By Elizabeth Woodworth

The Women’s Forest Congress is gaining momentum thanks to a group of incredible, inspiring, caring, accomplished women, with whom I’m honored and so happy to work with. I have always looked for support from the people around me. I was blessed as a child to have parents who allowed me to choose my own path, to the extent that they could afford, and I have always felt empowered to make my own way with help from the right people.

It wasn’t always easy. The world that I grew up in during the 1970s and 1980s featured chronic, latent sexism in all corners of my life. Much of what I saw on television, in the news, and even in my schools perpetuated a biased view of women and what they could or could not accomplish. My understanding of the world was a world that preferred males and therefore opened doors to men that were not opened to women. It was so pervasive that it wasn’t questioned, at least on my part. It was what it was, and I adjusted accordingly.

But I am grateful to have had women in my life who, though I did not realize it at the time, served as models of how to break societal barriers. For most of my childhood, my mother was the primary breadwinner of the family. My paternal grandmother started her own small business in the 1950s when women were decidedly not supposed to do that. And, my maternal grandmother, despite her husband not allowing her to have a driver’s license, figured out how to get herself to a job at a factory so she could earn money and open her very own secret bank account.

This was just the way the world was to me as a kid. It wasn’t until I began a career that I realized how incredibly imbalanced life was, even in a democratic, advanced country like the U.S. Internships, jobs, and opportunities were not afforded to me, or my female colleagues, which I assumed was due to some skill that perhaps we did not have. Pay discrepancies were so ingrained that I mistakenly thought they must be due to a commensurate lack of experience.

I now know, after 25 years of working, that those inconsistencies were not a result of merit. Today I run my own company and hire the best people based on skills and expertise, not gender, skin color, physical ability, or any other societal category. And, needless to say, there is no pay gap at my firm.

The idea of this Congress is the intersection of my long-time dream of a world where girls, boys, women, men, and transgender people are treated with equal respect and consideration. We all share the conviction that forests are the answer for the health and future of our planet and our well‑being. And my wish for my daughter is that she is considered an equal among all peers in her potential and ability to pursue her dreams, whatever they are.

My love of forests steered me to focus my profession on trying to help the world understand the incredibly important role they have in saving our planet. Now I can work with a group of women, each of whom is on their own journey and come to this with their own story, their own pain, their own joy, and their personal passion. From this moment forward, we can change the future of the forest sector, embrace the unknown, and dream big, together, for the future of forests and the future of women.