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WMC Women's Mentorship Program

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email rlipman@wmc-cfb.ca
The Wood Manufacturing Council, in partnership with industry stakeholders, was pleased to create our mentorship program for women, aimed at increasing opportunities for the advancement of women within the woodworking industry.  
Women are in the minority in our sector. Opportunities for long and satisfying careers exist for women and we want them to stay in our industry and to flourish. However, we understand at times women could feel challenged, isolated or simply in need of guidance and counsel from other women who have experienced similar career paths, issues and/or who have significant life and work experience to share. This is often true in, but not limited to, the first year or two of employment. A mentor can help mentees through challenging times and circumstances or they can simply provide such things as inspiration, knowledge, insight, guidance, support or encouragement. Mentors can support women in their learning, development and advancement.  
WMC’s mentorship program has two distinct recruitment streams. The first targets women who have recently completed or are in the process of completing post-secondary studies in wood processing and related courses. The second stream targets women currently working in production positions in the woodworking industry. The ultimate goal is to have the mentorship program available to everyone in the industry (production and non-production employees); however, our current concentration is on production workers.     
Mentorship is a proven beneficial relationship that has been used by many accomplished people. Mentor-mentee relationships are confidential and the term of the formal mentorship in our program is one year - but the relationship could last a lifetime. Many of our initial mentors are company and trades people, with experiences and skills that can provide guidance, support and encouragement to mentees. Being a mentor provides a unique opportunity to create and influence positive change for our industry as well as develop a supportive environment for women in the woodworking sector.
WMC is inviting women interested in having a mentor and women who wish to become mentors to apply today. For more information or registration information, visit http://mentorship.wmc-cfb.ca or contact us at wmc@wmc-cfb.ca
How did we get here and what did we learn? When we started this process, based on the anecdotal evidence we had, we felt certain that a mentorship program for women could make a real positive contribution in our sector. In travelling across the country for many years, visiting manufacturers, we know that the number of women in our sector is low relative to men. At the same time, we receive tremendous feedback from employers about the contributions they get from their female employees and how much they are valued. Over time, our labour market studies have strongly recommended that the woodworking sector look beyond its traditional recruiting audiences, suggesting that we could help reduce the labour shortages in our industries by securing even a 10 per cent increase in the number of women that participate in our labour force.   
During the program development, we discovered that women who have joined our sector and have stayed for a while are often very satisfied with their careers and the opportunities that have been available to them. However, based on our research and talking to sector stakeholders and to our key volunteers, a distinction emerged between the environment on the office side of business and that of the plant floor. In most instances, women are by far in the minority on the plant floor, while we find a significantly higher percentage of women in the management, administration and design functions of our businesses.   
Armed with this research, a steering committee, comprised of women from manufacturing companies, educational institutes and trade associations was formed to oversee this initiative. It included individuals who manage women in the workforce, who have experience with mentorship programs for women in non-traditional trades and women who have been involved in woodworking and carpentry/construction trades, where they have directly experienced the challenges and the isolation that this program is trying to assist with. They acknowledged the fact that the plant floor is potentially the toughest environment for women and they felt strongly that the first step of advancement is that individuals remain in our workforce – that someone stays in our industry to advance through the early years and goes on to join the group of women that are so satisfied to be in woodworking.
Our steering committee was an impressive, concerned and committed group.  
In thoroughly discussing the research and considering their own experiences and observations from the workplace, they selected a promising mentorship model and we undertook a pilot project to implement it. The ultimate goal was to establish a sustainable mentorship program for our industry and to share the knowledge we gained throughout the advanced wood-processing sector.  
We undertook a formal review of the pilot and discovered some good things. It found that the model selected was appropriate for the needs of the sector. It responded to the issues raised by women during the research and addressed some key structural factors faced by the sector, namely that women are spread out, mainly located in small firms, sometimes in remote locations and in positions where women are underrepresented and could be isolated. The program was found to be relevant to program participants and offers the potential to contribute to overcoming gender-related barriers that can make it difficult to recruit, retain and advance women in the sector. It is clear from this review that the mentoring relationship has been positive and useful both for those who participated as mentors and mentees.

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