Women in Arboriculture from a Man’s Perspective

Patrick O’Meara, far right, owner of High Country Landscape in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, with a group of climbing arborists, including Aneesa Winn, front row, far left, and Jacque Fink, front row, third from right, at ProGreen Expo in Denver in 2020. “We asked the region’s best women climbing arborists to present and demonstrate the techniques and gear they specialize in. They were able to teach both the men and women in the audience what the industry’s leading edge of climbing abilities and knowledge looks like,” says O’Meara. Photo courtesy of Patrick O’Meara.

I think it goes without saying that women throughout the ages have been important as leaders themselves, and have also played an essential role in nurturing or otherwise supporting men who would be leaders.

This article is not about whether women have a place in arboriculture, they do. This is about how they should assert their place in it and promote their own advancement as leaders, teachers, nurturers and friends.

I tend to hear that in our industry, the culture is a male-dominated and rugged one, that men are sexist and there is no opportunity for women to grow, that the ways of the world are against the advancement of women, not only in arboriculture but in other fields as well. I agree a bit that this perception is out there – but not fully. Let me explain.

I do think that women still have a hard time dealing with men’s perceptions, not only in this industry but in the workplace in general. And the issues they face are not just from the co-workers in the field but from some in management positions.

As an example, in the field, guys don’t like to be seen as weak, so they say things like, “You gonna let a girl beat you?!” Or they feel they are competing against the “girl” and then react with jealousy when the woman does more, or better, than them. So the man often will give the woman a hard time, even resorting to bullying, instead of showing the acceptance or respect they give their male co-workers.

Women might be assigned the easiest or lowest-profile job in the field with no opportunity to reveal their skills, so they don’t look as capable as the rest of the team. Men on the crew will say things like, “Give her that job. It’s an easy one for a girl.”

That’s in the field. There also can be a disconnect in upper management. Management and corporate America can be long on words and short on action, calling out for the advancement of women in many fields but not doing nearly enough to promote this advancement.

In my time in this industry, I have worked with many great women leaders – some who have become my professional mentors. Some are in the utility sector, some are in residential tree care, others work for non-profit organizations like TCIA. Some of the hardest-working women I know are in the field climbing trees, and they make up part of the organizational backbone of the best tree care companies in the U.S. They have helped me in areas a tree guy needs help in most, like organization and education.

Also, women tend to help most men be more respectful of the job and profession – from helping us clean up our language, appearance and health to being more mindful of workplace organization. Women can offer an alternate viewpoint to problems in the form of a simple piece of advice – even if sometimes it’s, “I told ya so!”

After talking about this on a Facebook thread one day, my friend, Eva, said, “Guys, if I wanted more female colleagues, I would have gotten a different job.” That made me laugh, but it also made me appreciate more having her in this industry. Male-dominated industries need women in all aspects of the work. I encourage all women to seek the highest positions in our industry, to get qualified and certified. TCIA and other associations have an extensive line of materials to help you in your advancement and help us keep moving forward. If there was ever an industry that needs women, it’s ours. The arboriculture industry is just that, arbor-and-culture. It is the diversity in our culture – the inclusiveness of all people – combined with the love for trees that sets us apart from other industries and makes tree care the best place to be, right now and moving forward.

Erick Navarro Palacios, CTSP, TCIA Approved Instructor, is the principal trainer and vice president of Crux Climbing, Rigging and Training (CCRT), CruxCorp.com, based in Portland, Oregon. He travels the world training and educating arborists while sharing his passion for people and trees wherever he goes.

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