A reflection on women in the Paper and Wood products industry

by: Barbara Riley.

A reflection on women in the Paper and Wood products industry
AF&PA President & CEO, Donna Harman.

The month of March is dedicated to the celebration of women and the remarkable contributions they make to our world. In that regard we thought it would be fitting to honor the many women throughout the paper and wood products industry.

To start us off, we interviewed one of our very own, AF&PA President & CEO, Donna Harman, whose steady leadership has made our association what it is today. Now on the verge of retirement, she reflects on her journey navigating this industry and offers advice both to emerging female leaders within the industry, and those looking to join it.

What drove you to join the paper and wood products industry?

I joined the paper and wood products industry in 1989 working as a Washington Representative for Champion International Corporation. Champion owned timberland, and I was attracted to the industry because of its many products made from renewable natural resources. The industry was in the early stages of its sustainable forestry initiatives and showed great potential to be part of the solution to economic, social and environmental problems. The industry provided (and still does) family wage jobs across the country, and Champion had a strong commitment to the local communities where it operated. The range of issues I worked on was vast. I started with business and legal issues like tax, trade, human resources and litigation-related issues such as class action lawsuit reforms. Eventually, I learned more about the environmental and forestry issues, including endangered species act reforms.

In your time at AF&PA, what was the most interesting issue you worked on?

I’ve worked on many interesting issues and watched the industry evolve in its business structure and focus. Some of the most interesting issues have revolved around the way the industry continuously improves its efficiency and use of raw materials and energy. In 2009, the global financial crisis hit all industry, including ours. The work we did to ensure that renewable energy tax credits earned by the industry, were not retroactively terminated. The industry remained united and the tax credits provided important capital for investments that helped the economic recovery.

The most important?

One of the initiatives I’m most proud of is the Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 program. I think it gave the industry a platform to speak with one voice about our industry’s commitment to sustainability. Sustainability is at the foundation of all we do, and the industry’s commitment and actions often are overlooked. You’ll never please all the people all the time, but the effort we’ve made is real, it is quantifiable, and we have demonstrated evidence of progress in positive contributions to society in a way that makes sense for business and the people who use our products. Another major initiative was the launch of the Paper and Packaging Board’s product promotion program.  The program is showing progress in getting out the message about the positive attributes of our products to a key set of consumers who use our products every day.

What excites you about the industry?

The industry is incredibly responsive to market dynamics. Our companies are innovating, creating new applications for products in response to market demands and constantly changing. This gives me great confidence that the industry has a bright future ahead.

What advice do you have for women who want to get involved in the paper and wood products industry?

Just do it! This is a great industry, and there is a lot of opportunity for increased diversity in the industry workforce.  There have been several women leaders emerge in the corporate ranks in the past several years in companies of all sizes. Still, there is much work to be done to have more women at all levels of our workforce, including at the top.  Companies recognize the importance of a diverse workforce, and many are taking actions to support more diversity. It is a necessity for the industry because we need more people in our workforce, and women are an underrepresented segment.

Why do you think women should get involved?

Women are big users of the industry’s products, and they should have a role in the future of the industry they support with their spending habits.


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