Women in Forestry
Editorial: #EachforEqual means opportunities for all in the forestry sector
By Kristina Urquhart
When I recently asked Marie Cyr, mill manager of Domtar Dryden, how the pulp and paper industry has changed over the course of her career, she didn’t revisit the usual talking points: challenges with market demand, old equipment, an aging workforce.
Instead, she talked about leadership. “The leadership mode has changed from traditional to collaborative,” she told me. “We’re trying to change from reactive to proactive, from directive to coaching and support.”
Cyr is part of this new vanguard, and the leadership style she described differs from the old way of doing things because it reflects the distinct experiences of a more diverse workforce.
The benefits of workplace diversity seem self-evident, and yet it’s a concept that has only recently been acknowledged as an actual business imperative. A 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group showed that companies with more diverse management reported 19 per cent higher revenues due to innovation.
Cyr transferred from Domtar’s Windsor, Quebec mill to her current role in August 2019 with the mandate to find new and innovative opportunities for the Dryden plant. I asked Cyr’s colleague and Domtar’s manager of regional affairs, Bonny Skene, to sum up Cyr’s approach to leadership.
“I have two words that come to mind. One is collaborative, definitely,” Skene said. “I think people at the site are adjusting to that and welcoming that and getting excited about that. I think the second one is accountable. With Marie, you know if you commit to something, you need to deliver, period.”
Equity begets success
Cyr is one of eight women from seven provinces that I interviewed for this year’s Women in Forestry initiative, which builds off a project that started in 2019.
You may recall that last year, Pulp & Paper Canada shared six stories of women working in pulp leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8. For 2020, we’ve expanded the project by joining forces with our sister magazines Canadian Forest Industries and Canadian Biomass – they ran a similar project in 2019 – on a dedicated website called womeninforestry.ca (more on that below).
The theme for #IWD2020 is #EachforEqual, a collective push for gender equality that, according to the International Women’s Day website, is meant to “challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations.”
So if it’s #EachforEqual, why are we specifically highlighting women in forestry? As Kelly Cooper, president of the Centre for Social Intelligence, chair of the steering committee for the Gender Equity in Forestry National Action Plan, and author of two articles appearing on womeninforestry.ca this month, recently reminded me: equality is different from equity.
Gender equality can only occur if we have equity. Equality means that everyone is given the same treatment. I think that’s more or less true in forestry. Anyone, regardless of gender, can apply to any job, and their skills will do the talking. (Of interest: in Pulp & Paper Canada’s HR survey last fall, 44 per cent of mill managers said gender diversity is neither important nor unimportant when hiring. They look at the candidate’s qualifications.) Promotions are – hopefully – won on merit.
Equity means that everyone has access to the same opportunities. And that’s not always true in forestry, or in many other industries. Some groups – including women – face additional economic or social barriers to the resources that could help them realize those opportunities. For example, when I talked to Charlene Strelaeff, a fibre forester at Mercer Celgar, she said a common refrain she hears from people outside the industry is that forestry is “dirty” and therefore must be unappealing to women.
Women make up only 17 per cent of the forestry workforce. That’s not because women don’t want to be in the industry and it’s not because the industry doesn’t want them there.
The forest products sector, like all manufacturing industries, is experiencing a labour shortage as the baby boomer generation retires. Yet women make up only 17 per cent of the forestry workforce. That’s not because women don’t want to be in the industry and it’s not because the industry doesn’t want them there. But it may be because women don’t even apply to forestry jobs in the first place.
There is disparity in how we talk to women about the types of roles that are available to them. Most of the women I spoke with for our Women in Forestry project came to pulp and paper in a roundabout way, like through an engineering program. Not because they had been directly targeted and recruited as potential forestry workers. Surely if we can help more young women become exposed to the opportunities in this industry, then we can help to mitigate the labour shortage.
Womeninforestry.ca: Our new website
This brings me to womeninforestry.ca, the new online hub co-presented by Canadian Forest Industries, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass. There, we’ve started rolling out 35 pieces of new content, amassed from our three websites and our industry partners, plus all of our archived content relating to women in the forest products sector. Watch for new posts daily leading up to International Women’s Day, plus more over the coming weeks.
Next, some acknowledgments: A big thank you to my colleagues at Annex Business Media – especially CFI and CB editors Ellen Cools and Maria Church, as well as our digital team – for all of their work on getting this project off the ground.
Thank you to the Forest Products Association of Canada, Women in Wood, Tolko, the Alberta Forest Products Association, the Centre for Social Intelligence, and FPInnovations for the content contributions.
A special thanks to our womeninforestry.ca sponsor, John Deere, whose support made the website possible.
And last but not least, a huge thank you to the women that participated in all of our interviews this year, and their mills for supporting them in doing so. I trust you will learn a lot from them!
A final note
After mid-March, womeninforestry.ca will be updated periodically when we publish content related to women in the industry, with a new crop of stories annually in time for International Women’s Day.
Women in Forestry is not about elevating one gender over another. It’s about boosting stories of those who are underrepresented in the industry.
As I mentioned earlier, education about the types of opportunities available in the pulp and paper industry is integral to recruitment – so please share womeninforestry.ca with your social networks, students you know and colleagues you work with to spread the word. Follow along with us using the hashtags #WomeninForestry, as well as #IWD2020 and #EachForEqual.
To be clear, Women in Forestry is not about elevating one gender over another. It’s about boosting stories of those who are underrepresented in the industry. It’s about celebrating women who are out in the field doing their jobs and showing their work.
One day, when we’re closer to narrowing that skills gap and achieving gender equity, we might not have to talk about it so much. But for now, we’re happy to.
No matter your gender, if you’re working in the pulp and paper industry and have a story to share, I want to know about it! Email me and don’t forget that nominations for our Top 10 Under 40 program celebrating next-gen leaders in the pulp and paper industry are due April 15.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry project celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow on social media with the hashtag #WomeninForestry, as well as #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual.