Forging a Path: Women's Forest Congress

The Women’s Forest Congress (WFC) is a gathering of women throughout the forest space brought together by a shared desire to connect and collaborate.

What is the Women’s Forest Congress?

The Women’s Forest Congress (WFC) is a gathering of women throughout the forest space brought together by a shared desire to connect and collaborate. It is a forum to share experiences, discuss big ideas and potential innovations to make profound impacts on the future of forestry. According to its website, the WFC “is an open and inclusive group – trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming participants are welcome, as are women of all ages, perspectives, cultural backgrounds, professional levels, abilities, and education.”

Assistant Professor Asia Dowtin, Forest Carbon and Climate Program Director Lauren Cooper, and doctoral student Jasmine K. Brown all represent MSU Forestry on the WFC Steering Committee.

“It’s an honor to serve on the Women’s Forest Congress Steering Committee for many reasons. I have enjoyed being able to see this transform from an idea into a movement with global scale impact, and getting to know and learn from the myriad women that have joined the community as it expands,” said Dowtin.

“Standing on the shoulders of many people who have fought for equality, respect, and opportunity for women in the office and in the field, we see an opportunity to advance that ongoing transformation by building empowering and inclusive work environments in the near and further future,” said Cooper.

How did it all begin?

The forestry sector, historically, has been a male-dominated profession. This has left women underrepresented, undervalued, and underappreciated. It has limited the growth of the field, lacking in perspectives and insights from women forestry professionals, landowners, and enthusiasts. 

Recognizing a need for change, the Women’s Forest Congress began as a side discussion at a conference in 2019. Initially consisting of a handful of women, the small group quickly realized there was a need for something much bigger. 

With momentum building and clear interest from women across the forest community, a steering committee of nine women was established, and later working groups were formed, recognizing a need for more people to guide and to continue the movement.

The WFC has already had three major events, despite the pandemic. Sixty-five women throughout the forest sector in the United States and Canada, crossing academia, industry, state, federal and municipal governments, and urban forestry participated in the first event – a planning summit held in July 2020. Select professionals were brought together to explore what the WFC should define as focal challenges, how to approach these challenges, and what it aims to accomplish.

This successful event led to a series of working groups, which meet monthly online. March 2021 marked the congress’s first open event, which was held online on International Women’s Day and drew more than 500 participants, including international attendees. The second event was held in June, during National Get Outdoors Month, and was also well attended, again drawing a U.S. and international audience, this time incorporating more accessible features. 

“Being a part of this group represents the power of community, and the progress that can be made when diversity in culture, race, expertise, and perspective are welcomed, celebrated, and included in plans for advancement of a cause,” said Dowtin.

What’s next?

As far as hopes for the future of the Congress, Dowtin is striving for impactful action and community building that shift the culture within the forestry sector and create a space in which future generations of women forestry professionals and enthusiasts are encouraged to join and remain in this field.

“This Congress began as an attempt to create a space where women can come together and feel safe sharing their experiences and is morphing into something more; a place where women can enact change,” said Dowtin.

The Women’s Forest Congress will hold additional virtual meetings in the second half of 2021 and the early part of 2022 and hopes to hold the Inaugural Women’s Forest Congress both in-person and online during the second half of 2022.

To learn more about the WFC, visit www.womensforestcongress.org, follow WFC on social media: LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, or email info@womensforestcongress.org. 

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