Diversity makes us stronger.  Whether we’re talking about age, race, culture, or gender, diversity enriches our organization by introducing different perspectives, experiences, skills, and interests.  Unfortunately, in our industry, diversity, particularly gender diversity, is often lacking.  For nearly 200 years, men have outnumbered women by large margins in the PNW forest products sector. Today women still only make up 12% of Hampton’s workforce.

While we’ve made strides in increasing diversity as a company and as an industry we still have a long way to go.  Despite making up half the population, only 21% of forestry jobs in the U.S. are held by women.  The gender gap is even more pronounced when you look at fields that support wood manufacturing.  For example, nation-wide only 7% of mechanical engineers are women.

Why is this a problem for Hampton? We struggle to find qualified people on a daily basis.  I think part of that struggle is due to a lack of awareness about the good jobs available in our industry and the fact that a huge segment of the population (women) for one reason or another, isn’t applying. This gender gap isn’t good for our communities and it’s not good for business.

So how do we fix this?  First, there’s a stigma we need to shake.  People think sawmills are loud and dirty. Okay, fair enough.  We’re not exactly making micro-processers.  All natural resource industries involve a bit of mess and with all due respect to our seafood processing friends, I’d take the smell of Doug fir over rockfish any day.  But there’s another, perhaps more damaging misconception; that the physical nature of sawmills makes men better suited for the work.  Not true.  Not only have women proven themselves to be equal to the task of our most demanding jobs, but over the years we’ve seen a dramatic shift in how sawmills function. Machinery and electronics play a much larger role in our operations than they did decades ago, serving as a great equalizer to work that was traditionally very physical.

Thankfully, there have been a lot of positive developments that bode well for the future.  Career and technical education is experiencing a rebirth in our school systems and all students (boys and girls) have opportunities to participate.  Here at Hampton, after more than 70 years in business, last year we promoted our first female mill manager and our recruitment team is working hard to reach out to girls and women in the trades to raise awareness about employment opportunities.  My daughter is currently pursuing a degree in engineering, and as a father, I hope someday she might even consider working in the natural resource industry.

The more we raise awareness about our industry, our values, and opportunities, the more successful we’ll be at developing a more diverse workforce and the stronger we’ll be as a company.

Steve Zika, CEO
Hampton Lumber