Women in Business Q&A: Katie Moore, Program Director, Animal Rescue, International Fund for Animal Welfare

05/31/2015 06:07 am ET | Updated May 31, 2016

Katie Moore is the Program Director, Animal Rescue, at International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in Yarmouth Port, Mass. As IFAW's Program Director-Animal Rescue, Katie is responsible for developing and directing IFAW's animal rescue vision and planning together with the VP of Programs and International Operations, animal rescue team, country offices and program staff. She identifies, develops and oversees the implementation of strategies to globalize animal rescue programs and establish IFAW as the premier animal rescue and relief organization worldwide.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Wow. This is a big question. I became a leader by being led. I had teachers, mentors and bosses that helped shaped who I am - some by showing me how to be a good leader, others by showing how not to lead.

First and foremost my mum helped me become a leader. She instilled in me a sense of fairness, of right and wrong and the confidence to do what I know is right. She also taught me that it's okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I watched the leaders in my life and made mental notes about what worked and what didn't. Now I try to embody the positive characteristics that help build a strong team and avoid the rest. I have an inclusive style that considers each staff member and encourages them each to do their personal best. This has been the key to building strong teams.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at IFAW?
I am a marine biologist and have been a marine mammal stranding responder for my entire professional life. I think this work really trained me to plan and think ahead. I have always had to juggle priorities and wear many hats. Whether in the field managing a mass stranding of pilot whales and making a plan to rescue as many animals as possible, or prioritizing grant opportunities to maximize our chances of success, it's been about critical thinking. This has prepared me well for my current role as the Director of IFAW's Animal Rescue Program.
I also learned to surround myself with staff members that complement my skills and abilities. I always look for folks who are interested in being part of a close team, as comfortable leading as following, and who have additional skills to bring to the table. I love learning from my staff. It makes us all stronger, and everyone knows they are a key asset to the whole.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at IFAW?
Highlights are easy.... My major highlight has been working with our amazing Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team and our volunteers to better understand how animals are impacted by stranding and how we can better address their needs. By systematically recording data every time we respond, we have had the opportunity to go back and analyze these data and to learn. The result is improved supportive care and health assessment protocols, which have increased our successful release rate for stranded cetaceans from 15% in 2002 to 80% in 2012.That's amazing progress and makes us all proud.

Last year, after becoming the Director of the Animal Rescue Program, I added responsibility for our Disaster Response and Wildlife Rescue divisions to my work with marine mammals. I love the challenge of taking on work with a broader range of species facing varying threats. Highlights to date include: Siberian tiger rehabilitation and release, Typhoon Haiyan response, Zambia elephant orphanage and Koala mittens in Australia.

It's sometimes challenging to stay optimistic working in this field. Whether you're on your knees desperately trying to save the life of a dolphin or standing in a Senate hearing pleading for funding to protect the environment - some days are daunting. But we need to celebrate each small victory and never give up. With teamwork and perseverance we can make the world a better place for animals and people.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
The one piece of advice I always give to anyone starting out in animal rescue work, or marine mammal rescue work in particular, is to volunteer. Get out there and show people how hard you can work, how much you want it, and what kind of person you are. I think almost everyone I know in this field started as a volunteer. I put my time in for more than a year doing marine mammal rescue work in North Carolina while waiting tables and educating the public at a local aquarium and on a tour boat. It was exhausting work, with no time off and meager pay, but it was the best time I ever had! I made so many key connections while volunteering (including the mentor I mentioned above).

The other important piece of advice: know that you can do it. It can be done. If you want it, make it happen. Some folks along the way may tell you that you can't have it all. You can't have a family, be a mom, and be a good scientist. Don't believe them for a second. If you want it, you can make it work. Lots of us do.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Sometimes, being new and a bit inexperienced can be strength. I remember when I first started at Cape Cod Stranding Network. I had been a stranding responder for three years, but I had never run a whole program. But the great thing was that I knew my stuff. I knew what needed to be done and was eager to shape a program on my own. Being a bit green worked as an advantage. I had no preconceived notions and no baggage. It's very freeing (in retrospect) and allowed me to be much more creative. I forged new professional relationships and broke down existing barriers by just being open and forthcoming. It was very empowering really. I think what it has boiled down to for me, and the lesson I carry with me each day, is that everything is possible, you just have to find a way.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This question made me laugh out loud a little bit! I struggled so much when I first went back to work after my daughter was born. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I hated leaving her but not working wasn't an option, nor was it what I really wanted. I loved my job and wanted to be back at work... I just also wanted to be at home too. The best day for me was when I realized there is no way to maintain a balance, but that's ok. The key is to understand that there's a lot of give and take - I view it like a see-saw. When I am away from home, I give 100% to my job and when I leave work, I give 100% to my family.

But, when I have to travel for work, and am gone for days, it is hard. In 2012 we had an incredibly busy stranding year, with more than 200 dolphins coming ashore in less than three months. It was insane. I worked from five or six a.m. until one or two in the morning many nights, as did our whole team. My husband was basically a single parent then. The only way that can work is to love your job; otherwise the sacrifice may be too great. I am really lucky in that regard. I am also lucky that my husband was able to stay at home with our daughter when I went back to work. He gave up his job to be a stay at home dad. The peace of mind that comes with knowing our daughter is home with him is immense.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think sometimes it can be hard as a woman in a predominantly male field. I am lucky - IFAW is very supportive and progressive in how it operates and the culture it promotes. It feels good to know that qualities like leadership, integrity and innovative thinking are valued. But I have been in circumstances in other positions where my gender (and age) put my qualifications and abilities into question. My advice in scenarios like this is to be true to yourself and own your successes as well as your failures. Your actions will speak for themselves and make you stronger.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship is huge. When I first started in marine mammal work, I was a volunteer with the stranding network in North Carolina. My supervisor was a fantastic woman who just opened the door and let me learn everything I wanted. She was (and is) smart and practical and very caring and compassionate. She valued my input and opinion even though I had no experience whatsoever. Working with her, I learned so much - about dolphin anatomy and stranding response, how to treat volunteers to ensure they know how much you appreciate them, how to work within systems to get the job done and so much more. She is also a mom, and the person who taught me - showed me - that I could have it all. I love her for that!

My mentor during graduate school, and now a dear friend and colleague, probably had the greatest impact on how I approach my job - both in terms of leadership and in general. As a tenured professor, she has taught many classes and worked with administrators. As a marine mammal scientist, she works within a world of federally managed species, working with scientists and policy makers alike. One day she said to me, "To be a good scientist, you must also be a good person." That rings so true to me. When I struggle with a situation, either handling a sensitive situation, or addressing an ethical concern, she is the one I turn to as a sounding board.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Jane Goodall for her lifelong dedication to animals and Sylvia Earle for her ocean pioneering and bravery. They forged a path for women in science and they both understand the innate value of all animals while embracing the big picture in terms of conservation and environmental stewardship. These are also both incredibly strong women who take a stand for what they believe in, push the boundaries of science and inspire people around the world to do the same.

What do you want IFAW to accomplish in the next year?
I am intensely optimistic. I love where I work and I love the people that I work with. As a result, I expect great things. One thing on the top of my mind is for us to continue to succeed in smashing every link on the ivory trade chain. Our goal is to finally see an end to the traumatized orphan elephants like the ones I saw first-hand at our project in Zambia. Working with local partners on the ground, we can rehabilitate orphaned elephants and release them to the wild, but this treats the symptom, not the problem. By working at all levels, from rescuing individual animals, to training wildlife rangers, to educating communities and reducing demand for ivory, we can not only improve the lives of animals right now, but also address the root causes of the problem to prevent it in the future. We can protect elephant populations for generations to come so that children like my daughter and future grandchildren will experience wildlife in the wild rather than by looking at picture books.