Putting down roots in the forest sector
Fiona is a Communications Specialist with Conifex Timber Inc. She has over 5 years experience communicating about the forest sector, holding roles at the Forest Products Association of Canada, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and currently as Communications Specialist at Conifex Timber Inc. Fiona lives in Vancouver, BC and spends her free time hiking, bird watching, and drinking wine with her cat, Nacho.
I grew up outside. Camping, kayaking, bird watching – I had a passion for nature and the outdoors. However, I didn’t have a natural aptitude for the sciences. While I aced quizzes on ecology, I couldn’t wrap my head around anything else in my science classes (except that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell). My dreams of being the next David Attenborough, applying my ‘fancy science skills’ to saving animals, disappeared. I was pretty good at writing, my grades in English were strong, so the obvious way forward was to pursue communications. And I loved it, lucky me! But at the time, and I’m sure it’s still the same, we were pushed to pursue education without any real explanation of the options afterwards. I assumed I would end up in advertising or marketing. No one said to me “you can literally communicate about anything you want”
I started doing research, speaking to others in communications, mainly those who had been in advertising, marketing, or journalism and a mentor said to me “You should meet this woman, she works with trees…or forests?...”. I was intrigued, my exact words were “That would be TREEmendous!”. And so began my journey to becoming a professional tree pun writer and communicator in the forest sector.
I took awhile to write a piece for Women in Wood, which seems silly considering I primarily write for a living. I was worried that my voice wasn’t one that needed to be heard (ladies, can I get an amen?). There are so many amazing women in the forest sector, pushing the envelope by being innovative and applying their ‘fancy science skills’ to bettering the forest sector. I was just a communicator, I could tell the stories of these women, but I wasn’t one myself. I worked on and created campaigns encouraging people to consider the forest sector, no matter their background. “We need foresters! Scientists! Accountants! Everyone is welcome!”, so why wasn’t I applying those messages to myself?
Perhaps because there were so many women around me in communications, and not so many in skilled trades or sciences, or what I deemed to be backbone careers of the forest industry. They needed the spotlight, they were the trailblazers changing the landscape of a primarily male dominated industry. Likely, I was also falling victim to the classic traditionally female feeling of “I’m sure someone else has something more important to say.” But I have had too many conversations with other women where I chastise them for not believing in themselves and encourage them to use their voice, all the while feeling hypocritical for not using my own.
As I’ve watched the Women in Wood group grow and have become increasingly proud of the inclusivity of the group, I realize that there is immense support and appreciation for anyone who is working in the forest sector, no matter their vocation.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I have been able to marry my passion and skills by working in the forest sector, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wouldn’t say the same. Working in the forest sector means you understand and appreciate the critical balance of social, environmental, and economic benefits of forests. And in my experience, it also means you are a passionate and enthusiastic individual, working while doing what you love, no matter whether you’re in the woods, in a mill, or at a desk.
My hope is that young women embarking on their careers take a wholistic approach that includes their strengths and their interests. If you like the outdoors, or are intrigued by sustainable energy, or think accounts payable sounds thrilling, there’s a spot for you in forestry. Or, maybe, the forest sector isn’t for you, but there is time to try on different hats, to figure out what works for you. Don’t put yourself in a box based on pre-conceived notions of your chosen field.
People work best when they believe in what they’re working towards. I found that in forestry.