When Storm Robinson entered the forestry industry in Ontario in 2015, she felt welcomed and supported because of a group called Women in Wood.

Now she wants to help give that feeling to other women entering the field in New Brunswick. 

Women in Wood is a national and international network of women who work in the woods, for the woods, or with wood. They strive to encourage women to work in the woods or related sectors and help them excel in their careers through mentorship and skills training.

Robinson is part of a team of women opening the organization’s first provincial chapter in New Brunswick. 

Women in Wood helped her chase her dreams when she moved to Fredericton in 2018 to complete a bachelor and master of science in forestry at the University of New Brunswick. 

“I was a single mom and a widow. My son was five when I went back to school and I never could have picked up and moved across the country away from my family, alone, without some kind of network,” she said. “So Women in Wood was a part of that.”

A woman in jeans, a vest and toque poses for a picture in the woods.

Now she wants to spread that support in the province that’s now her home. 

“It’s just my way of giving back to this community,” Robinson said. “And really encouraging young girls and women, and older women and single parents, you know, that they can, they can do these things.”

Robinson works as a researcher at the Edmundston-based Northern Hardwoods Research Institute. 

Women underrepresented in industry

Robinson said women remain underrepresented in forestry in Canada and New Brunswick. Nationwide, women make up 18.2 per cent of the workforce in natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations, which includes forestry and 21.6 per cent of the workforce in New Brunswick, according to 2022 Statistics Canada data. 

While her experience in the industry has been positive, Robinson said she’s heard of women feeling as though they work in a place where no one expected a woman to walk through the doors. 

“A lot of stories from the past like that, [things] are changing slowly, but maybe they’re changing even more slowly in New Brunswick than they are in other places in Canada,” Robinson said.

That, she said, makes establishing a Women in Wood New Brunswick chapter even more important.

A woman stands in a high-vis vest, hard-hat, balaclava and goggles in the woods. It's a selfie.

Joining Robinson as founding members of the New Brunswick chapter are Martha O’Sullivan, Susan Willis, Monica McKendy, Olivia Blizzard and Anne LeBrun Ruff.

The New Brunswick chapter will host a launch event in Fredericton on March 25 at Picaroons Brewing Company.

To start, the chapter will have a Facebook group where women can connect with others in the industry. 

“It’s pretty basic, but it’s powerful,” Robinson said.

Then they hope to have more offline events like the one at Picaroons where women can meet up while also showing the public that this community exists. 

How women in wood began

Women in Wood was founded in 2015, when Lacey Rose and Jess Kaknevicius found they were often the only women at forestry conferences and events in Ontario. 

So they started a Facebook group to connect women in the industry. 

“We invited the 10 or so women we knew in the sector at that time,” Rose said. “And since then, it’s just snowballed into more than 3,000 women all over the world.” 

Two women stand next to a sign with Rosie the Riveter holding an axe that says 'Women in Wood.'

Since then, they’ve hosted conversations for women and allies at forestry conferences, held webinars and been invited to speak to groups in the United Kingdom and South Korea, Rose said. 

Issues facing women in wood today

Robinson said one issue facing women in forestry in New Brunswick is properly fitting equipment, since most protective equipment is designed for a male body. 

She said gear designed for women is especially hard to find in New Brunswick, because there are fewer retailers where women can go and try things on than in other parts of the country.

Finding a solution to this issue is something she hopes the chapter can work on. 

A shot of two women holding a saw over a piece of wood.

The equipment issue is something the women, known as lumberjills, on the UNB Woodsman team have had to deal with.

“Most of the axes we have are engineered for men,” said Kristin Wilson, the team president. “And we need something a bit different, and they’re very costly, they’re about $600 to $800.” 

The lumberjills will be at the Women in Wood launch event to show off their skills and raise funds for a competition axe engineered for women.

Robinson hopes their demonstration will help inspire the next generation of women in wood.

This content was originally published here.