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Q&A: Tolko Industries’ vice-president Tanya Wick on women in forestry

Q&A with Tolko’s Tanya Wick on gender diversity in the forest sector



To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 this year, for the second episode of The CFI Podcast, we spoke with Tanya Wick, Tolko Industries’ vice-president of people and services, about all things women in forestry – which can be heard here.

Wick spoke about the importance of gender diversity hiring practices, industry initiatives to address gender diversity, advice for women looking to get into the industry, and more.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

CFI: As Tolko’s vice-president of people and services, you’ve helped introduce initiatives to address gender disparity in the industry. Can you talk a bit about these initiatives?

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Tanya Wick: In 2016, we did a survey of all of our women employees, which provided us with some foundational information to begin creating initiatives. Some of those initiatives included developing a steering committee to help support the gender strategy. This has been expanded to support all of our diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies.

We have women-specific training around leadership, and a women’s mentorship program, and we have regular blogs and a process for asking questions or raising concerns.

The key in all of our work has been about not making any others wrong, but changing processes and behaviours to be more inclusive.
You’re a well-known advocate for women in forestry and the importance of gender diversity hiring practices in the industry. Why did this become a priority for you?

I’m always surprised when I hear that I’m an advocate in the industry because it certainly wasn’t what I started out to do. During my career, there were some tough times. I had come into the industry as the only female vice-president in the company’s history, and I can honestly say that I found it very difficult to find my voice in a team of not only all men, but men with years of experience in the industry, where I had none. It’s not that the other members of the leadership team made it purposefully difficult for me, but there was certainly some adjusting to do. Over time I found my voice and I gained their support, and it was then that I decided to pave the way for other women in the industry. My priority has always been simply to make it easier for others.

You also go to other companies in the forest industry to teach them about the importance of gender diversity hiring. What made you want to do this? Is there an experience that stands out to you?

On a number of occasions, we’ve been asked by other companies from the industry and otherwise to share what we’re doing in the diversity and inclusion place. We made the decision to share our programs. I believe that having a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture is not only in the best interests of Tolko, it is critical to the sustainability of the industry.

One experience that stands out to me is my presentation on the topic of “Stomping on Eggshells” at the Association of BC Forestry Professionals last year. I was nervous about presenting and spent a bit of time preparing. It was the first time I had formally spoken on the topic. After my presentation was finished, there was a line-up of people waiting to speak with me. I was there for an extra hour listening to stories from both men and women, especially young women in our industry. The amount of support for the work that we were doing on D&I was impressive, and it left me knowing that this work was making a difference.

As you know, there are multiple initiatives in the industry to address gender diversity, including the Canadian Institute of Forestry’s Gender Equality in Action Plan and FPAC’s Take Your Place Campaign. What are your thoughts on initiatives such as this?

I think they’re great. I believe those initiatives provide value to our industry on a national level, and they do that in a few ways. First, the desire to change starts by building awareness, and the more ways that we can build gender equity understanding, the better. Second, I think it’s important that that same message comes from many sources in many forms. It makes it harder to ignore. And finally, it’s apparent that diversity and inclusion is no longer a nice to have. It’s not a box to tick. It requires commitment and it can’t be accomplished in a single conversation. We need to be addressing it at all levels – the individual, the company and the industry – and that’s what these national initiatives are doing.

What do you think still needs to be done to encourage greater gender diversity in the industry?

You can formally review programs and policies, but if your D&I initiative ends at updating those policies to have gender neutral language or just to have posters on the wall, we won’t create the real change we need. What we need now is to translate all of the knowledge of the benefits of diversity and inclusion into execution. It’s time to go beyond the awareness and to take action. If I had to choose one root cause to continue the efforts, it would be around that unconscious bias. As employers, we all need to train our managers about this. We can’t make changes personally or drive culture without personally being aware of how that unconscious bias creeps into all of our behaviours on a daily basis.

What advice do you have for women in our industry looking to advance, or those looking to get in?

My advice is that it’s going to take time to make a shift this big. We all need to take part and own the outcome. What I ask all of the women in our industry is, ‘Consider what part you’re going to play.’ People have different personalities and different roles, but you need to play a part if you want it to change. Educate yourself on how to prepare for and counteract bias and to have those conversations. Be an upstander. I often see women waiting for someone to tap them on the shoulder for that opportunity. Don’t wait for someone else to see your value or decide your career. Take stock of your confidence level and ways to build it.

If you see a job in the industry that you’re interested in, apply. Research shows that women only apply for jobs when they feel close to meeting 100 per cent of the criteria. There is no candidate that will ever meet 100 per cent of the criteria, and men will apply if they meet far less. And so, even at that point, they may be getting 20 resumes from men and one from a woman. So, you need to apply. You need to set that out there and show that you’re interested. That’s going to consciously change the pattern.

The other thing is, if you’re interested in moving up, talk to your bosses, your peers, managers in other areas, understand what that job entails, and perhaps ask for a sponsor. Fifty per cent of women are more likely to get promotions if they have a mentor, so seek out a mentor or a sponsor.

What do you want men to take away from diversity programs? What advice do you have for them?

We all know that businesses with a diverse workforce are more successful and everyone benefits from programs that are inclusive. I believe where men can really make a difference is to be active allies, advocates and sponsors for gender equality. This is important in all areas of life, but especially important in the male dominated industry that is ours.

If you’re in a management position, reach out to your women employees and ensure you’re having time to speak about their development. Don’t expect them to come to you. Encourage them to apply for other roles, have performance reviews that are objective, not subjective. If you see in a meeting a woman is often spoken over or her issues aren’t addressed, take the time to stop that meeting and recognize her.

If everyone behaves from a place of respect, I believe the industry will be a place where everybody feels like they belong, and that’s going to be the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the conversation here.