By: Jaana Korhonen, Member, Women’s Forest Congress Advisory Council and Researcher, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE)

We recently published an article titled ‘Gaps in Diversity Representation and Data Insufficiencies in the U.S. Forest Sector Workforce Analysis’ with a group of colleagues from various positions in the professional forest sector and interdisciplinary forest sciences. The article is open access, meaning that anyone can read it freely through this link.

Our article provides insights into who is represented in the forest sector. We also elaborate on how different types of tasks and job roles have evolved over time and how the representation is associated with this evolution. We quantified some of the key aspects related to the emerging diversity, equity, and inclusion discussions at industry, occupational, and firm ownership levels. This work is still in its infancy, but our findings can provide motivation for further endeavors in this space.

Some key insights from our findings in a nutshell:

  • Women represent 5-24% of the total workforce, depending on the industry sector. Lowest representation is in logging industry and highest in paper product manufacturing industry.
  • Black and African American employees’ representation varies between 5% in logging and 11% in the paper manufacturing industry.
  • Asian employees are underrepresented across all industry sectors. For example, in the wood product industry, their share was less than 1%.
  • Forest business ownership is particularly not diverse. For instance, women of color owned about 0.2% of the business, 0.9% of firms were owned by Black individuals, and White individuals owned 97% of the businesses. Data is scarce or not available.
  • Representation of Hispanic and Latino workers, as well as foreign-born workers, is rapidly increasing, particularly in natural resources and production occupations. For example, almost 30% of forest and conservation workers and first-line supervisors are already foreign-born.
  • Occupations that are based on interaction and innovation seem to be interlinked with increasing diversity. For example, the share of women in conservation scientist and forester positions has reached 36%.

The statistics tell a story and highlight the representation gaps, but they don’t tell the truth. We learned that there are so many gaps in the data and knowledge that cannot be filled with a single study or approach. Quantitative categorization of people is obviously a bit artificial. The representation statistics tell only one side of the story about inclusion, which is about strengthening voices, embracing diverse experiences, and creating a safe work culture for everyone.

However, employee data, when collected and used ethically, can help us break the persistent patterns of employment and prepare the sector for the future. Employees are valuable and vulnerable part of the forest sector value networks. Diversity data can help identify risk areas, prioritize initiatives, set targets, and measure the impacts of diverse initiatives. Recognition of people problems and identification of opportunities are all needed in developing more inclusive and innovative ways forward.