Changing The Face Of The Forest Industry, One Woman At A Time

April 27, 2017

Located in Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, Island Timberlands manages the sustainable harvesting, manufacturing and reforesting of timber on 258,000 hectares of private land in coastal British Columbia. “Island Timberlands has been a customer of ours since the company’s inception 12 years ago,” said Matt Laing, sales rep for Finning Canada. “We currently own and operate 25 pieces of Cat® equipment including front end wheel loaders, bandits, stackers, hoe chuckers, roadbuilders and processors,” says Melinda Morben, operational logistics manager for Island Timberlands. “We run mostly Cat equipment and we love the operation of the machines.”

And she should know. Melinda has been working in the forest industry since she was 18. She never intended to be a trailblazer for women in the industry and she finds it hard to believe she could be a role model for young women, especially since she is still one herself. “I never saw myself as a spokesperson for diversity, but if I can make it easier for anyone wanting to pursue a career in forestry, I’ve got to do this.” And ‘do this’ means taking every opportunity to speak about the need for diversity in forestry and inspiring young women to pursue careers in the industry. Melinda was a guest speaker at the Truck Loggers Association convention in 2015, she was featured in the Logging & Sawmilling Journal last year and is speaking at the 2017 Interior Logging Association’s annual conference focused on women working in forest harvesting.

“People always ask me how I got into the industry,” says Melinda. “I had no connections to forestry, no one in my family worked in the industry. I just saw an opportunity, and my interest in the industry stemmed from there.”

While working in a welding shop after high school, Melinda was offered a job running a processor for a small logging company in 100 Mile House, B.C. She was trained and relocated to Fort St. James where she worked for another sub-contractor for three years.

Melinda credits the accepting and encouraging nature of her first two employers for her positive experience. “They were both kind, supportive, forward-thinking men who saw I was a hard worker and gave me a chance.”

Still interested in furthering her career, Melinda went to see a counselor at the College of Caledonia in Prince George. “I knew I wanted to further my education. My thought was to go into business management but I saw this brochure that stated forestry was the second largest industry in B.C. so I asked the counselor if they were offering any forestry courses. He asked me if I had any experience and chuckled when I told him my occupation. I registered for the Forest Resource Technology program that day.”

Melinda received her Forest Resource Technology Diploma and went on to complete her Bachelor of Science in Forestry at the University of British Columbia. In her seven years at Island Timberlands, she has worked her way up from quality control supervisor to her current role as manager of operational logistics. “I’m responsible for a drylands sort as well as analytics and logistics that support operational logistics management,” says Melinda. “During my tenure at Island Timberlands I also attained my Registered Professional Forester (RPF) designation.”

Does she run into any challenges working in an industry that is predominantly male? “All the time,” she laughs. “Usually when I’m attending an event or meeting new contractors, I’ll get asked if I’m in administration.” The perception that logging is a male occupation is still very prevalent. There will always be people who are unaccepting of change, but she believes if you want it and are committed, the opportunities are there. “The industry is changing,” said Melinda. “And gender balance and equality are beneficial to the industry; diverse ideas and approaches spur innovation, growth and increase the effectiveness of your operation.”

What does the future hold for women in forestry? According to Melinda, we still have a way to go. “That’s why it's important for me to speak about inclusivity and diversity in the industry so we can encourage change. But we also need men in the industry to be supportive and provide opportunities to women. Without their support, mentorship and the transfer of knowledge to the next generation, it won’t happen. I’m not suggesting that the industry should hire all women, but I can guarantee that having them as part of your team is beneficial. My message is not just about hiring women, it is about acceptance and the changes we need to make as an industry. The workforce of the future also needs to focus on open-mindedness and acceptance. I am a true believer that the right person should be hired for the job not solely based on their skills, but more importantly their potential and personal attributes, and I love seeing positions filled by females who have been overlooked for far too long.”