Forestry must grasp diversity agenda

9 September 2016

A seminar to discuss diversity and gender in the forestry sector in Scotland was told businesses will suffer unless they attract the widest range of employees available.

The event was organised by Confor to follow up on the findings of its report Gender & Diversity in Forestry in Scotland.

The attendees at the event included forest managers, forestry educationalists and speakers from Women in Agriculture, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland and Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

Jo O’Hara, Head of Forestry Commission Scotland, delivered the keynote speech – and said that forestry was in a renaissance, and changing for the better in terms of diversity. “We bring the breadth of skills required to adapt to the new situation,” she said. “As a woman in a male-dominated industry, you have an impact when you walk into a room. It’s up to you to use it.”

Jean Nairn of Scottish Woodlands Ltd, who chaired the event, began by posing the question “Employment in the Scottish forestry industry has grown by 50 per cent since 2008 and is set to grow further in future years. How can it ensure it attracts the people required to support sustainable development of the sector ?”

She also commented: “This is a timely initiative by Confor and can only help the sector to become more attractive to everyone with an interest in forestry and timber, regardless of who they are.”

Talat Yaqoob of Equate Scotland told delegates: “More diversity means more ideas, means more products, means more growth.”

Dr Eleanor Harris, joint organizer of the event and author of the initial Confor report, said: “Forestry is struggling with recruitment and is not going to be able to expand if senior people only recruit people like themselves. Encouraging more women into forestry is not just a task for women; there is also a very important role for senior men as champions of early-career female foresters. It’s about challenging the culture.”

She added: “Many of the report’s proposals for improving diversity in forestry involve addressing wider issues: for example the disconnect of children from nature. We heard from Sally York of the Forestry Commission that early years education has a bigger gender issue than forestry: 98 per cent of teachers are female. Forest schools can play a part in addressing this as dads and male teachers are keen to get involved. There’s huge potential for the forestry sector to help address this issue - but the forestry sector needs to be diverse enough to be open to the possibility of this kind of collaboration.”

Andrew Heald, Technical Director of Confor, who organized the event with Dr Harris, said: “If we don’t address this issue, there is a real cost for businesses in terms of lost employees and lack of resilience.

“This is a very important initiative by Confor and alongside the report, the feedback will give us a really useful insight into how the forestry sector needs to re-shape itself for the future – to ensure it gets the very best from all employees.”

Elizabeth Barron-Majerik, Head of the School of Forestry at Inverness College UHI, will report back on the workshop she ran at the event,  feeding into a report by Dr Harris to be sent to all attendees and around 20 more women in the sector who wanted to attend but couldn’t make it.

Dr Harris said: "The energy and connections generated in the room are certainly not going to go away. I can't wait to see how this network begins to develop and shape the future of the forestry industry."

To receive information about the work of the diversity and gender group, email Eleanor Harris or Andrew Heald: