Celebrating International Women’s Day 2024

Inspiring Inclusion: Celebrating the diversity of feminine identities of Tilhill’s Female Professionals

A collaborative blog by Claire, Cerys, Gemma, Lucy, Nicola, Olivia, and Paige.


Image: Tilhill staff striking the International Women’s Day #InspireInclusion pose


By Claire, Assistant Forest Manager

This time last year I was eagerly making the finishing touches to my Tilhill graduate application. Spread across the kitchen table next to my laptop lay a sea of industry marketing brochures and recruiters’ leaflets. One stood out prominently front and centre that read Tilhill Graduate Programme’. The laptop held the evidence from many months of re-education, research, and due diligence, with colourfully highlighted lists of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’.

In considering such a dramatic career change I attempted to systematically consider every detail. Even down to swapping the warmth of a hospital ward for a cold forest compartment; changing heels and dresses for steal toe-capped boots and a hard-hat; and shifting a diagnostic focus from brains to trees. Reviewing the merits of this monumental change in my life had been a structured and logical task that had gained a routine familiarity.

The cursor hovered over the send button, waiting ever patiently for my final instruction to click and release. But something told me to pause, steer through the logic, and focus on a feeling that had gnawed away at me for some time. I’d chosen to ignore it for a while, but now that submission day had arrived, it was my last opportunity to finally put any doubt to rest.

So, for the last time I allowed myself to wander into a space of reflection. Staring through the kitchen window, I could just about make out the spruce forest peering through the puffs of cloud on the distant high ground. I tried to see myself there, reimagined as both Forestry Professional- brash in my hair and mud on my face, and also a feminine woman wearing pink lip gloss, cheek tint, and a delicious perfume. I just couldn’t conjure this incongruent image in my mind, and it concerned me.

Eventually, after some teasing out, I realised that I was experiencing feelings of doubt over the acceptability of living my new professional life within the confines of a subverted stereotype. This is where the a) ‘girly’ woman trope blends with the uber masculine forester trope, and results in a conceptual outcome that challenges our unconscious expectations (biases).

I needed to discover if it was possible to redefine myself in the context of these two major stereotypes. Can I be a Forester whilst simultaneously clinging to my feminine identity which aligns to my enjoyment of manicures, baking, musicals, make-up, and… [insert ‘girly’ stereotypical activity here]? I was, to some extent, dealing with my own internal biases, but they had been formed through past experiences, and influential societal factors. For instance, when a woman discloses during conversation that she works in healthcare, it is still commonplace for people to assume that she is a Nurse, Auxiliary assistant, or Administrator, rather than a Doctor.

To meet my doubts head on, I looked to the Tilhill website and spent time exploring the profiles of women working in various roles across the business.  Their expressed diversity, confidence, and professionalism inspired me to cast the doubt aside, and embrace a new unique image of myself as both feminine and Forestry Professional. It was the power of that inspiration that enabled me to confidently submit my application! So, to the Tilhill Women Professionals who helped me overcome my doubt – thank-you! This blog is a tribute to you.

Claire at the Agroforestry show in September 2023

The good news is that Tilhill’s 2023 graduate intake saw the highest number of aspiring women forestry professionals than in any previous year. Throughout history, women have never doubted their ability to take-on traditionally male-dominated roles, but there will be others like me, who at some point, will feel doubt in their ability to reimagine themselves as a Forestry Professional.

So, whilst there’s much for us to celebrate on International Women’s Day 2024, it’s critical that each of us acknowledges there’s more work to be done. Indeed, there is global recognition for the pervasive need to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls as outlined in UN Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Inspire Inclusion’, and it is in recognition of this that I invited a small sample of strong, confident, and professional Tilhill women to contribute to this blog. It was Tilhill’s professional women that inspired my inclusion, and so I wanted to know who inspires them, and what helps to define their unique feminine identity as a Tilhill professional.

Here’s what they had to say.

By Cerys, Regional Business Support

Cerys Lowe and Forest Manager Emyr Parker introducing UK forestry to the year 9’s and upwards in Ysgol Godre’r Berwyn, Bala.

I have witnessed a hugely positive change in attitudes towards women, and how their contribution across the business is greatly valued, both within office and forestry roles.

Since my first day at Tilhill back in 2001, my role often felt confined to a narrow range of stereotypical administrative duties like typing letters, making the tea, and ensuring I was presentable and friendly to welcome clients to the office. Whilst I could do all these things easily, I always felt capable of stepping outside this narrow range of expectations and contributing so much more.

Today it’s a completely different work experience for me. I am a valued member of my team, and I contribute towards a range of tasks that extend beyond the limited duties typically associated with the stereotyped administrative role. Irrespective of gender or status, everyone takes a turn to make the tea, I am always asked for my opinion, and I carry out site visits. Importantly, there is greater awareness of women’s health issues, such as the perimenopause, and I have welcomed the opportunity to discuss and exchange varied experiences with colleagues, including male Forest Managers. Taken collectively, these changes over time have given me a workplace where I feel confident to leave behind the narrow-stereotyped expectations of the past, and instead feel valued on the basis of my abilities and contributions.

By Gemma, Regional Business Support Manager

Quote from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Huffington Post

For me, International Women’s Day is about championing every woman, how we all face gender inequality in our daily lives, and the global need to challenge female stereotypes and advance the status of women.

My profession is stereotypically a ‘female’ one – one that is still sometimes associated with subservient women typing away unthinkingly, and at the beck and call of their male ‘superiors’. Many fail to recognise that Administration is a skilled and professional role, not just an activity ‘to get women out of the house’ (a bias still held by some!). I challenge any prejudice by reminding people that we no longer live in the 1950’s, and that modern Administrators contribute so much more to the success of a business!

I’m inspired by female activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; an American Democratic Socialist who uses her power to eloquently call-out inequality, including misogyny, and to promote positive collective change. Ocasio-Cortez’s refusal to be silenced about issues such as cultural sexism demonstrates her commitment to female empowerment, and for that I deeply admire her.

By Lucy, Assistant Forest Manager

Assistant Forest Manager, Lucy Marsden with her dog,

As a female Assistant Forest Manager in an industry predominantly led by males, I do have a ‘tomboyish’ demeanour. When I was younger, I always preferred being in the outdoors than having barbie dolls, however, there are instances where my feminine inclinations become evident—such as having a Jellycat Highland Cow displayed on my truck’s dashboard.

This subtle touch adds a hint of femininity to my work environment. Working within this industry I’ve found inspiration in the achievements of Portia Simpson, particularly in her book “The Gamekeeper,” where she recounts her journey to becoming the first female gamekeeper graduate. Her narrative resonates with me, reinforcing the idea that women can excel in traditionally male-dominated roles.

By Nicola, Environment, Sustainability, and Assurance Manager

Nicola Abbatt

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social,  economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. It has been running since 1911, but sadly according to the World Economic Forum, none of us will see gender equality in our lifetime and it is likely that neither will our children.

For me, this day is about celebrating the achievements and contributions that women have made to the forestry sector over the years, but also recognising that there is much more to be done. An industry that inspires, values, and empowers everyone, including women, is needed now more than ever if we are to address the challenges of the future and build an even more successful business.

By Olivia, Forest Manager

Olivia FitzGerald

Seeing is believing, and there are numerous women I have encountered working in forestry and the outdoors who have inspired me with their presence in a male-dominated sector. Every time I’ve met these remarkable women, they demonstrate what is possible: that you can be yourself and in doing so, you add diversity and strength to your team.

Thank you to the women who have shown me round the forests they manage, who have taken me deer stalking in the Highlands, who have imparted their extensive botanical knowledge, and who have been kind and encouraging. By being you, and probably without even realising, you have been invaluable role models who have provided the necessary reassurance that being a woman forester can absolutely be done. I only hope I can do the same!

By Paige, Forest Manager

Along with a stubborn desire to keep my hair impractically long for no other reason than I want to, even when it becomes constantly tangled amongst branches, spruce needles, and bracken, I tend to express my femininity in my approach to challenges.

Compassion and rationality, both typically feminine traits, encourage me to take a measured approach, driven by the opportunity for co-operation and learning. When I am given the space to be true to myself and to show empathy, honesty, and vulnerability rather than feel pressure to hide behind a hard exterior, I am more confident in providing meaningful contributions to projects.

The outcome of this doesn’t just benefit my personal progression, but provides value to the business too, by achieving successful collaboration toward a shared objective, alongside developing professional relationships built on respect. Appreciating that men and women work differently and finding the balance between personalities will undoubtedly open more doors for everyone in this industry.

Final words

If you are a Woman contemplating whether to become a Forestry Professional, or an important support role within the Forestry sector, I hope this article has inspired you to cast out feelings of doubt. If you can’t visualise yourself in the role, that’s because like each of us, you are unique. Create and redefine a new image of yourself that blends all your nuanced identities, whatever they may be. Do this, and not only will you set yourself on an exciting journey toward a new career but one day, you too, will inspire inclusion within the next generation of Women entering the Forestry industry. Happy International Women’s Day 2024.


Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, of Gender Equality for all will require real commitment from everyone. If you’d like to learn how you can help, then get inspired via Get Involved | UN Women – Headquarters and Home Page | HeForShe.