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Growing Industry Leaders Through Mentorship

Mentorship is an essential part of any career path. It’s usually a two-way street of people working together and offering life-long learning and partnership. 

Environmental Health and Safety Manager Diane Hardison is one example of a leader and mentor in the paper and wood products industry. 

She works at Domtar’s Plymouth, North Carolina mill, and later this year will retire after more than three decades in the industry. Looking back on her career now, she recognizes the support of others.

“I’m inspired by our field operators, electricians, mechanics, roll wrappers, equipment operators, lab analysts, boiler operators and the rest of our labor force. Because of what they faithfully do, day after day,” Hardison said. “There are so many who have and still do inspire me in life, for different reasons. I’m grateful for each of those people.”

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Kari Cahoon and Diane Hardison of Domtar
Kari Cahoon and Diane Hardison of Domtar

That includes Kari Cahoon, a Plymouth mill engineer who will be promoted to Hardison’s current role as environmental manager. She has worked at Domtar for 25 years and across the mill on several different projects and in various roles. 

“I’ve been challenged and stepped outside my comfort zone many times, and I am better for it,” Cahoon said. “I feel prepared to make this next step because of those opportunities. They were offered to me, and I accepted. It’s important for leadership to offer opportunities to be challenged and grow even when a person is highly valued and productive where they are.”

Cahoon credits Hardison’s support and recognizes the ways in which her mentorship has left an impact. 

“I’ve learned many lessons from Diane over the years,” Cahoon said. “She’s taught me to demonstrate caring, to look people in the eye, and to take the time to formulate thoughtful responses. She’s also taught me to look at issues from all angles before arriving at a conclusion and to utilize the expertise on my team.”

Together, these two women have led through partnership. When Hardison goes to work, she is reminded, “to appreciate and value people first, give back with every opportunity, and to be willing do whatever it takes to get a job done.”

Both women recognize there is opportunity for other women to be leaders in the paper and wood products industry. They also acknowledge the role the industry plays in supporting local communities. 

“Pulp and paper manufacturing provides exciting work environments and opportunities to continue to grow skills and knowledge and progress into leadership roles. In my personal experience, the industry cares for and invests in its employees and operates with a high degree of integrity,” Hardison said. 

Cahoon added, “being a woman is an asset to the industry because we bring another perspective to the table. My dream for women in manufacturing is to stay engaged in the industry, perform well and aspire to bigger roles within an organization.”

By intentionally mentoring and learning together, both women have found a life-long and fulfilling career.

“My dream or charge to any of us is to fulfill our purpose,” Hardison said. “Put to work and multiply the talents and abilities created in each of us. To remember that none of us is a complete package, but together, we can accomplish what needs to be done.”

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recycle resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative—Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately four percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures nearly $300 billion in products annually and employs approximately 950,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $60 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states. Visit AF&PA online at afandpa.org or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper.