President’s view: Q&A with Fibreco’s Megan Owen-Evans
By Maria Church
Megan Owen-Evans credits her tenacity when she considers how she climbed the management ladder in the world of B.C.’s export terminals. Now president of B.C.-owned Fibreco Export Inc., one of the largest wood biomass handling terminals in the world, she’s helping bring more diversity to the Vancouver waterfront, co-chairing a DEI council and taking a hard look at hiring practices and workplace policies.
CB: What led you to a career in terminal operations and then to your current role as president of Fibreco?
Megan: I started on the waterfront in the Port of Vancouver in 1997 as a general labourer at Cascadia grain terminal. I think it was my dad that encouraged me to apply. I was 24. I progressed my way through the various union positions. I really didn’t think it would be my long-term career, but then I realized there was a fair bit that I could learn, and I eventually saw the opportunities to make a move into management. I applied to different supervisor roles and, in 2007, I got an operations supervisor job at Pacific, a different terminal in the port also owned by my employer. I was then given the opportunity to go back to school and got my business degree. Upon completion, I was moved into the operations manager role. In 2016 I was promoted to the general manager role back at Cascadia. I was in that position for three and a half years before being approached by Fibreco for this role.
I had 23 years of experience, always in the grain industry, so it was appealing to me to delve into a different field and try something new. I felt at that point, I’m in my 40s, if I’m going to make a move it was a good time to do so. After meeting with the Fibreco Board, I felt our values were all really aligned. I really liked that I would be working for a business and shareholders that are B.C., family-owned forestry businesses.
CB: What is involved in your role? Highlights?
It encompasses a great deal. My primary areas of focus would be strategy, customer relations and business development, but I’m involved at a higher level with really all aspects of the business, from finance to operations.
If I were to talk highlights, I really love my team and I think if you work with the right people that it all really falls into place. Right now we’re at a really exciting point in Fibreco’s history. Our shareholders are really keen to grow and diversify the business so we’re delving into a lot of business development right now.
I love that the products that we handle are sustainable and that wood pellets are a carbon neutral energy form. I’d love to see that part of the business grow.
CB: Do you find there are certain challenges or hurdles for women to advance in male-dominated industries, particularly into executive positions?
I think that there are still hurdles in place because otherwise there would be a lot more women in these industries. When I started, I was one of very few females. There were definitely inappropriate things in the workplace – pictures on walls in offices and things like that – it was very male-dominated.
The way I was raised, I never allowed anyone to treat me like I didn’t belong there. I was pretty confident in myself and I wasn’t easily offended. I had taken the view back then – even though we know now that’s not right – I’m choosing to work in this environment and I’ll just go with it. We know now that shouldn’t be the case and that people shouldn’t be put in those positions.
I will say, I never felt I was being blocked from opportunities because of my gender. I was very fortunate to have male mentors throughout my career that really helped me to develop and grow, gave me the opportunity to go back and get my business degree, and promoted my abilities to head office. My mentors gave me that exposure. I know that’s not the reality for a lot of people. But I’m fairly tenacious. If I saw something I wanted I kept going for it. That was my experience.
I know there’s still a great deal of underrepresentation of females on boards and in executive positions so there’s a lot of work to do. Today there are two female presidents in the Port of Vancouver export terminals. We’re not where we need to be, but it’s starting from the ground level to affect change.
I’m a co-chair of the Waterfront Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council, an initiative of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, with a goal to try and change that culture. They recognize that the waterfront has a ways to go in brining DEI to the forefront.
CB: What can companies do to attract and support women and to advance them into leadership?
First and foremost, we need to make sure we have an environment that’s welcoming for everyone, all underrepresented peoples. And that ensures there are practices and policies that don’t allow for harassment or discrimination. There should be very clear values in a workplace. Leadership needs to ensure there’s an environment where DEI is a must and it’s engrained into the culture.
If possible, female mentorship should be available for women looking to advance. It’s not always possible and I’m proof that male mentors can be an amazing support system. But recognizing that it can be a more difficult leap for women, knowing that you have somebody and a support network can be huge. It also starts with educating people about the opportunities that are available. There’s a lot of different opportunities in these industries that people aren’t aware of.
CB: What advice do you have for women starting out in forestry and looking to climb the executive ladder?
First and foremost is believe in yourself. Take whatever assistance you can get in advancing your career, whether that’s training and development, mentorship and coaching, cross training. When I look back on my career, there were things that didn’t seem relevant, but I took every course offered to me. I took every bit of training and learned every job. It ultimately made me more well-rounded and it was apparent to my higherups that I was willing to put in the work. A willingness to learn and take things on gets people’s attention.
Let others know of your aspirations. Go up to someone higher up that you admire and say, ‘I want your job someday. What do you suggest I need to do to get there.’ It does two things: one, they’ll probably give you great advice. And two, you’re on their radar now. That person doesn’t have to be in your industry. If there’s a woman you know and admire in another industry, go to them too.
Don’t let failure get in your way. I was turned down for an operations supervisor job a number of times before I was successful. I kept applying and ultimately was offered two jobs in one day. Put yourself out there. It won’t be easy, but if you keep at it, you’ll get there.
When you look at Fibreco, the ownership here is B.C.-owned family forestry business that would have been very much the “Boy’s Club” back in the day. Clearly walls are being broken down because it wasn’t a factor in the decision to hire me. To see that progress and willingness to change makes me hopeful for the waterfront as a whole, and other traditionally male-dominated sectors.
This article is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series, an annual celebration of women in the industry. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtag: #WomeninForestry.
Remember to join us for the Women in Forestry Virtual Summit on Mar. 7 at 11 am ET/8 am PT! It’s FREE to register. Sign up now!