

Early on in my career, I didn’t see any women at the leadership table so that didn’t seem like an option for me. I felt like I had to fit a mold of what a leader is. I think that’s where my passion for changing leadership norms originated. I don’t want to lead the way I’ve seen others lead. That’s not who I am. I’m not a ‘go forth despite everybody’ person. I am a ‘bring people along’ type of person. The model of leadership that a lot of us have been shown is very authoritarian and ‘I have the answer and I shall move forward, and you guys better get on board or deal with it’. I’ve butted up against that, but I’ve also been very fortunate to have males who have been champions of mine at those tables, which has helped me feel like I have a voice and can say something. At the same time, I haven’t always felt comfortable calling out certain things because I’m a woman and don’t want to be perceived as emotional or sensitive 

When I think of some conflicts with co-workers, I sometimes wonder if they would have said those same things to me if I was a man.  

For example, a colleague of mine was leaving parks and it was between myself and a male conservation officer for who would replace him. I basically got told “He [the conservation officer] is going to be acting in the role until we figure out who’s permanently filling that role. Can you plan the going away party?” 

I didn’t necessarily want the acting gig, but I want to be considered and I want to be asked if I’m interested. By putting those two things in the same conversation, it really did not come across well. If I was a man would you have said it the same way? Probably not. 

It wasn’t necessarily coming from anywhere malicious, but it’s that unconscious bias that exists.  

I feel very privileged in my experience and I’ve definitely worked hard but I’ve had a lot of privilege that has allowed me to do the work I’ve done to move in the directions that I have. I do really want to acknowledge that first and foremost that hasn’t been a hindrance the way it has been for many women and many individuals. 

Has anything changed for women during your career in Parks? 

While it’s nowhere near where I think it needs to be, I do see more women at management tables in Parks Canada. There is a fair number of female leaders and some more diversity in female leadership, which is exciting. I think there’s an awareness that the way we’ve led in the past is not going to get us where we want to go and overall that that needs to shift. In some ways that favours what I call the superpowers that women have for empathy and compassion. I actually think that there’s a lot of opportunity for women to leverage those strengths right now, being in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Do you think that there is an issue of safety for women working in parks and for women using Parks facilities? 

I would say from a physical safety perspective, no. From an emotional and psychological safety perspective, sometimes. That’s not just for women, but for people of colour, for Indigenous employees, for visitors of different ethnicities and backgrounds. Representation matters, and if you don’t see that in the uniformed presence on the ground or in how we communicate about Parks, it’s not always considered safe, especially given the historical exclusion of Indigenous people from Parks. I think for women especially, those layers of privilege add up to a less safe environment, whether you’re a woman, woman of color, Indigenous woman etc. For women that representation has been increasing, but less so for women of colour. It goes hand in hand with some of those bigger conversations about visibility and representation. 

My journey in parks has been safe from a lot of perspectives but I think for some of the women who work in visitor safety and public safety enforcement, it’s a lot harder both from a physical safety and a psychological safety perspective because that’s more of an old boys’ club. I know women who are in enforcement who then become pregnant or are on maternity leave and I think that’s even less safe of a space sometimes physically, but also psychologically in terms of how that’s viewed by their counterparts. If you have an office job, it’s a lot easier to be pregnant. If you are in the field every day, that can be a lot harder and it has a bigger impact on your team. 

Is there anything that can be done to improve safety for women in Parks?

It’s about increasing representation but in a way that is transformational rather than transactional. It’s important to have the difficult, uncomfortable conversations and continue to provide a platform for people, staff, and co-workers to have those conversations. There needs to be a higher awareness of lived experiences of people of colour, women, indigenous folks, and other underrepresented groups in parks. I think those are all pieces that serve to help make it a safer place.  

Sometimes ongoing, uncomfortable conversations are really where we need to focus energy because that coupled with incremental actions, whatever that might look like, is important in making a safer space both for those working within parks and those visiting parks.

Do you have any advice for women wanting to get involved in conservation and advice on how to be successful in leadership positions?

If you’re curious about conservation, find people to connect with, have those conversations, and ask a lot of questions. In terms of leadership, it’s important to leverage and use those connections and not in a way that’s insincere, but letting it be known that you’re interested in leadership. It’s important to figure out what your own leadership philosophies are. Where do you stand? How do you want to show up as a leader? What do you care about? A lot of that to me is inner work examining your values and looking for those that inspire you and having conversations. It is a lot about building authentic relationships and those relationships will serve you in terms of wherever the winding path takes you.  

Another piece of advice I would give is, especially when you’re young, when opportunities come up that may send you in different directions, take them because you can always come back. You can always find a way to if you really want to be in that place and that spot in that organization. The more experience you get in different areas, the more you can bring back to those tables. I didn’t do that, but I wish I had. 

Are there gender specific barriers that women working in Parks face? 

There’s still quite a stigma around vulnerability or emotionality in the workplace that I think isn’t necessarily seen as leadership. I speak potentially more to some of those fields that are still fairly male-dominated, like fire management or incident command. There’s this need to show up differently than you may want to in terms of enforcement versus vulnerability and compassion. That’s what I see; I’m sure there’s more that I don’t have a lens to. 

I also don’t think parental leave is where it needs to be in terms of supporting equity. I have one son and we’re done. In part it’s because of my career. I was eight months pregnant delivering programming. It’s such an individual experience, but I also know of co-workers who have been trying to get pregnant and have to give themselves hormone injections while they’re out in the backcountry with male colleagues. That’s just a reality. When you’re being called out to rescues, how can your body be relaxed enough to get pregnant, because getting pregnant doesn’t happen easily for everybody.  

A challenge for some women in Parks is asking the questions: how much do I want to become a mother? How much do I care about this job? And for a lot of us in parks the job is so intertwined with our sense of self and identity. That becomes a really hard piece to navigate.

Are there barriers that female park-goers have to using Parks facilities?

I think some of it is public perceptions of safety for women and what women can do. I remember as a young woman doing a lot of solo backcountry hiking and traveling in American parks and getting questions like, where is your boyfriend? Aren’t you afraid to be alone? I’ve traveled all over the world alone. I think I’m okay. I actually feel way safer here than I did in downtown Calcutta. I think there’s more of those barriers being broken down rapidly by amazing things that women are doing in the outdoors and the outdoor industry. I think it’s more of a perception barrier of what’s possible than actual barriers. But as I mentioned, I think those perceptions, whether it’s public perceptions or individual perceptions of safety, are probably more challenging for women of colour, women of Indigenous background, and other minority groups. We base a lot of our perceptions of what is safe and what’s not based on who we see recreating and who we see represented. 

If you had limitless resources and no bureaucracy, what would you change about women’s experience working for or using parks facilities? 

While we are making incremental progress, I think we could do so much more if we were able to just pause all of the day-to-day operational stuff to really dive into some of those difficult conversations and relook at the settler-colonial mindset of parks and boundaries. I think it relates to not only how we approach managing those areas but how we co-manage, how we work with other groups to do that. That is where those superpowers of women to be collaborative and listen and hear really could be leveraged. We could do really amazing things with respect to where Parks could go in terms of respecting the lived experience of the Indigenous peoples who have been here since time immemorial and have all these things to offer in terms of knowledge and understanding and wisdom. It’s hard to park everything else to be able to really focus on that. So that’s my dream. 

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