BABE #126: CYNYHIA WIGREN,
CEO + Co-Founder @ Atlantic White Shark Conservancy
Cynthia is an avid traveler and scuba diver with a deep appreciation for wildlife on land and sea. After 12+ years in the corporate world, her underwater experiences with whale sharks, great hammerheads, nurse sharks and great white sharks inspired her to establish her nonprofit: Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Her work ethic and drive for what she does is a solid reminder that we can and should pursue whatever it is we're most passionate about. Thanks for chatting with us, Cynthia! You are most definitely a babe.
Hometown: Ocean Township, New Jersey
Current city: Orleans, Massachusetts
Alma mater: University of New Hampshire; Southern New Hampshire University
Degree: B.S., Wildlife Management; MBA
Very first job: Snack bar at a New Jersey beach club
Hustle: CEO + Co-Founder @ Atlantic White Shark Conservancy
Babe you admire and why?
Honestly, I’m very lucky to have many babes I admire in my life. Two I work closely with are my education director, Marianne Long, and event planner, Jenn Allard. They are powerhouse, amazing, inspiring women who I’m incredibly fortunate to have as colleagues and friends.
How do you spend your free time?
It depends on the season. During Summertime, I'm with friends on the beach. During Winter, I like to travel to new places. Any other time, I’m content to have my dog by my side.
Favorite fictional female character?
Go-to coffee order?
Medium blend with cream
Go-to adult beverage?
Wine. Vodka up with olives if I’m feeling sassy.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
A fabulous meat and cheese board
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
If I could swap coffee for cocktails, it would be Anthony Bourdain. I think I’m too old to look for spiritual guidance, and more interested in spending time with people who seem fun.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
Cape Cod. I love being home in the fall.
Go-to roadtrip snack?
Last concert you attended?
Guns N’ Roses
Tell us about your hustle:
I left a career working for online trading platforms in the energy industry to start a nonprofit that funds white shark research and shark education. My life is a hustle; my mind rarely shuts off. People have entrusted me with their money. It’s an incredible privilege and one I take very seriously. I set out to make a difference and I believe my organization is doing just that. I will continue to hustle for the sharks, for our oceans and for future generations.
What does your typical workday look like?
I get asked that question frequently and I don’t have a good answer. Typical is busy! Busy varies from sending tax receipts to donors to spending time on the research vessel in search of white sharks. I’m never bored. I’m typically overwhelmed. But I’m always grateful to be doing something I love.
Have you always had a love for the ocean?
I have always had a love for wildlife, on land or sea. Perhaps it comes from a combination of nature and nurture.
When did you know that studying and conserving marine life would become your career?
I didn’t know. I seized the moment when I found out that a need for funding white shark research existed.
What makes you passionate about conservation, specifically with sharks?
Sharks play an important role in marine ecosystems, yet they are misunderstood. Replacing fears with fact-based information is necessary to ensure the future of shark species.
What keeps you anchored to Massachusetts?
I live on Cape Cod and feel very tied to the community based on the work we’re doing here. We fund white shark research to increase our knowledge of the species and share that information with the public and beach managers. We run a STEM-based education initiative for girls, the Gills Club, to connect girls with strong role models in the field and jump-start their interest in STEM-related subjects.
How often do you feel satisfied in your work? Why do you think that is?
It’s not always easy—perhaps never easy—but I feel satisfied every day. I know our work is advancing science and changing public perception about sharks.
What needs to happen to get more people interested in and passionate about conservation?
Knowledge. It really is power.
What’s your biggest career milestone to date and why?
Hands down, starting a nonprofit.
How has being a woman has affected your professional experience?
I spent my career in a male-dominated industry (energy) prior to starting the nonprofit. I was always aware that the bar was higher for me as a woman—I needed to prove my value so I was viewed as a respected colleague in the field and not just a pretty face. That said, one of the biggest takeaways for women is that they need to be their own advocates in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I don’t know the stats on women versus men running nonprofits on Cape Cod, in Massachusettes, or beyond. I don’t believe there’s a barrier for women interested in starting a nonprofit, though. If you want to do it—git ‘er done!
What needs to happen to get more women to pursue careers in STEM?
Women have the intelligence, capacity and drive to do anything they want. I don’t know why we are missing the mark in STEM careers. Perhaps our focus is too much on image and not enough on ability. As a woman in a position to inspire and empower young girls by connecting them to female scientists and STEM-based lesson plans, I’m incredibly proud of our education initiative, the Gills Club. My education director, Marianne Long, has done the most amazing job with the initiative. We, as women, can work collectively to bring about change.
Do you ever feel like your age is a disadvantage in the workplace? What about an advantage?
Forty-four is a good age. I’ve lived and learned. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I still have the energy (in general) to be on 24-7 for the job.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
It’s awesome, so it must be easy.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
The work is nonstop. Growing the nonprofit means raising more money, which means increased fundraising pressure.
Are there any organizations, nonprofits, or researchers you’d like to collaborate with?
We are truly fortunate to collaborate with a number of nonprofits: The New England Aquarium, Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Mass Audubon, Mote Marine Lab, Pleasant Bay Community Boating, and more.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
There are women running Massachusetts nonprofits, women on my team, and female scientists who are all my source for inspiration.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
I have it!
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I recently went through marine mammal stranding training at International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and I was also recently appointed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to the Ocean Advisory Commission.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
I started a nonprofit, so I think that space is fairly unique. If you have interest in starting your own nonprofit, make sure there is a need, and you’re not just trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s much easier to collaborate than it is to compete. Get feedback and information from multiple nonprofit founders. (And feel free to reach out to me.)
What does success look like to you?
Waking up in the morning and not dreading going to work.
What helps you wind down and you manage stress?
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Follow your gut first and foremost, and follow your passion—but don’t be afraid to journey down paths that may take you temporarily off course.
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