Bar­bara Baker

PRES­I­DENT AND CEO | Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquar­ium

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Women To Meet In 2019 - — Pa­tri­cia Sheri­dan, Post-Gazette

A room full of men does not in­tim­i­date Bar­bara Baker, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquar­ium for 28 years. “I have no prob­lem be­ing the only woman in a room, and it’s be­cause of the en­vi­ron­ment I grew up in,” she says.

Her self-con­fi­dence as well as her love of an­i­mals started early. “I grew up sur­rounded by cows, horses, pigs and other crea­tures on a farm in North Carolina — with three brothers.” She cur­rently lives on a farm with her hus­band in In­di­ana Town­ship.

“My par­ents, God bless them, treated us all the same,” she says. The si­b­lings all worked in the fields of their tobacco farm as kids. “I did car­pen­try, one of my brothers did weld­ing, car re­pair, tooland-die kind of stuff so we each learned dif­fer­ent skills [on the farm]. I think my man­age­ment style is prob­a­bly very sim­i­lar to a man’s be­cause of it.”

At last count there were 22 women pres­i­dents/CEOs of zoos out of more than 300 zoos and aquar­i­ums in the U.S. It was an­other woman, Louise Brown, former direc­tor of Pittsburgh Parks and Recre­ation in 1990, who took a chance and hired the then-34-year-old vet­eri­nar­ian as direc­tor of the zoo.

“There are ad­van­tages to be­ing a woman in this po­si­tion. Iron­i­cally, be­ing a woman opens many doors,” says Dr. Baker, who is 62. “It’s hard to say no to a woman be­cause we can be very per­sis­tent,” she laughs.

“Our zoo is built around a very car­ing, nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment, but you can be very pas­sion­ate and in­tense about what you are do­ing,” she says.

Dr. Baker says zoos are in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant and will be­come even more so in the next decade be­cause the wild is dis­ap­pear­ing.

“We lose 96 ele­phants a day to poach­ing,” she says.

Her job en­tails be­ing a preser­va­tion­ist, a con­ser­va­tion­ist, an ed­u­ca­tor and pro­tec­tor.

“Our zoo spon­sors ranch dogs that pro­tect the cat­tle of ranch­ers in Africa so the chee­tahs don’t eat the cat­tle and the ranch­ers won’t kill the chee­tahs.” They also spon­sor mounted pa­trols in Kenya so rangers can mon­i­tor poach­ers on horse­back. The zoo also op­er­ates a 1,000-acre ele­phant breed­ing fa­cil­ity in Som­er­set County.

In her ex­pe­ri­ence, one of the dis­ad­van­tages of be­ing a woman is age-old.

“If you are force­ful, as­sertive and re­source­ful and a go-get­ter, you can be ac­cused of be­ing too ag­gres­sive, whereas with a man, it’s per­fectly nor­mal and it’s con­sid­ered very com­mand­ing,” Dr. Baker says. “If a woman comes off very com­mand­ing they can be crit­i­cized for that, which I think is hi­lar­i­ous.”

Jessie War­darski/Post-Gazette

Bar­bara Baker holds a por­cu­pine at Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquar­ium in High­land Park.

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