Findings are organized according to the primary themes: perception, motivation, and attractiveness. All quotations in the results section come directly from the interviews, with respondents’ random numbers provided after the quote.
5.1. Student Perceptions of the Forest Sector
Although most respondents agreed that there is better gender diversity in forestry higher education and government, the forest sector is still perceived to be a male dominated profession into which it is hard to attract women. A leader in North American university mentioned that forestry in government might look more diverse due to diversity quotas that they need to obey. Respondents argued that women do not want to be in the forest sector because they do not see women represented. The forest sector is usually associated with “people out in the woods and chopping down trees” (#3) or “lumberjack stereotype with big bushy beard” (#24), holding a “chainsaw” (#24), “or fighting fires or working for warehouse or cruising plots” (#11). Therefore, to enter the forest sector, there is an expectation for women to be tough and act more like men such as wearing specific apparel.
“This is an industry that we weren’t in the first place and we’ve found our place in it over time.” (#14).
“… a lot of women end up [in the forest sector] coming from other fields. It’s not really a career path [that] a lot of young women out of high school or something make up for themselves.” (#24).
Working in the forest sector often means working remotely which brings disadvantages to women such as high risk of “harassment and violence” (#29). Field job postings typically mention physical fitness requirements which are perceived as indicating masculinity. This situation makes some respondents question their belonging in the forest sector as there is also a feeling that “women are not seen as competent or not having any knowledge” (#38).
A respondent warned that there are still many men in forestry who think women should not be doing forestry things. These men are not interested in diversity because they have the privilege of never being in a discrimination or micro-aggression situation. As a result, they do not give credit to women or other underrepresented groups that might need to overcome many hurdles to get where they are.
“Diversity was not a thing. You hired whoever you could hire and if the only person available was a woman you would hire the woman, but you wouldn’t actually make any special allowances for them being different. … I have worked with a bunch of guys who were complete assholes.” (#27).
5.2. Motivation to Enter the Forest Sector
The student leaders mentioned that their pathways started because they enjoy being in the forest, therefore they want to “work outdoors” (#7) and to have a career with an impact on “forests and sustainability” (#39). One leader has grown her interest in forestry since high school when she learned to be “a tree hugger” (#29). Another respondent realized that forestry could contribute to answering sustainability questions related to “climate change and carbon uptake” (#10).
“I chose it because I wanted to live and work anywhere in our country. I didn’t want to have to live in a city. I wanted to live in the countryside. So that is one reason and I also think that forest is one of the solution[s] in the new era of environment … it includes so much, like the social, the economic, the environmental in the world aspect of biological, air pollutants, that it’s so complex.” (#38).
Surprisingly, many of our graduate student respondents did not intend to get into forestry education programs. Before enrolling in forestry, they were studying different fields such as, “wildlife conservation” (#23), “disaster management” (#13), “microbiology” (#30), or even “international business” (#34). These students encountered forestry programs and when they got to know more, they became actively involved. A major factor of this encounter is a financial opportunity. A leader in North American university mentioned that the college/faculty of forestry has more funding support, compared to others.
“I kind of came to it by accident, which is something I actually heard quite a bit … We’d had a really, big bushfire throughout my state with really significant impacts, including losses of life. … actually forestry, which I previously thought of is like, destructive native timber harvesting, you know, very political issue like, ‘oh, wow, actually, it includes all of these different components of forest ecology, management, social science and community-based management.’ (#13).
“When grad school comes around, it’s really based on funding … I wasn’t really interested in … taking on more debt to go to grad school.” (#11).
“… and I ended up getting a scholarship into [her major], and so I thought “hey, if I’m on a scholarship, I might as well try it out for a term, and I can always get a term of school at least partially covered,”. Because it was appealing to get into the major, and then I really enjoyed it, so, I stuck with it. And then, I decided to continue my master’s program here.” (#40).
One respondent became interested in forestry after joining a forest summer camp activity, held by one of the Nordic universities. The four-day summer camp was intended for young women participants only. She was impressed with outdoor lectures from people working in the industry and hand-on activities such as planting trees and forest thinning practices.
Five leaders thanked their family for inspiring them to go to forestry. They either grew up nearby forests or have parents/older family members that were working with nature. By seeing on a firsthand basis, they value the benefits of nature to the world.
“… once I actually came to that realization, and I discovered how much forests really do impact [to] everyone’s lives, whether it’s directly or indirectly, [then I realized] that this was the perfect fit for me.” (#22).
“I was very skeptical in the beginning, if my uncle didn’t convince me that [as a forester] wasn’t just working in the toilet paper industry, then I wouldn’t have applied.” (#41).
5.3. Making the Forest Sector More Attractive
5.3.1. More Representation of Women
Due to a perception of the forest sector as a “male dominated kind of sexist, old fashioned industry” (#6), there is an urgent need to have more gender diversity and create a more gender balanced place. It is important to have more women represented, especially in leadership. In addition, one respondent thinks that there is a need to show women who are successful in the forest sector as their chosen career path. Another leader thought that encouraging and empowering women to stay will have a snowball effect, attracting other women to enter the sector. However, having more women is considered as “a circular problem” (#39): to attract women, there is should be more women in the field.
“I think just more representation and like seeing many women in these higher positions and these jobs that you want to be in not seeing it as this like impenetrable, like, ‘that’s a lot of men working there’, not seeing it as like a male dominated fields, it’d be more inspiring.” (#25).
“This sort of catch-22, where women don’t want to go into a field because there aren’t women in the field. Well, how do you get women into the field? And so I think from a very young age, cultivating in women … And I think women often dominate a lot of the social sciences. Not necessarily in like upper level leadership positions.” (#35).
There is an expectation that the women leaders can be role models and mentors for younger women. By having these women in those positions, the respondents feel that there is “a welcoming space” (#11) for them by having people whom they can talk with. However, a respondent warned about the possibility of having women leaders in forestry as tokens who are maybe hired because of their gender.
“Some strong and competent female role models who really kind of show that it’s okay to be a woman in science or the greater number of women in leading positions, not based off the old guys in the offices. (#32).
“I really like it when they have women that are really knowledgeable and really passionate about what they do. And when they’re in a leadership position. It’s great. Because it’s one of my biggest pet peeves when they’re like, ‘Oh, we have this woman in leadership.’ But it’s like, she doesn’t know anything … it’s really important for women to see that we’re not just tokens and we’re not just a diversity hire and that we actually do have something to bring to the company or community.” (#33).
Since there are not many women in the forest industry, one leader suggested an intentional mentorship program for young women, especially on a one-on-one basis. She continued that the mentor can also be a man who has professional experience with women in their company.
“[Male mentor] who has a personal connection to a female in their company … to really lift up [the young women] experience and help them be successful on an individual basis, because interacting with one male … is a lot less intimidating then somehow trying to be in a room with 15 men.” (#16).
Academically, the respondents hope to see more women as lecturers or professors, distributed equally in all forestry majors. One leader noticed that there are significantly fewer women in technical aspects of forestry and even fewer in “hard science forestry faculty positions” (#16) which are historically perceived more male dominated than social sciences. Another respondent noticed that because women researchers are few in the college/faculty of forestry, they have to take more administration work for gender representative and therefore end up supervising more PhDs and postdocs than their male colleagues.
“… females within academia might not be viewed as skillful as an equally success like as an equal male. Like, for instance if a professor is female, they might have been viewed as getting in that role because [of] their gender, rather than because of their skill. You don’t view a male like that. And I think as a female in industry, if they’re in a higher leadership role, people might feel that they are worth more.” (#40).
5.3.2. More Publication and Better Marketing
The forest sector should do better on publicizing all positivity aspects of forestry. The sector should be marketed as more than traditional forestry (e.g., extractive and logging industry), focusing on human dimensions, conservation, and ecology. To attract more women, a leader in a North American university suggested that the college/faculty can shift the current curriculum to be broader and connected to global issues. Furthermore, forestry universities should utilize social media such as Instagram or Facebook for advertising their programs, especially for targeting younger generations.
“It always cracks me up when I go to these forestry conferences. And people are just like talking about the latest chainsaw technology and stuff. And I’m just like, can we talk about people? Can we talk about human connections with nature? Can we talk about the ways we interact with space and time and all of these things? So, to me, I feel like that the known discrimination in traditional forestry field is really a turnoff to women pursuing forestry. I think [it’s important to] market forestry more inclusively, to include these other perspectives.” (#11).
It is important to raise the diversity issue that women should be treated equally as men. Diversity should be represented visually in publication platforms such as brochures. The visualization can have a huge impact. For example, a leader in a Nordic university raised a concern of a forest machine advertisement with “three women dancing in short skirts [with] barely any clothes” (#38). For her, this advertisement indicates the positions that women are expected to occupy in the forest sector.
“I’m proud of this sector but seeing the kind of thing [advertisement on forest machines], that would be like, oh my place in this forestry sector is dancing in a short skirt.” (#38).
5.3.3. More Accepting Environment
For making the sector more attractive, respondents suggested creating a “more accepting environment for women” (#12). While they are still in the university, male students need to have education for accepting more gender equity such as women in leadership. Therefore, if the male students, who then become foresters, see “inequality, [they know] how to speak up” (#23).
“I wish forestry had a quota like ‘we cannot hire more men than women’, ‘we cannot pay more to a male professor than a female professor’ … to acknowledge [women have] been discriminated, that’s the only reason why we have less female[s]. We’re not less smart. We’re not in any physiological disadvantage. Yet, we’re not as present as a male.” (#15).
“Going into forestry as a student is no big deal. Going into forestry in the workforce and staying there may be a bigger deal … working in a logging camp, washroom facilities, field gear that fits, guys that’ll wait for you to catch up in the woods if you’re not fast enough … The studies have shown that if you’ve got a group of 10 men, and then you put in one woman, it’s not going to behave like a mixed gender group, the woman basically has to start acting like a man and fit in with the rest … they’re not going to put in another washroom just for you. You have to suck it up and share with the guys. And if the guys don’t like it, well, they have to suck it up too. But of course, … they’re not always going to be happy. They’re not always going to treat you well, because they’re mad. … It’s sort of upsets the apple cart.” (#27).
Respondents raised some major concerns about sexual harassment, gender pay gap, and clothing size problems. Two leaders in a North American university pointed out the front-page news of sexual harassment that took place in the Forest Service. Therefore, there is a need to have some specialized trainings in forest sector institutions for issues such as sexual harassment, unconscious bias, and micro aggression. It is also important to take “sexual harassment claims seriously” (#11).
“The Forest Service needs to get its act together on sexual harassment, because it’s really appalling … I know that they’re trying to address it, but they’re probably not doing enough. So I think that there’s this issue where forestry work is really often really remote out in the field, the dangers are high for harassment, for violence … shifting the forestry profession more in the direction of ecological restoration based forestry, I think will be more attractive to women. I think having more women as supervisors as like high up in the ranks of companies and agencies, it’s really important.” (#29).