Breaking the Bias: Virtual Women in Forestry Summit Tackles Tough Questions
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day was Break the bias and it was perhaps most fitting yet for our annual Virtual Women in Forestry Summit. Prejudices – whether held personally, by family, friends, co-workers or society at large – prevent women and other people of diverse backgrounds from entering the forest industry.
It goes without saying now that the industry needs to diversify its workforce to address the severe labor shortage. To put it bluntly: there are only a limited number of white men. That’s not even taking into account the plethora of business benefits that come with a diverse team.
To change that, we need to talk about it – openly and honestly.
The Women in Forestry Summit, held virtually yesterday, drew over 850 registrants, 550 of whom joined us live to talk about bias, culture change, career ladders, inclusion native and much more. These aren’t just women’s conversations – anyone with a stake in the future of the forest industry needs to talk about these issues.
Below is a preview of what our amazing speakers shared during the summit, but we encourage you to watch the recorded sessions to get the full picture. (Register by emailing [email protected])
Susan Yurkovich, outgoing President and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries (COFI), kicked off the summit with an inspiring reflection on her career in the forest industry and, more specifically, the world of management. Yurkovich is the first woman at the helm of COFI and was often the only woman at the board table.
“I would never let them see me sweat,” Yurkovich said, explaining that life as both a mother and an executive was complicated and difficult at times. “I learned quickly if you could help a factory manager with his problem, he didn’t care what you looked like or how old you were.”
Yurkovich shared a list of observations about what made him successful:
- Have a plan but be flexible
- Take a calculated risk
- Do your homework – there’s no substitute for that
- Find your people and stay with them
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Life is not always a straight line
“Our business is complex. It takes a commitment of time. But once you realize that, your value will increase,” she said.
Innu woman and entrepreneur Mélanie Paul then spoke about what Indigenous inclusion in forestry looks like to her as president of two adjacent Quebec forestry companies, Inukshuk Synergie and Akua Nature.
Paul first shared her experience as an Indigenous woman working for her father’s group of companies, which includes wood pellet producer Granules LG – the largest pellet producer in Quebec. Paul said she felt impostor syndrome and experienced racism, both in the mostly non-Indigenous, male-dominated logging industry and in her home Innu community.
But she rose to the challenge and has since launched her own ventures, which emphasize Indigenous ownership and inclusion. Akua Nature is 51% owned by indigenous women.
Sharing advice on working with Indigenous groups, Paul said it was important to take the time to build meaningful relationships with community leaders and understand their obstacles and barriers before offering solutions. This trust can then lead to memorandums of understanding, which are useful tools for both parties to test out an agreement before signing on a dotted line.
Embrace your power to change
As societal values change, workplace cultures must change to keep pace. Forestry consultants Dana Collins and Cynthia Lu gave an interactive workshop-style presentation on how to drive culture change, with a focus on the power of the individual.
Top-down approaches to change can fail if there’s a lack of purpose within the workforce, Collins said. In summary, culture change resides in the habits and behaviors of individuals.
Lu and Collins presented the audience with a systems mapping exercise that showed how an individual can identify their values and where they fit into the system to understand where they can help change that system.
Using a concrete example from Lu’s previous work experience, Collins and Lu went back and forth to analyze the situation and determine where Lu had leverage to make changes and predict how those small changes might help solve the underlying problems.
“If we start seeing challenges from a systems perspective, we can see the complexities and start seeing solutions,” Collins said.
Kelly Cooper, Founder of the Center for Social Intelligence, and Doug Reid, Vice President of the Canadian Institute of Forestry, shared the latest from Free to Grow in Forestry – the industry initiative to promote a culture of just work in the forestry sector.
The initiative has entered its second phase of implementation, which will see it move from a national to a regional scope. “Think of it as the arms and legs of the Phase 1 pillars,” Cooper said. “All the seeds we planted in phase 1 have now germinated and are starting to grow for what we are doing for phase 2.”
While Phase 1 focused on building an evidence base, identifying gaps and fundamentals, and creating tools and resources, Phase 2 will see direct engagement and training of forest sector leaders and employees on what an inclusive workplace looks like and how to achieve it.
The Free to Grow in Forestry online training modules launched on March 7; find them here.
“Four years ago it was considered an uphill battle, but today…the wind is at your back,” Cooper said. “Not only is it possible to have a diverse and inclusive workplace, it’s a smart business decision.”
Break down prejudices
Five incredible women took part in our summit panel on women excelling in non-traditional forestry roles. Moderated by timber trader Haleigh Callison, the panel included sawyer Sara Davies, head forester Geneviève Labrecque, mill manager Marie Cyr and log handler Ashley Sidhu.
Rather than summarizing what they said (I won’t do them justice), here are the main questions posed to the panelists and we encourage you once again to watch the recording to hear their honest answers.
- For those who wanted to start a family or start a family, have you ever felt that this was held back by your career, and if so, how did you overcome these challenges, especially with job cuts? Have you ever felt pressure not to?
- Have you ever given up on forestry because it’s male dominated? Facing sexism? What tools have you used or developed to overcome these obstacles?
- Has a job placement or career advancement ever been criticized as a token gesture or diversity hiring? How did you or how would you react?
- How do you promote diversity and inclusion in your daily roles and how can we better recruit other women into your field of work?
- How can men be allies in creating a more welcoming environment?
- What advice would you like to receive at the start of your forestry adventure?
Capping off an incredible day, WorkSafeBC Professional Officers Caity Klaudt, Carole Savage and Cindy Fife shared an explanation of the gender diversity spectrum and why small changes in communication can make a difference on the jobsite.
“We know that inclusive industries are safer industries,” Savage said.
Gender-based violence is often very difficult to address and even more difficult to report, Klaudt said. Understanding gender expression and gender identity, whether obvious or not, can make a huge difference when it comes to making people feel comfortable expressing themselves.
Klaudt shared a personal story about one of her previous site inspections with WorkSafeBC when she “put her foot in her mouth” while addressing a group. It happens, she says, but she apologized to the person involved and then used it as her own learning experience.
Using gender-neutral language is an easy way to avoid making assumptions about gender, Fife explained. This means avoiding words like ladies, gentlemen, madam, sir, girls, and guys, and using friends, people, everyone, and everyone instead.
Did you miss the event? The entire Virtual Women in Forestry Summit is available on demand, including additional pre-recorded sessions from the Canadian Forest Service and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
All sessions are free to watch – just sign up by emailing [email protected] to receive a link to the content.
Thank you to our sponsors for their support of the Virtual Women in Forestry Summit and for making this event possible: Canfor, Alberta Forest Products Association, GreenFirst Forest Products, Interfor, West Fraser, Free to Grow in Forestry, John Deere, Tolko , Cascades, WorkSafeBC, Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, Forests Ontario, Resolute Forest Products, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Waratah, Woodtone and Mosaic Forest Management.
Any idea for next year’s sessions? Contact me at [email protected]