The federal government has taken significant leadership on gender equality in Canada in an effort to not only support women but to also improve the Canadian economy. This has generated many conversations around boardroom tables and inspired never before seen numbers of media coverage on indecent behaviour in the workplace, including subsequent legal action taken. No sector is unaffected. Many industry leaders are sitting up and taking notice of these political and legal drivers but are still seeking answers on the business case. Beyond the business case, or as I like to call it, the business advantage, there are benefits to men that need to be highlighted. So, let’s break down the issue, the business advantage, the benefits to men and what is being done to create gender equality in the forest sector.
According to the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), the forest sector needs anywhere from 40,000-120,000 workers by 2020. Given the hit the forest sector is taking today, let’s be conservative and say 40,000. The forest sector currently employs 17% women, 9% visible minorities, 7% Indigenous and 12% new immigrants. Of the 17% women, only 20% are registered professional foresters and many leave the sector within the first 5 years. Women are as educated as men, with Indigenous women holding twice as many degrees as Indigenous men, yet most Indigenous women are typically employed as laborers with low median incomes. These startling facts puts business leaders in a position where they must act strategically and quickly to attract and retain people. These facts also point to where those gaps in labour can be met.
Beyond addressing this labour market shortage, there is a
need to create a healthier workplace for all in the forest sector – not just so
that it is more welcoming to women and new immigrants, but to make it a more
respectful and healthier workplace for men too. From the recent survey in BC where
70 female tree planters divulged their experiences over the last several years
with harassment and sexual assault, to men now speaking up about poor conduct
they’ve experienced, change in behaviour is needed to create a healthy work
environment for everyone.
 Canadian Forest Service (2019) using Statistics Canada 2016 Census Data
The Business Advantage
What are the Benefits to Men?
The discussion of women’s equality permeates across all forms of media and has heightened attention and pressure on men’s behaviour with notable movements, such as the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movement, swinging the pendulum to a point where many men seem uncertain what to say or do. This is leading both men and women to look at the role men can play in helping women achieve equality and why it is good for them too.
Skillsets such as greater responsibility for personal behaviours and those of the people around them, greater empathy and understanding, better impulse control are what are now seen as the qualities that makes up the “leader of tomorrow” and help navigate the appropriate code of conduct in the workplace.
Engaging men about how the workplace should be equal for all allows them to reflect on their own situation and seek ways to improve it. For example, men are increasingly speaking up about uncomfortable situations they’ve felt forced into. From awkwardness of taking clients to a “gentlemen’s club’ when their partner is at home and pregnant, to not wanting hazing acts to happen to themselves or bear witness to these acts imposed on others, there are benefits to men by creating a more respectful workplace.
Furthermore, financial benefits to men have been highlighted by the International Monetary Fund, where they’ve noted that with greater inclusion of women in the labor force, men’s wages also go up, due to broader increases in productivity.
Greater gender equality in the workplace also supports healthier relationships and stronger families. For example, a company that recognizes flexible working arrangements means men are allowed the same flexibility which translates to fathers being able to attend kids’ events or parental care, without fear that their upward career mobility will be curtailed. Furthermore, countries where both parents are involved in childcare report happier children and teens and less divorce.
Creating a gender-balanced workforce also has significant health benefits for men. Statistics show that men have higher suicide rates, engage in riskier behaviour and have more heart attacks than women. However, through strengthened relationships with their partners and families and greater opportunities for work-life balance, they stand to gain better health, and overall life satisfaction. They may even live longer – potentially reversing the longstanding gender death gap whereby men consistently die earlier than women at every stage of life.
It is necessary for men to understand the benefits they will
accrue from gender equality and recognize they are part of the solution, not
the problem. Men can be critical allies in supporting greater equality from the
beginning of their academic life to the technical or executive positions they
aspire to and realize. They can opt out of being a bystander and witnessing the
unequal treatment of women or men and raise their opinion without fear of being
outcasted by their male peers. Each step of their career offers an opportunity
to be a gender champion, advocating for a respectful workplace that benefits
women and men. They can also be powerful forces in overcoming resistance (or
backlash) to measures designed to advance gender equality, by stepping up as champions
and partners in creating new, more diverse workplaces.
What Action Is Being Taken?
The Canadian Institute of Forestry – Institut forestier du Canada (CIF-IFC) in partnership with the Centre for Social Intelligence (CSI) have united in an effort to address gender inequality in the forest sector. Their first priority was to establish a Gender Champions Committee, comprised of influential stakeholders in the forest sector to develop a new vision for the sector – one that provides equal opportunity for both men and women, regardless of culture or religion, providing the foundation for a thriving forest sector and surrounding communities. Together they are developing an Action Plan that addresses the root issues that have impeded a gender- balanced workforce.
As leaders of Canada’s first public-private partnership project addressing gender inequality, the CIF-IFC, CSI and Gender Champions are at the forefront of this movement. Together they have identified the key barriers women face to enter and remain in the forest sector such as persistent wage gaps, low retention rates, lack of advancement opportunities, and workplace culture. They have articulated the business case for why it’s smart to hire a more diverse and inclusive workforce – one that ensures companies are better positioned to compete in a competitive global market and simultaneously strengthening innovation and productivity through a better workplace culture.
Through the implementation of this Action Plan, the forest sector will move from a position of very low attention and understanding of gender equality and inclusion, to becoming a leader for other sectors to follow. Actions to be undertaken include such things as:
- Gathering data on women in the sector – As we all know, what gets measured, gets results
- Creating tools for industry to use such as how to overcome resistant thinking to gender equality; and toolkits for men who want to be advocates for women
- Repositioning the sector’s image to make it a magnet for top talent, regardless of gender or culture.
The forest sector national action plan is creating awareness on this issue and action is starting to happen. What will you do to be part of this wave of change in your organization?
 VicHealth, (En)countering resistance: Strategies to respond to resistance to gender equality initiatives, 2018