Seat at the table: Q&A with Canfor senior VP Katy Player
By Maria Church
Katy Player, Canfor’s senior vice-president of people, is tasked with the employee experience at the B.C. forestry company, and that includes strategies to recruit, retain and advance women and people with diverse backgrounds. Her seat at the executive table is an important reflection of the industry’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are making significant strides, Katy says, but there’s a lot more to do to make forestry a first choice for underrepresented groups.
CFI: What was your career path that led you to a senior leadership position with Canfor?
I’ve had a more non-traditional career path. I started in the sports industry. I pursued a an undergraduate in communications and then a master’s degree in sports management. I was playing a lot of sports growing up and I thought that, if I could make a career out of this, I would be very fulfilled. As I got into my later 20s, I realized that it wasn’t as fun being on the sidelines.
But what I really loved about my work was the people and ability to drive teams to stronger performance ¬– not just on the field but also in in the meeting rooms. So that’s when I made the switch in my early 30s into HR.
My mom had actually worked for the BC Council of Forest Industries in the 70s and she spoke so fondly of, not only the industry, but also the leaders in it. In 2014, I saw a job posting come up from Canfor and – being born and raised in B.C., the Canfor brand is so iconic – so I said I really have to apply for this job. I was fortunate to be brought into Canfor at that time as a director of learning and leadership development.
I progressed through a couple of HR roles here before being asked to take on the vice-president job and was promoted about a year ago to senior vice-president, people. As the senior VP of people, I have the privilege of working with a fantastic team of HR leaders who look after everything from day-to-day HR in our businesses to corporately looking after our talent acquisition and talent development, learning, leadership development, employee experience and all the facets that make life at Canfor enjoyable, right from pre-hire through to retirement.
Highlights so far?
Definitely growing with all of my Canfor colleagues, but particularly my HR team and the executive team, through the pandemic. Just the resiliency needed and the ingenuity needed, I’ve especially come to admire and appreciate our frontline team beyond words. They’ve continued to come to work with so much dedication for our customers and are getting things done by being a lot more creative than we’ve ever had to be.
What do you enjoy about your job in the forest industry?
I’ve worked now in several different industries – energy, real estate, local government and post-secondary – so I know I am super fond of the forest industry.
It’s the genuineness of our people and the fact that you can’t go anywhere in forestry and not meet people who are generally from smaller towns, very connected, stewards of their communities, and just down-to-earth, hardworking people who are so humble. Those are my kind of people and it makes it exceptionally enjoyable.
Do you find there are certain challenges or hurdles for women to advance in the industry, or in executive positions?
It’s a question that we wrestle with a lot. I think we have a few things working against us, and probably a lot of perceptions around the industry that are just no longer true.
When I look at our percentages here at Canfor, we’re still only seeing about 13 per cent women out of 8,000 employees. I am happy to say it’s moving in the right direction, but that’s not without a lot of focused effort. I think there’s a bunch of things we need to do differently around how we promote the industry.
I think the mills themselves and production teams would warmly welcome y more women, but we’re not exactly known for our flexible work environments. So there’s some structural things about the work itself that we need to take a hard look at. But the inclusive attitudes, I do think we’ve made great strides there and I am excited to see what’s going to come from the focus on that.
What can companies do to attract and support women or other people with diverse backgrounds and to advance them into leadership?
Our diversity council is helping guide us through what they think it will take in practical terms, which has been so fantastic. What we hear from them is to continue the focus on training to highlight bias and the hurdles. We all know what the research supports in terms of organizations being stronger when we have a more diverse set of views around the table.
The mentorship programs we offer are also super important and we’ve had a lot of success with this. I would not be in the position I am today without the sponsors that I have had, and that includes both women sponsors as well as men.
We are very deliberate too about how we look at the talent opportunities. Everyone needs to have a bit more rigor around the selection processes when they are hiring from the outside or promoting or putting someone into a leadership program or deciding who should go to that conference or on that business trip or on the tour with the CEO. We have stopped and thought , hey, are we considering the entire population here? We are deliberate about making sure we’re inclusive and having diverse representation.
What advice do you have for women starting out in forestry and looking to climb the executive ladder?
It’s probably the same advice for women and men, whether you’re from a diverse background or not: If you are looking to progress in your career it’s really going to come down to letting your work speak for itself.
I think our work can advocate for itself. That is not to say we shouldn’t stand up for ourselves and make sure we’re putting ourselves forward for opportunities, but make sure you’re focused on delivering on the job you have today and the rest, I do believe, takes care of itself. When your work stands out, it’s hard to ignore no matter what your background.
Also, relationships are key. Our industry is especially relationship focused – that is what I love about it. Make the effort to go build genuine, non-transactional relationships with folks in your company or at industry events like the summit coming up. These are all fantastic opportunities for folks to network and build genuine connections that are going to really help you advance, and to find out about opportunities you probably never otherwise would have.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtags: #WomeninForestry, #IWD2022 and #BreaktheBias.
Remember to join us for the Women in Forestry Virtual Summit on Mar. 8 at 11 am ET/8 am PT! It’s FREE to register. Sign up now!