November 28, 2016

Making their way in the world today… women conquering careers in the forest industry

Erika HelicopterAt first glance, it might not seem like Holly Sauve, Erika Doyon and Kara Mills would have much in common. Holly is a Human Resources Advisor, Erika is an Operations Forester who works in development, and Kara is an Optimization Specialist. Each spends their day doing vastly different things. Holly is a Corporate HR Advisor who specializes in organizational development. She spends her days dissecting and studying data to reveal workforce insights. Erika spends her days in forest planning and development. Kara spends her day optimizing planer mills and grading systems.

The common thread that runs between all of these women is where they choose to apply their skills— working for forest industry leader Tolko Industries, headquartered in Vernon B.C and with 17 operations across Western Canada. Forestry is still an uncommon choice for women. In addition to fighting against the stereotypes that many resource-based industries face, forestry also struggles with the reputation of being a ‘sunset industry.’ Yet, when you dig a little deeper, as these three have, you find an industry vibrant with opportunity that can offer a rewarding career experience for those adventurous enough to look past the rough exterior.

For Holly, the HR Advisor, the move into the forest industry was somewhat unexpected.

“When I submitted my application, I had limited knowledge of the industry, but I’m a person who is open to new challenges so when this role was offered to me, I accepted the job as an opportunity to explore something different. I was very pleasantly surprised at how progressive and technologically advanced Tolko mills are and how fascinating the industry actually is. There are a wide variety of opportunities and many different skill sets in play, and there is so much opportunity—that has been perhaps the biggest surprise of all.”

As an Aboriginal woman in the industry, Holly’s advice to women across cultures who are looking at the industry is: “Jump in. There are exciting opportunities for anyone looking for a long-term, rewarding career, and Tolko has a great deal to offer.”

For her part, Erika, the Operations Forester, began her relationship with Tolko in 2009 when she came to work for the company as a summer student. From there she was offered a contract position in 2010 and joined the company full time in 2011. Before Tolko, Erika had been a tree planter and worked for contracting companies based in Prince George and North Vancouver. For Erika, her love of the natural resources began as a girl.

“I knew from early on I wanted to pursue a career in natural resources. I just recently read an assignment my parents kept from high school outlining my desired career at the time and it actually describes very closely what I am doing today. A passion for the environment and a desire to work outside were what directed me towards forestry work, which I believe is true for many people.”

For someone with a love of the industry, making inroads is on the ‘to-do’ list for life, but Erika worries that other women might be “deterred by the perception of what forestry is and a lack of awareness of the variety of positions out there.”

She firmly believes that the culture of forestry does need to change if women are to be successful.

“Cultural shifts could lead to a number of changes including: hiring qualified women across all levels; restructuring positions (ie. hours or locality) to retain women; providing the appropriate work environments (ie. change rooms/bathrooms/sleeping quarters in camps) to accommodate women; changing workplace language and policies to reflect gender equality; ensuring pay equity; and changing the undercurrent perception of ‘typical’ women’s roles.”

Erika believes that moving the culture of forestry from one that’s dominated by males would encourage more women to participate and stay in the industry. Erika knows she’s part of that shift and she’s doing her best to change perceptions on the ground floor and in the world around her. For her part, she encourages women to get into the industry and offers this piece of advice:

“Women need to look for opportunities to gain experience in a variety of positions. Work for a company or organization that will provide opportunities for growth and development. Find a mentor or role model to help you with your professional growth and development, and then turn around and share your knowledge and expertise by mentoring another young woman to help her get her foot in the door and find success.”

Erika knows from experience that it will be worth it.

“The forest industry is a dynamic and challenging environment where there is always an opportunity for learning. Forest development involves many facets including the environment, people, business, and clients. It is never static. I get great satisfaction when I can adapt to meet the needs of my ‘client’ to produce a quality product and then receive direct feedback. I enjoy working in a team environment where feedback is tangible and direct due to the nature of the work. I think many other women would find the experience rewarding and worthwhile as well.”

Kara echoes Erika’s comments. Having worked for Tolko since a summer internship in Quality Control in 2000, Kara is now an Optimization Specialist who spends her days finding new ways to make mills run efficiently and effectively. Her job involves learning systems, lots of them, to make things better. Her role is on the floor—mill machinery running all around her, lumber rolling through the machines—and she loves it.

“I enjoy working with all the different business units and sections of the industry. I have been very privileged to work with a variety of people, from the log yard to our customers. This job has given me such a wonderful view on the big picture of how our industry works. I learn something new every single day. The technology that we use is constantly improving. It is incredibly rewarding being a part of making things happen; such as setting up new products or troubleshooting issues.”

The job exhilarates Kara and she wishes more women would find their way into the industry.

“I want more women to ‘go for it’! This is an industry full of opportunity. We are constantly looking for ways to improve and technology is getting more and more interesting. The forest industry needs more women. We can bring a different point of view and new ideas. I don’t know why there aren’t more women in forestry. It baffles me. There is not one job I have seen that a woman cannot do here!”

Holly, Erika, and Kara are great ambassadors for women in forestry. Strong and capable, they prove that women can not only succeed in the industry, they can thrive and have successful, diverse careers.

Tanya Wick, Vice President of Corporate Services, hopes theirs is an attitude that catches on with more women in Canada.

“We are very fortunate to have many talented women on our team, but we want more. We want to hire the best and brightest at Tolko and we know to do that we have to help women understand they can be successful in this industry. We are at the stage where we know we have to address some of the perceived barriers around the forest industry. We’re working on new strategies to help women understand the full scope of roles that exist and the quality of career the industry can provide. And I totally agree with Kara: There isn’t a job here at Tolko that a woman cannot do, and the industry will benefit from an increase of women in its ranks!”