Advocating for change: Q&A with Kate Lindsay, VP sustainability at FPAC
By Kristina Urquhart
Kate Lindsay is the vice-president, sustainability and environmental partnerships at the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC).
Pulp & Paper Canada talked to Lindsay and several other women working in the pulp, paper and forestry sector for a weeklong series to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. In her Q&A below, Lindsay tells us how an early interest in the forest led to her career as a biologist-turned-forestry executive.
Who: Kate Lindsay
Role: Vice-president, sustainability and environmental partnerships
Employer: Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC)
Lives in: Ottawa, Ont.
Years in industry: 14
Pulp & Paper Canada: What is your role as the vice-president, sustainability and environmental partnerships at FPAC?
Kate Lindsay: I primarily focus on forest management files, but also the sector as a whole around sustainability issues and pieces of legislation that interact with sustainable forest management, like the Species at Risk Act, the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
I work directly with the government, so I’m on a couple of advisory committees and panels. I’ve been appointed by the minister to provide a forestry perspective on implementing those pieces of legislation. And then I also work directly with [FPAC] members to make sure that they’re aware of the legislation and how it applies to them. I also work on some of the more proactive files around conservation.
PPC: What’s the most exciting thing that you’re working on right now?
KL: I’m a biologist by training. I’ve been on the ground and I’ve worked in the forest on understanding the different values that need to be managed and the different regulations that apply. What I find exciting in my role at FPAC now is having those conversations with the government to try to help them understand the practical application of policy.
I like helping to advocate for the proactive stewardship that forest managers and biologists and ecologists employed in the industry do every day. It’s a really interesting time with climate change and the uncertainty of what’s coming in the future. So [I enjoy] helping forest managers have the right tools to make decisions and to build resiliency. And promoting things like safety in the communities – how to mitigate forest fires and test outbreaks.
PPC: Are there misconceptions about the forest products sector in Canada?
KL: Absolutely. That’s probably what I spend most of my time doing, helping to build that awareness – within the government, within the general public, within the conservation community – around what the stewardship culture is within the forest sector, and how we can help demonstrate that moving forward. We’ve done a really good job in the past with forest certification. But we’re always going to have to continue to find ways to build that awareness and share that information in a credible way.
PPC: What are some ways you’ve been sharing that information?
KL: Last year, we hosted a climate change workshop and invited members of government and the conservation community to learn about what different forest products companies are doing around climate change. I think that is one of our best stories to tell – the use of forest products in a way that mitigates climate change and the opportunity to build that adaptation into forest management.
One of the best ways to build awareness is to get people out into the woods. There still seems to be an interest in having a tour – bringing people out, flying them over forest management areas. One of our biggest files right now is on the boreal and southern mountain caribou. So actually bringing folks out into the field and saying, “This is how we make decisions. This is how we are planning for this species and managing all these values at once.”
PPC: You started on the science side. What drew you to a career in the forest sector?
KL: My father worked in the forest industry; my grandmother worked in forest industry. I grew up being close to the forest and spending a lot of time in the forest. My dad was also a biologist. So I feel fortunate that I got to go out and do lots of really interesting things, studying species at risk and doing research. I did explore other options as career paths but I always came back to biology and its application in the forest sector. I worked in different summer jobs. I worked for the Canadian Forest Service doing research on different tree paths. I also tree planted. When I graduated, it was just a natural fit to go into the sector. I worked out west on the coast for a few years, and then I moved to Ottawa and found a job at FPAC.
PPC: Why is connecting with other women in the industry, like through the Women Succeeding in Forestry LinkedIn group [started by Tanya Wick, VP people and services at Tolko] important to you?
KL: It’s an opportunity for women who are in the sector to build a network. There are lots of different resources that are being shared. I think women have the opportunity to see there are lots of other women that are also in the sector who are perhaps experiencing either similar challenges or opportunities. It’s an opportunity to have a discussion forum and share information.
PPC: Did you find you had any challenges as you started your career, being a woman in the industry?
KL: I’ve thought about this a lot. I think I was lucky because I grew up doing a lot of the work. I was fortunate to have my dad in the industry – having that internal champion is really important, and I always felt like I could do anything that a guy could do in the sector.
I did come across different situations that made me realize that there were not many women in the sector. I used to work at a logging camp, and when I first arrived to work – you know, everyone was very friendly but they had never had a woman in the camp before, so they gave me my own bunkhouse. They weren’t quite sure how to deal with me. But I haven’t experienced any harsh criticism. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had champions. I think that’s really important to have organizational champions or mentors or bosses who support you.
PPC: Throughout your career, how have you seen the gender dynamics change?
KL: There is still very much a lack of women in senior leadership roles, which I think is fairly common in a lot of executive positions regardless of sector. But I am obviously paying attention more and it’s something that’s on my mind all of the time – looking to see if there continues to be biases or challenges for women to succeed. I’ve noticed that there are more women, women that I definitely have a lot respect for, who are leading organizations – Kathy Abusow at SFI, and Beth MacNeil at the Canadian Forest Service. It’s just really nice to see and hopefully we’ll have more of that going forward.
FPAC recently launched the Take Your Place campaign [promoting women, Indigenous peoples and new Canadians in the industry]. A couple of our staff members are also part of the Canadian Institute of Forestry’s initiative around gender diversity in the forest sector. It’s an exciting time and there is a lot going on. The work that Tolko and Tanya Wick and a number of other companies are doing is excellent. We’re definitely on a path to encourage more diversity in the sector.
PPC: What advice would you give to someone, especially a female, thinking about a career in the forestry sector?
KL: I would encourage them to pursue what they’re passionate about and I would hope that they feel there are inclusive policies wherever they go, and that there are no barriers. There are many opportunities and I would hope that anyone feels that they could pursue a career and a path in the forestry sector.
If there are young students – particularly female students – entering either an education or a career in the forest sector, I would encourage them to reach out, because there are lots of women who are willing to be mentors and provide a perspective and answer questions. There are also a lot of men in the sector who are becoming more aware of the biases there have been in the past, and who are very supportive of gender diversity moving forward.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry project celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow on social media with the hashtags: #WomeninForestry as well as #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual.