In a series of blogs to celebrate International Women's Day 2021, members of staff share their stories of working in the forestry sector.
My name is Samantha Pollock and I am the Head of Future Woodland Creation Incentives. I lead a growing team that manages and develops a range of incentives for landowners, to encourage sustainable woodland creation and other activities.
I haven’t been in forestry for very long, but it already feels like home. Before I joined the Forestry Commission in 2016, I was completing a PhD in the philosophy of mathematics, teaching undergraduate students and, with a good friend, running a philosophy programme for adults in the community who were moving on from chaotic circumstances like drug addiction.
Joining the Forestry Commission was one of those lovely, random turns in life that just happens to end so well that you can’t believe it almost never happened. As part of my PhD programme, I spent three months seconded to the Scottish Parliament, writing policy research briefings on land use issues and other environmental topics. I caught the bug, returned home and realised that the Forestry Commission was not only looking for staff but located within a 20 minute cycle of home. It felt like fate.
I started as an Incentives Project Officer, tasked with making sure that our work on Countryside Stewardship ran as smoothly as possible. From there, I went on to take a role as an Incentives Development Manager in the exciting new world of woodland creation grants funded by the Exchequer. This was at the point when woodland creation was really rising up the agenda in Government, and it was so exciting to help set up the HS2 Woodland Fund and drive the Woodland Creation Planning Grant and Woodland Carbon Fund forward.
After that, I took on a team leadership position covering parental leave, and last August I started in my current role. With my fantastic team of colleagues, I’m now looking ahead to shifting gears on our work managing and developing new incentives. Big things are coming for us and the rest of the Forestry Commission and I feel so lucky to be right here, right now.
It’s been a whirlwind and I have no doubt that, whilst I’ve put my all in over the last five years, without the support of the Forestry Commission family I probably would not have believed that I was capable of progressing my career like I have. Not only that, but I’ve learned such a huge amount from my colleagues whose knowledge, experience, and passion for what they do knows no bounds. We work really hard to meet the needs of both Ministers and our sector, with never a dull day in service of sustainable forestry.
Over my working life I’m pleased to say I’ve never felt seriously discriminated against, but there were always the comments from students that “women can’t teach technical subjects as well as men”, or older male colleagues’ offhand suggestions that “the girls will sort the catering”. It can be difficult to challenge these behaviours in the moment, for fear of feeding into other negative stereotypes like the bossy woman who can’t take a joke.
So, what have I learned on this year’s International Women’s Day theme of ‘choose to challenge’? The main thing is that there are ways and means to challenge, direct and indirect. There are also people around you – wherever you are – who are allies. Seek them out, but also allow others to change their minds. We can work together to change those minds by being visible and by reinforcing what we know about ourselves and the women around us: that we and they are just as capable, just as great to work with and just as much an asset to whatever our organisation or field.
And finally, when it comes to challenging misconceptions about women in forestry there’s one more thing: you don’t have to work with a chainsaw to be a woman in forestry. Sustainable forestry needs women in all sorts of roles. Of course, the real magic happens in the field (or in the woodland), which Cora and Sarah's great blogs shows us, but there is also a huge amount going on behind the scenes and elsewhere that allows for the magic to take place.
Women are and should be included in all parts of the mission to protect, improve and expand England’s woodland resource for the future. I’m proud that the Forestry Commission is changing and leading in this regard.