Wood is a growing industry, so to speak. When sustainably harvested and managed, it is the greenest building material. That’s why codes are being revised and more, taller wood buildings are being built.
But from right where it starts in the forest, where most of the fellers (that’s what they call lumberjacks) are fellers, the industry is dominated by men. Women are in fact only 18.4 percent of the industry. (I would have thought it was even lower!) So I was intrigued to learn that there is actually a bit of a movement happening, called Women in Wood, and that they were helping build some houses for Habitat for Humanity near Ottawa, Canada, just a few hours away from me. The Women in Wood Build Day was being led by Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), who I had never met, so I thought it time for a site visit.
The volunteers will help with a "wall raising" and building the framework of four townhomes….The special "Women in Wood" Build Day will include a diverse team of Ottawa women and SFI volunteers who work in various sectors, including government, forest industry, environmental, education and social sectors. Despite being from different fields, all of these women share a common passion of making a difference in their communities and a positive impact on the environment.
They also swing a mean hammer, even if they all work in different parts of the industry. And it is important work; according to Susan Gesner, the President of Gesner & Associates Environmental Learning, writing on the Women in Wood website, “only construction and fishing, hunting and trapping have lower percentages” of women than forestry has. She continues:
Who manages these incredible forests and their wealth of resources? Who is making the critical decisions about the future of our environment, our economy and our environmental health? Well, if you are a woman, it’s most likely not you. The number of women in senior management positions and executive boards, as well as in skilled trades (including supervisory roles and operating heavy equipment) is, well, rather underwhelming.
SFI is the main sponsor of Women in Wood, and its members have donated thousands of hours to Habitat for Humanity, and is making a big push to support indigenous housing in Canada. Habitat for Humanity’s CEO for Greater Ottawa, Alexis Ashworth, says:
We are incredibly grateful for SFI's financial support, donated products from responsible sources and partner volunteerism, which will change the life of an Indigenous family in Ottawa forever.
We need more sustainably harvested wood; we need more women in wood; we need more decent housing for indigenous people. It’s heartwarming and wonderful to see it all happening in one place.