11 February marks the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. While great progress has been made, a significant gender gap and under-representation in STEM disciplines continue to persist, with 34 per cent of those enrolled in STEM subjects being women, 28 per cent of women employed in STEM industries and 23 per cent of women in key management/senior management roles in 2020 (STEM Equity Monitor 2021).
“Ask someone to picture a forester, and they will likely conjure an image of an axe-slinging lumberjack in a flannel shirt. But modern forestry could not be further from that. Picture the female scientist who discovered that working as a plantation forester was her dream job, or those working on tree nutrition, biosecurity, or climate-resilient tree genetics”, said Deb Kerr, CEO of the Victorian Forest Products Association (VFPA).
The amount of applied science, innovation and technology in our sector is as staggering as it is important. And women are better represented in forestry than in many other traditionally male-dominated industries. Many of VFPA’s members have made significant progress in increasing female representation. A Gender and Diversity survey of 21 forestry companies showed a 20 per cent increase in female employees compared to two years ago.
“It is important to show our young people, male and female, how a science degree can get them into this – very varied – industry,” Deb Kerr continued.
One of them is Bonnie Galbraith, a technical forester at SFM Environmental Solutions. She has a major in plant science, but sustainability and carbon sequestration via photosynthesis are among her passion topics.
“My way into forestry was not linear, and not a case of following family tradition like so many others in the industry. I love the ocean so, after studying, I did a stint in the navy, working at sea as an Officer of the Watch. But in forestry, my science degree allows me to follow another of my passions, which is plants. It opened doors to amazing opportunities, and I feel that my field can have a real impact on positive environmental outcomes,” Ms Galbraith explained.
“We need to ask ourselves, how does forestry fit into the environmental debate? The scale for positive impact is huge, especially when you look at the carbon sequestration potential of trees and timber”, said Ms Galbraith.
“There are so many opportunities for scientists in our sector. Back in high school, maths and science weren’t high on my agenda. But it started to click when I pursued my degree – and you can imagine how thrilled I was to finally find real-life applications for mathematics, something that high school didn’t manage to convey! If you’re on the fence about where to go next, don’t let perceptions stop you. Look at what you’re good at, and in which environment you feel most comfortable, and then check if there’s a career or science degree that fits those requirements. Nothing is insurmountable,” Ms Galbraith concluded.