Pulp and Paper Canada

Features Q & A Women in Forestry
From lab to leadership: Q&A with Jessica Carette, Project Manager of R&D at Cascades

March 4, 2024  By Sukanya Ray Ghosh

Who: Jessica Carette

Role: Project manager, R&D

Employer: Cascades


Lives in: Kingsey Falls, Quebec

Years in the industry: 18

Starting from a summer job that sparked her passion for the industry, Jessica Carette now oversees various operational and innovation projects. Carette highlights the importance of mentorship and inclusivity for women in the field while advocating for gender parity in leadership roles. Her story emphasizes resilience, curiosity and the pivotal role of women in driving advancements and sustainability in the pulp and paper sector.

Pulp & Paper Canada: What inspired you to join the pulp and paper industry?

Jessica Carette: I can remember the moment that it happened. I got a summer job with a professor working in the domain. He sent me on a paper machine trial and I was really impressed by the machines, the equipment, the technology, and the way all these different parts work together. I felt that this is what I wanted to do forever. It was my first day on my first job and 18 years later, I’m still discovering new parts of the industry that spark curiosity. 

P&PC: Please share a little bit about your role at Cascades. What do you do as a project manager?

JC: I work at our [Cascades’] research centre. We have an R&D centre in Kingsey Falls, Québec with about 50 scientists and technicians. My role is to help Cascades’ groups, whether it be tissue, containerboard, or moulded pulp, to offer the best products.  I work with a mill or a business unit one-on-one for a few months intensively on quality, continuous improvement, or innovation projects.  What I really enjoy is innovation and using my research and development roots. I am there to bring a structure, vision and strategy to aspects of projects concerning technology, fibres, chemicals or machines.

P&PC: What is your educational background and how has it helped you with your current role?

JC: My schooling is very much aligned with the role that I have now. I studied Chemistry at McGill University and spent my summers working in their pulp and paper building. So, even in my undergrad I was integrated into the industry. I got my first job via contacts through the University, working for a chemical supplier to the industry. And I’ve always been on the research and development side of things, such as making new polymers and then later studying cellulose chemistry, and sensory perception (softness). Research has always been my interest. At one point in my career, I had to decide if I wanted to be in more of a scientist role or if I wanted to take on more of a management role. And I decided I could have more of an impact working on multiple projects and collaborating, so I decided to get an MBA. It was at that time that Cascades Tissue Group was developing their innovation team. And they invited me to join them in 2016 to take all these great ideas that were being generated in marketing and make them into real life applications.

P&PC: What does your day-to-day look like in your current role?

JC: What I love about my position is that there is no day-to-day. Every day, I get to experience something different. For example, last week, I spent one day in a mill for a trial. And then the next day, I was working on a steering committee with our group presidents on a joint project. Some other days, I come back to the lab and supervise work here. So, it changes every day. There’s such a diversity of projects. I love that we have the managerial support to explore what interests us. We have an openness to say  “I really want to learn more about this area” and then explore it. I also get to travel to universities, suppliers and our mills. I enjoy that very much as well.


P&PC: What would you consider as your favourite moments and top successes?

JC: One of the reasons that I agreed to do this interview is that I think it’s important to promote women in industry. A few years ago, I did a webinar targeted at children and teens that focused on giving examples of women in STEM careers. Filming was a fun experience, and I really enjoyed hearing from the young people who were inspired by the series. I’d say that was a standout moment in my career. Another standout moment was winning the TAPPI Young Professional of the Year award. It was in recognition for the articles that I’ve published and my participation in TAPPI technical committees. Professionally, inside Cascades, there has been a lot of innovation projects I have worked on and I’m proud of the way our team has come together to deliver them. There have been some pivotal trials where we’ve been able to demonstrate success in a concrete way. And continuing education is another high point for me. I earned my green belt in Lean Six Sigma and it totally changed my mindset and how I approach problems.

P&PC: What keeps you motivated to continue working in this industry?

JC: I’m naturally curious and I’m always learning things about our industry. No matter my current role, I will always say that I’m a scientist, first. To be able to use that curiosity in my professional life is important to me. That’s the unique touch I can bring to projects – my scientific side. Tissue making has been the core of my expertise for many years, but I recently started learning more about moulded pulp. What I love the most about pulp and paper is it is a very small industry and a great potential for networking and discussion.  Recently, I hosted a discussion at PAPTAC PaperWeek on health and safety. It was great to see how experts who might be in competition commercially can have these kinds of discussions on a neutral platform.

P&PC: As a woman in this industry, have you faced any challenges?

JC: The majority of the time, being a woman in our industry has been an advantage to me. At the beginning of my career, I was often the only woman on a mill site. So, everyone knew who I was and I was always able to get the resources and contacts I needed to get a job done. It brought a certain amount of visibility.  Today, there is a much higher female participation. I see young engineers coming in and I mentor them through this process. It makes me proud of how accommodating we are in our quest to celebrate diversity and its contribution to an inclusive industry. But I have faced discrimination. At a previous employer, I issued a scathing review of a project status update during a meeting. Afterward, a senior manager came up to me and told me I should always try to smile, because people won’t take me seriously if I looked angry. I simply replied that I wasn’t paid to smile, I was paid for my expertise, and it was my expert opinion that the wrong choices were made and that I was happy that my expression conveyed that sentiment.

P&PC: Have you had mentors along the way who have helped you in your career and through your journey in this industry?

JC: I absolutely have. I knew even as a student, that one day I wanted to work at Cascades because they have a strong environmental conscience and strong female leadership. Suzanne Blanchet who was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Cascades Tissue Group at the time, was involved in some of the work at McGill. I met her then and she just impressed me with how smart and personable she is and how she makes you feel like you have this one-on-one connection with her. The way she talked about Cascades just made me think about what a great company it would be to work for. Even now that she’s retired, I still talk to her sometimes. She’s inspired me along my journey. Throughout my Cascades career, I’ve been fortunate to have really great mentors who always find the time no matter where they’ve wound up in their career.  Jérôme Porlier, for one, was a guide for me in my early career, and now that he is President and Chief Operating Officer of Cascades Specialty Products Group, I still call him up for advice and he always takes the time to council me. It’s just wonderful to have this openness where no matter the title, Cascaders still have this humble attitude to help people. In a leadership class, we were asked to do an interview with a leader that inspired us. On a whim, I called up Cascades’ cofounder and executive chairman of the board of directors, Alain Lemaire, and to my surprise he not only agreed, but after the interview, said, “I’ve got all afternoon cleared, what do you want to do?” And he took my colleague and me on a tour of Kingsey Falls, and stopped and spoke to almost every worker we crossed and asked them by name how they and their families were doing. I think about that day often and try to implement the mentality of being part of a family in my day-to-day work life.

P&PC: How do you keep up with the all the rapid changes and advancements in this industry?

JC: I read Pulp & Paper Canada magazine! As far as keeping up with what’s going on the industry, I participate in PAPTAC, TAPPI and ISO.  I’m the co-chair for the TAPPI tissue division and my role at the Standards Council of Canada as expert for the ISO technical committee on paper and board keeps me really connected and grounded. Apart from that, I like to read technical journals, newsletters, and industry magazines. I think it is an important part of my role – to understand and provide feedback to our partners about future innovations and technologies.

P&PC: What do you think the industry should do in terms of encouraging more women to join?

JC: It starts young. It starts by giving girls role models. I came into an industry that had a female president. So, in my mind, it was never a question that a woman can rise to that level. But the women who came before didn’t have that representation and it’s hard to imagine something without any context. Outreach programs are important, getting girls excited about science. I performed science experiments at a 10-year-old’s birthday party and I’m so happy to know that she’s pursuing science at college now.

P&PC: How can the industry create an environment where women continue to work here and learn and inspire the next generation of women?

JC: I’m in that time in my life right now where I’m raising a family and I see concretely how Cascades is not just helping but actually promoting me to be able to do that. A healthy work-life balance and flexibility around maternity leave are big contributors. I shared parental leave with my husband, so when I came back to work, I was still nursing my baby. The research center where I work made me a place to feel comfortable to continue to do that so I could look after my baby and go back to work at the same time. And when I came back, I didn’t feel like I missed anything. The Company supportively followed my rhythm in whatever I wanted to do and offered me opportunities on par with what I would have been offered without the leave. Offering fathers time off is an important aspect to equality. Even the way people are selected for promotions, jobs and teams, taking into consideration different backgrounds and diversity of opinions and experiences and how that can bring different aspects to a job, helps. You might get a better experience if you look and think outside the box.

P&PC: What would be your advice for the next generation of women who want to come into this industry?

JC: When I mentor young professionals in the industry, I feel like they have this feeling of imposter syndrome. They think they don’t belong, and they don’t want to impose themselves, they don’t want to put themselves out there or be contradictory. My advice is to have confidence that you’ve been chosen for a position because your training, education or experience is relevant to the role and your expertise and input will be valued, but you have to be bold and take risks by speaking up. You should have the courage to ask for that promotion,  for that raise or to be on a key project or team. You won’t get anything without asking for it. So, be bold, be brave and have confidence in yourself.

P&PC: Any parting thoughts/comments that you would like to leave our readers with?

JC: Cascades has a prestigious annual leadership program where an equal number of men and women are invited. This way the Company makes sure that there are as many women as men who can take up leadership positions. I went through the leadership program, and I loved it. It was a huge contribution to a lot of the managerial courage and competence that I have now. When I looked around the room, it had half women and half men. In my MBA class, there were only 20 percent women. To see a management class with a 50-50 split is a great sign of gender equality.

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