Desneiges Larose is the General Manager of Hearst Forest Management Inc.
It wasn’t easy getting everyone together, finding that moment at the end of the day between the ladies getting out of the blocks and those trying to get to daycare in time, but a few of us did hold still for a snapshot of Women in Wood on the Hearst Forest. All smiles. When I asked these women about their experience in the forestry sector, they were overwhelmingly positive. We seem to have collectively benefited from the support and friendship of our predominantly male colleagues and, overall, feel an integral part of the forestry community.
With this picture of female colleagues in hand, I set out to write about all the wonderful aspects of working in forestry and then, busy with toddlers and work and everything in between, I put it aside and started questioning whether I had anything meaningful to contribute to this conversation. So many women known and unknown have set the stage in this business; what could I with barely a few years under my belt, possibly add to this conversation? There are women who have worked a lifetime in this industry and who, one article at a time, are sharing what they have learned, their wisdom and observations now being documented by Women in Wood, - thanks, ladies!
I also sensed in putting my pen to paper (or keyboard to screen) that I was sharing a partial truth or perspective. A few weeks after starting my job at Hearst Forest Management Inc., I received special mention from the “Association Parmis-elles”, a local not-for-profit started in the late 70’s to create opportunities for women. These women initiated La Maison Verte, a tree nursery operated under a social enterprise business model that employs predominantly women and is run by an all-female Board of Directors. One of these women came by, squeezed my hand and told me I was brave. I thanked her warmly, but I did not see the “bravery” she saw in me. It’s 2018 after all; all I did was apply for a job and get it.
And here is why this article was harder to write then expected, the truth is I’m ashamed of my self-doubt and the lack of confidence I displayed as I was negotiating with myself on whether or not to throw my hat in for the position I currently hold. I came very close to being the only obstacle to my own success and nearly didn’t apply. For a brief moment, I convinced myself that I wasn’t what the hiring committee or Board of Directors was looking for. Besides the typical self-defeating internal conversations one may have with one’s self, I also questioned myself, who would hire a young mom on mat leave? At the time my youngest was 7 months old: breastfeeding, teaching a baby basic life skills and convincing my dear toddler that she still mattered to mama consumed every ounce of energy I had, and I found it difficult to imagine myself a strong candidate. It turned out that the answer to “Who would hire a young mother on mat leave as a General Manager?” is: an all male selection committee!
In public forums, we typically show our best self; we promote ourselves and the role women are increasingly playing in leadership roles and fields typically male dominated like forestry. Insecurity or self-doubt never figures as a characteristic we are looking to promote or show to the world and prospective employers. While I’m not trying to create an analysis of applied social psychology of women in forestry, writing this article made me examine how I, like so many, could act against my own best interest, and even against my very beliefs and values. How many women have ruled themselves out of this profession preemptively?
Not to deflect from the very real challenges women face in the workplace, the forestry industry needs to continue to work on fostering an inclusive work environment; yet we also need to have honest discussions about other barriers, the barriers we set up inside. We need to foster better self-worth in women, something I think Women in Wood is bringing to the table: enhancing the conversation and opportunity for women to engage and see themselves in the multitude of career options in the forest sector.
Forestry is an amazing sector to work in, where inquisitive minds and passion are valued and the level of complexity and beauty in our work is engaging and motivating. My advice? Don’t sell yourself short and take the risk, otherwise, you may miss out on your dream job!