Woman Alexander, Karen Ruth


Written by Judy Lambert (edited from blogs prepared by Jane Elix), Australian National University

Born in Melbourne in 1948, Karen Alexander had a mix of public and private school education, her last five years being at a local high school near Sherbrooke Forest. Her tertiary education began at Monash University with a mathematics focus, but soon moved to a geology course in Tasmania. After discovering in 1974 that women had difficulties getting field work in geology, Karen moved to Canberra where she was among the early students completing a Bachelor of Applied Science with a focus on natural resource management.

Karen was one of a small group of people who formed a Melbourne branch of the then Tasmanian Wilderness Society. She worked full time in an unpaid position on the campaign to save Tasmania's Franklin River from being dammed for hydro-electric power, the first of many positions she has filled in the low-paid community sector throughout her life. Her commitment sustained her role as co-Director of the newly formed national Wilderness Society, a role she describes as almost impossible. After a stint (during 1988) with the UN Environment Program in Paris, Karen returned to Australia and the job of Environment Manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation. She describes her approach to that and subsequent positions as 'enabling staff to do their job well' and expresses concerns that she has never done any leadership or management training (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/karen_alexander/).

During 10 years of consulting work, mainly facilitation and strategic planning, Karen completed a Masters of Applied Science at the University of Western Sydney and was President of Australian Bush Heritage from 2000 to 2004. An early leader in both the Victorian and Australian Greens, Karen has also worked locally, playing a very active role in Cardinia Council's development of environmental sustainability indicators. Since 2005 Karen has worked with the Victorian National Parks Association, coordinating the development of the Victoria Naturally Alliance, of which she is team leader. Throughout all of these challenging leadership positions, Karen has been supported by her partner of 31 years, David Neilson.

Karen says she did not take up an offer of mentoring from environmental consultant and friend Deni Greene because 'I'm wary of asking for help for me - I'm very good at asking for help for others or for a campaign, but not for me' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/karen_alexander/). She laments the lack of an active program of support for women to become leaders in the environment movement and hopes 'the notion of leadership is expanded...so that everyone can see where they can play a leadership role'. She sees women, in general, being better able to acknowledge the role that others play, and to thank them. By contrast she feels that is not so easy for men, 'because that is giving away power' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/karen_alexander/).

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