Tree Frog Forestry News

FPAC Champions Women and Gender Diversity in the Workplace

By Kelly McCloskey and Sandy McKellar
Tree Frog Forestry News
April 17, 2019
Category: Business & Politics
Region: Canada, Canada West

Gender equality and diversity for women in Canada’s forest sector was the theme of a breakfast panel at the Vancouver Club yesterday. Set in the subtle glitz of the ballroom, guests filled their plates, joining colleagues and friends for a unique event sponsored by the Forest Products Association of Canada’s (FPAC). The panel presentation—part of FPAC’s recently launched #TakeYourPlace Campaign—was part of a Canada-wide effort by the federal government and the Canadian Institute of Forestry to promote opportunities for women in Forestry.

Laura Balance, President of Laura Balance Media Group opened the session, welcoming guest and setting the stage. Moderated by Michelle Ward, Director of Corporate Communications at Canfor, the panel included MP Dr. Hedy Fry, Vancouver City Councillor Lisa Dominato, and Sustainable Forestry Initiative President and CEO Kathy Abusow. These accomplished professionals spoke of their experiences as a woman in the workplace, and—given what they know now—shared what they would recommend if they could give some advice to their “younger-selves”.

The four women drew upon a passion for their chosen profession and how role models and their personal experiences shaped their career paths. Dr. Fry spoke of growing up in Trinidad and Tobago—where gender diversity was ubiquitous—and how surprised she was to learn that the same wasn’t true in Canada. This youth conditioning coupled with her grandmother’s “battleship in full sail” approach to life became key motivators for her to enter politics where she took on roles such as the Federal Minister for the Status of Women (amongst many). Also drawn to a career in politics, Lisa Dominato was first elected to Vancouver City Council in 2018. Dominato spoke of her experience in government, the importance of industry leadership and what motivated her to run for City Council—where 8 of 11 councillors are currently women. Kathy Abusow talked about starting out her career—some 30 years ago— and how she was often the only woman in the room at forestry meetings. Today, that’s changing, and it was leaders like her former boss, George Petty (CEO of Repap) who saw the need for his future leadership team to be gender balanced who pioneered gender balance.

On the challenges faced and successes achieved, Fry praised the Hon. Jean Chrétien’s leadership in establishing a 25%-women goal for Liberal members of parliament, up from 12%. This was achieved, notwithstanding the old-boys club and the added challenge that working in far-away Ottawa represents for women with young children, a sentiment reinforced by Dominato. Referencing a recent successful youth job-placement initiative lead by Project Learning Tree, Abusow spoke of the power of intentionality and how progress can be easy when a goal is clearly articulated and steps are taken to accomplish it. She added that this program has helped to bring attention to the diversity of jobs, workplaces and people in the sector – making it even more enticing for women and other career seekers.

As for advice for their younger-selves, here are a sample of quotes:

“Be confident, believe in yourself, and seek out mentors to learn and grow,” Dominato

“Be confident, if you don’t like it—get in there and fix it, and keep your sense of humour'” Fry

“Think twice before you speak, no one wants to collaborate with an aggressor'” Fry

“Look people in the eye, be curious, ask questions, and be respectful,” Abusow

“Diversity and balance is key; different views bring different problem-solving abilities,” Fry

“Men need to be allies to ensure there is follow-through in certain situations,” Dominato

“The need to establish clarity around workplace culture doesn’t need to be top down,” Abusow

Looking around the room, it was evident that this was an event of importance to the sector. Participants included companies such as Mercer, Canfor, Interfor, Tolko,  Conifex and Strategic Natural Resource Consultants; organizations such as the Association of BC Forest Professionals and Forestry Innovation Investment; and notable government leaders Diane Nicholls (BC Chief Forester) and Beth MacNeil (NRCan Assistant Deputy Minister) were among other prominent women in the sector.

Susan Yurkovich ably summarized the key points of the panel, thanking Derek Nighbor and FPAC for pulling it all together.