Finding success among trees (and men)
When I graduated from Lakehead University in 1992, there were six women in a class of approximately 30 students. After some reflection, I can say that I was not particularly confident in my own potential during this time, considering myself an average student next to those who outperformed me for grades. It was only once I entered the workforce that I started to appreciate what I was capable of. After graduation, I moved to Cochrane into a job with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forest (MNRF) as a forester-in-training. From then, I never left Northeastern Ontario and have worked for the Canadian forest products industry for the last 26 years.
Over the years, I had the opportunity to work on forest operations – at that time the work force was 99% men. I may not have suspected it as I was gaining professional experience, but my career prepared me for the role of Chief Forester with EACOM Timber Corporation.
How have I found success in my forestry career?
Have passion for your chosen field – I love being outdoors and I am endlessly passionate about the sustainable multi-use of our forests. When something sparks your interest, you are more motivated to do the work, to read, to study, to analyze, to evolve. As a colleague of mine said, most people don’t realize that foresters are the original environmentalists. Many of us chose a career in the forest industry because we are happiest when in nature, working towards the sustainable management and conservation of forests. I get asked from time to time why work for the forest industry – where else to have the most direct influence on how we manage the forest and implement forest operations?
Believe and invest in yourself – During my first year as Operations Superintendent, I dealt with many challenges including, a major vehicle accident involving 10 employees, the building of a new camp, blockades, as well as forest and equipment fires. Every day I drove to work wondering what else could happen and telling myself three things – I am smart, I am strong, I am resilient. I seized all opportunities that presented themselves to me that would further and expand my skills, both as a forester and as a person.
Nurture emotional intelligence – It’s about knowing, understanding and responding to emotions, overcoming stress in the moment, and being aware of how your words and actions affect others. Jobs in the Canadian forest industry, particularly dealing with Crown resources, require a level of emotional intelligence. I believe women have natural skills in that regard, which offer a distinct advantage in leadership roles.
As a young forester, I worked with harvest crews to implement harvest with regeneration protection (HARP) a method specific to lowland spruce areas that allowed us to maintain the younger trees in the harvest block to form the basis of the next forest. I also worked with roads crews to improve and implement best management practices on water crossing installations. As an Operations Superintendent, I became responsible for harvest operations, road construction and maintenance operations, transport and silviculture operations. In addition, I worked on implementing forest certification, and leading continuous improvement initiatives with teams of machine operators to examine specific tasks, such as road construction for example, and using their knowledge and experience to make changes that would improve the efficiency of the job.
I was challenged by my team and by management just the same as anyone else. My advantage was the ability to work with the guys in a way to discuss possibilities, listening to and validating their ideas. It built a level of trust. This paid off when handling more difficult situations such as discipline.
With time, you build a reputation. In the summer of 2017, EACOM’s senior management sat with me and asked me about my aspirations for the Company. I indicated then that I eventually wanted to become Chief Forester. When you want something, go for it. Shortly after, my predecessor announced his retirement and I was immediately appointed to the role.
I am EACOM’s first female Chief Forester, but above all, I was appointed for my ideas, not hindered or advantaged by my gender.
In 2018, the future is bright for women in forestry. While we haven’t assumed our fair share of the industry, women now outnumber the men in forestry school today! It is encouraging to see more women in forestry and in an expanding variety of related disciplines (forest technicians, biologists, ecologists, GIS, public education and outreach, etc.). There are peer groups that never existed years ago – Women in Wood, Women of Power Line Technicians to name two – such great resources and safe spaces. Not only are there more women entering the industry, they are working together, offering advice, encouraging and supporting each other along the way.
Overall, I believe there is a greater understanding of the unique abilities women bring to a team and workplace that has traditionally been male dominated.