By Shelley White
How do you foster diversity and inclusion in an industry that’s not known for attracting women, youth, or Indigenous people?
“It’s about doing what’s right before worrying about the politics,” says Tanya Wick.
She has been described as someone who is not afraid to stand up for others and lead the change, even if it means creating some discomfort. That fearless, outspoken leadership style is just one reason that Tanya, as Vice President, People and Services for Tolko Industries, is transforming diversity and inclusion efforts not only at her company but across the forestry industry as well. The first woman executive in Tolko’s 64-year history, Tanya puts her high level of energy to work championing equality and making space for others to find their voice.
“I believe being frank about an issue is how you will solve it,” she says. “Change won’t happen if we are not honest about what the problem is and how it is manifesting.”
Since joining Tolko, a leading forest products company based in Vernon, B.C., ten years ago, Tanya has partnered with the company’s executive leadership and board of directors to shape and execute the organization’s strategic direction. She started the journey by looking at workforce planning numbers. “Before jumping into solutions, we wanted to understand our current environment,” says Tanya. “The metrics showed us that we needed to focus on some key groups: youth, Indigenous peoples, and women.”
She’s since led the creation of targeted initiatives to address the unique needs and barriers of each group, touching on everything from talent acquisition to management practices to creating and promoting a respectful work environment — one that fosters engagement and differing viewpoints.
“At Tolko, diversity and inclusion isn’t a side project, it’s embedded in our values-based culture,” explains Tanya, “meaning that each existing company value speaks to our D&I strategy — resulting in a workplace where all of our employees feel safe and respected.”
Her efforts to increase diversity in the company have had a measurable impact, significantly increasing generational, cultural and gender diversity among employees. In 2018, an independent audit noted that Tolko is “leading the charge within the forest sector” on gender equality; within their own company, there’s been a 30 per cent increase in female employees since 2016, and in 2019, 35 per cent of promotions were female.
“We have become known as leaders and as advocates for women in forestry and it has improved our culture,” Tanya says. “When we are hiring, candidates often say they applied and want to work for us because of our work in this area.”
To me, silence meant acceptance and there are so many things I didn’t want to accept. I believe in being an ally, and in fighting for the right for all of us to be treated equally.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan and with a degree in business, Tanya became passionate about human resources early in her career. With over 20 years of experience in HR under her belt, she says companies’ view of that role has changed over the years.
“When I started, people were not even on the agenda at business meetings — it was uptime, production, new capital spend.” Now, companies have embraced the idea that people are their most important assets, Tanya says, with the war for talent and movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter forcing companies to take meaningful action on diversity and inclusion mandates.
Tanya says that when she first joined Tolko, it could be challenging to find her voice in a mostly male environment. “It’s not that the other members of the leadership team made it purposely difficult for me, but there certainly was some adjusting to do.”
She recalls a round table that was meant to allow everyone to speak, and “as the only woman in the room, they skipped right over me.” At business meetings, Tanya says she was sometimes assumed to be a spouse of one of the executives, and was often spoken over or interrupted.
Over time, Tanya says she found her voice and gained her male colleagues’ support. It was then that she decided it was time to pave the way for other women in the industry.
“To me, silence meant acceptance and there are so many things I didn’t want to accept. I believe in being an ally, and in fighting for the right for all of us to be treated equally,” she says. “This is a big part of why I’ve chosen HR as a career — I want to support systems and structures where everyone is treated equitably and respectfully.”
To recruit more women, Tolko began by building awareness, Tanya says. One important key has been removing unconscious bias, which meant changing processes and behaviours to be more inclusive.
That started with the company making a statement of their intent when President and CEO, Brad Thorlakson, publicly signed the B.C. Minerva pledge, a commitment to gender parity. As well, a Women’s Steering Committee was created at Tolko to support the development and advancement of women.
There were also basic areas to address when it came to “people practices,” Tanya says. There were still locations throughout the company without women’s washrooms. A zero tolerance for harassment and bullying was reinforced, a pay review was conducted to ensure equity, and more flexible benefits were introduced for employees.
As well, a robust Leadership Impact for Women program was designed, for which Tolko won the 2019 Employer Initiative of the Year award from Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion (CCDI). In addition to providing training and coaching for female Tolko employees, the program includes a mentorship component — an undertaking close to Tanya’s heart. Coaching and empowering women to build full, rewarding careers has been a key priority throughout her work life. “I get energy from it,” she says.
Tanya is a big proponent of personal accessibility, connecting with colleagues and staff through blog posts, articles, speaking events and personal emails. Most recently, she has been exploring how to further encourage industry leaders in driving diversity and inclusion.
While she is proud of the impact she has had on Tolko and the forestry industry in general, Tanya says she’s not nearly done yet.
“I want to ensure leaders understand the value proposition for diversity and inclusion in their companies and communities,” she says. “I know what it feels like to have no one stand up for you, and I want to make it easier for women and other marginalized groups in the industry.”