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#ChooseToChallenge: taking action to increase gender representation in forestry


March 1, 2021
By Ellen Cools


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Photo: Annex Business Media.

Since 2019, CFI, Canadian Biomass and Pulp & Paper Canada have celebrated International Women’s Day by highlighting the accomplishments of women in the industry, sharing their stories, career advice and management tips.

What started out as an idea to simply profile 10 women in the industry has exploded into a yearly content week, a dedicated microsite, and, this year, a virtual event.

The Women in Forestry Virtual Summit, which will take place on March 9 from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. EST, will build upon the work that we and other industry leaders have done to dismantle barriers preventing or discouraging women from entering the industry, and to raise awareness about the opportunities that exist for women in forestry.

Industry leaders and trail blazers will speak about the importance of fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce, share career advice and real-life experiences, recommend actions companies can take to recruit female employees and advance them to leadership positions, and more.

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Since the Gender Equality in Forestry National Action Plan was launched in late 2018, there have been many discussions about how we as an industry can attract more women – particularly young women – to the industry. These are great conversations and a sign that the sector is committed to increasing gender representation.

But, as Jessica Kaknevicius, vice-president of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and co-founder of Women in Wood, told me in a recent interview for this year’s Women in Forestry series, a company can recruit a lot of women, but if they don’t create an inclusive environment, those women won’t stay in the field.

Instead, companies need to take real action to make sure women feel supported in the workplace. “Companies need to provide training for employees around equity and inclusion, which includes addressing hard topics like sexism and sexual harassment. They need to provide opportunities for women to be trained and advance. They need to create policies that really drive changes to support women. Hiring is just one piece of it,” Jessica told me. (Side note: look for a Q&A with Jessica later this week.)

Fortunately, a number of forestry companies recognize that this is the case, and are taking concrete actions to create an inclusive working environment for everyone. In fact, at the Women in Forestry Virtual Summit, Kara Biles, Canfor’s director of learning and leadership, corporate human resources, will be sharing the actions they have taken to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Companies like Canfor are choosing to challenge the way things have been done in the past, to confront unconscious bias and to take action for equality.

This lines up with the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, #ChooseToChallenge. According to the International Women’s Day website, “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.”

And the forest industry is beginning to see a change. A report on gender diversity in forestry released in 2019 suggested that a cultural shift may be underway. As of July 31, 2019, women held 20 per cent of the director positions at TSX-listed companies in the forest products and paper sector, compared to just six per cent in 2015.

As we continue to work to increase gender representation in forestry, we will see these numbers change for the better. The key will not be just to recruit more women, but to take concrete actions and implement policies that will help to retain them. And we here at CFI, Canadian Biomass and Pulp & Paper Canada will continue to highlight women in the industry, their advice for recruitment and retention, and the work that is being done.

Please follow along with us as we kick off this year’s Women in Forestry week, and show your support! And don’t forget to register for the Women in Forestry Virtual Summit on March 9.