By: Ara Erickson

I graduated from college twenty years ago, from a program split almost evenly by gender. Our professors were mostly men, but it felt like there was a shift taking place. There were female post-docs and teaching assistants, new female professors. Young women were leading the student forestry clubs and logging teams. I felt on equal footing with — and mutually supportive of — my male counterparts. On the other hand, our program was primarily filled with white students, faculty, and staff. The lack of students of color was stark.

I have a hunch I could write this same paragraph today if I were in those same shoes as twenty years ago. We have not made much progress in this field I love so dearly. While there are splotches of female leadership in certain organizations or companies, I am still sitting at tables, driving in trucks, attending meetings where I am the only woman. And I rarely get the honor to be in the company of a person of color. I am ready for that to change.

I operate in a man’s world most of the time. In those rare moments where there are more women at the table or when there are more people of color presenting on the stage (and not just on the “diversity” panel), my heart leaps. I drop my shoulders a bit. I breathe differently. I speak with a different voice. I laugh a little more. I smile a whole lot more. I become more creative. Bolder. More innovative. I am afraid a little less.

The challenges our sector faces — social acceptance of forestry, a growing disconnect from nature and natural resources, climate change, societal expectations for immediate results, increased transparency, rapid movement of pests and disease, and so much more — need creativity, boldness, and innovation. We need to be less afraid of change and more willing to try things differently.

I am ready to operate in a world that isn’t defined by one gender or one race. I am ready to operate in a world where we see the inequalities we’ve built and where we’re willing to break them down.

I am going to participate in the planning summit for the Women’s Forest Congress with a full heart, an open mind, and a desire to make a difference. I hope you will join us.