Women hold a wide variety of roles throughout the paper and wood products industry, and they are essential in guiding the manufacture of many of the products that we rely on every day. To continue our celebration of the contributions these women make for the industry, we interviewed notable women throughout our membership and produced a series of their responses. They shared what attracted them to the industry, the importance of female perspectives and why others should feel compelled to be a part of it.
This spotlight will focus on two women from Resolute Forest Products: Debbie Johnston, Director, U.S. Public Affairs; and Dr. S. Lynne Willett, Human Resources Director – Tissue, Pulp, Paper & Woodlands.
Why did you get into the paper and wood products industry?
Debbie: I was hired by a large pulp and paper mill in a small town in Texas to manage local public/community affairs. I put on a hard hat for the first time, coming from a banking and business consulting background! I was very nervous I must admit. Twenty-nine years later, I'm still a part of the industry. In my position I can be in Washington D.C. one week and the next week have a hard hat on touring one of our U.S. operations. The forest products industry provides me with a diverse work environment where I'm not continually confined to a desk or office. Every day can be a bit unique, and I learn so much about our company from a broad perspective.
Lynne: My company has always had a good reputation as an employer of choice in the area; the industry itself offers opportunity throughout the country. The initial draw for me was location, compensation and benefits; however, I quickly saw opportunities to become involved in many different initiatives, while learning more about the business. I identified a few mentors (male and female) over the years to challenge me to continue to grow professionally.
What does a woman’s perspective bring to the table?
Debbie: Creativity, professionalism, attention to detail and a fresh perspective. Granted, the industry has historically been male-dominated, and as such, has tended to proliferate the same approach to issues. I have witnessed how we can modify this approach -- for the better!
Lynne: I spent two years researching women in leadership, and there's a wealth of information out there regarding the positive impact of having women's voices heard in the business world. Primarily, I like to think that women bring the perspective of making the workplace more welcoming and inviting to other women and minorities, as well as our own unique perspectives from a business standpoint. Having always worked in traditionally male-dominated industries, such as rail transportation, construction, and now pulp, paper and tissue manufacturing, I have noticed that these are aspects often overlooked, and women can bring innovation and new ideas and levels of accountability to organizations. With so much competition for talent, the door needs to be open wider and be more welcoming to the ENTIRE talent pool. Multiple studies over the years show that companies that embrace diversity and have more female leaders at the helm are more profitable in the long run.
Why should women be part of this industry?
Debbie: Women can play an important role in bringing a different approach to problem solving, business planning and issue management. The more we learn to assert ourselves into these conversations in a productive manner, the more others will look to our perspective and opinion as valued input.
Lynne: I ask that we switch that question around to "Why wouldn't the industry welcome talented, motivated, change managers in the name of diversity and growth for the business?" We are seeing step change in other industries – companies are recognizing the value women bring to the table, the board, the shop floor and many other areas previously showing a marked absence of women. Thanks to all the pioneers who forged the path for today's women; we are gaining a voice in both the public and private sector and we still have a ways to go...even in the year 2019.