Diversity is the lifeblood of the forestry sector – strengthening it is vital as it is urgent
As the world changes, the forestry industry should be able to adapt to these changes or, preferably, lead the way in transformation. If the forestry sector fails to diversify its workforce and become inclusive, it risks falling behind and embracing seclusion in the eyes of potential workers and stakeholders.
In late October, we unveiled the findings of our research project, “Yhdestä puusta” (loosely translated as “From the Same Cloth/Tree”), at the annual Finnish forest sector symposium, ‘Forest Days.’ The project delved into the experiences of those in the forestry sector concerning workplace diversity and inclusion. Concurrent with the results presentation, we organized a panel discussion where forestry employers, employees, and workplace experts collaborated to glean insights from the project’s findings.
Personally, I can’t claim to be surprised at the research results. The data portrays the forestry sector as relatively homogeneous, with diversity confined to specific job tasks or characteristics and a gender binary that typically favours males. Gender and sexual minorities, individuals of different ethnicities, and those with partial disabilities remain invisible in the industry. This homogeneity is also tied to a narrow “lumberjack/forester” stereotype, exclusively characterizing a male archetype. As one panelist pointed out, not participating in activities like hunting, skiing, or orienteering often results in exclusion from coffee table discussions. While this revelation might seem peculiar, it resonated with many as a poignant observation during the panel discussion. The project’s data also exposes the (presumed) homogeneity of thought, with individuals hesitating to express their values in the workplace, such as environmental awareness (e.g., voting for the Green Party) or practicing veganism.
The data reveals that women often experience unfair treatment, bullying, and discrimination more frequently than men in the forestry sector. This sentiment may stem from mundane situations, such as the customary practice of segregating genders during team sauna sessions (yes, even business meetings may take place in and outside of saunas in Finland). Typically, the sole woman in the team rushes through her sauna time, waiting alone while male colleagues network, share information, or even make decisions on the sauna benches. This structural discrimination may go unrecognized as part of the problem. Not to mention that the binary gender division does not acknowledge gender diversity, and being naked with colleagues is not an inclusive pastime.
The world is more diverse than us
Based on discussions at the Forest Days symposium, one of the most quoted speeches was delivered by Janne Partanen, the forest director of Stora Enso Forest, regarding the individuals who will shape the future of the forestry sector. Partanen identifies characteristics such as a desire to learn, the courage to be oneself, and a desire to change the world. He also emphasizes that the surrounding world is presently more diverse than the forestry sector.
To enhance diversity in the industry, understanding the current situation and why the sector tends to attract individuals cut from the same mold is crucial. The forestry sector already faces and will continue to face challenges in recruiting as the population ages. It cannot be the case that potential forestry job seekers are inherently lacking, for example, immigrants and sexual minorities. If this is true, the sector is squandering massive potential.
Who can read the surrounding world?
The competition for the best talent is critical for the forestry sector. Nowadays, this expertise includes the ability to communicate and observe what is happening in the surrounding society. If people in the sector are very similar in their backgrounds, values, and thoughts, a significant portion of signals for change is lost, or incorrect interpretations are made. At worst, the forestry sector does not understand the direction in which the world is heading and is forced to hastily adapt to change as a passenger. This reactive mode means that the sector will be responding to problems, rather than proactively managing emerging needs as an opportunity in a timely manner.
Forestry sector, challenge your prejudices, try anonymous recruitment, critically assess the need for Finnish language skills in various job tasks, and consider whether you could employ people with partial disabilities. Learn to identify structural problems and train your staff in everyday inclusivity and ways to recognize and embrace diversity. Above all, take on the challenge immediately. Without diverse individuals, the forestry sector will not succeed in the future!
This blog post is authored by Inka Musta, the CEO of Luontoa. Inka places significant importance on diversity and inclusion, not only within the workplace but also in society at large.