When It Comes to Climbing, Women Can Do This!

group instruction of tree climbing
Rachel Brudzinski, far left with red glasses on her head, leads a session during the Morris Arboretum’s seventh-annual Introductory Tree Climbing for Women course in October 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photos courtesy of Rachel Brudzinski.

True empowerment of women can only happen as a result of not the removing of empowerment for men, but of our ability to stop caring about gender at all.

It’s no secret that men make up the majority of the workforce in the field of arboriculture in the United States, but it seems that with each passing year, more and more women turn toward trees. Many of them have a similar story, one of not knowing this was even a career field, let alone one they would physically be capable of taking part in. Beyond the fact that women are absolutely physically capable, female arborists, in my opinion, have a unique tenacity, a gentle nurturing toward crew members, and the emotional intelligence not to become overwhelmed under pressure. All of which are highly desirable qualities in a climber as well as a person.

So, what has encouraged so many women to start considering tree care as a profession? Maybe it’s the advancements modern tree climbing has created in the means of ascent. Maybe it’s a low unemployment rate and a desire to “keep bread on the table.” Maybe it’s a new generation of women with more grit and a desire to be equal. Whatever has attracted them, women make phenomenal tree climbers.

This is the type of work that demands a lot of a person, physically and emotionally – even spiritually at times. Over the years, we have all seen men who felt its demands were more than they wanted and who walked away from this career option. It’s a special type of person who follows this path, and you really must love it to stay with it. So, what kind of woman is the right type to enter into the field of arboriculture? What makes women want to learn how to climb? And what makes them, in my opinion, so naturally talented as climbers?

Brudzinski discusses climbing gear during the Morris Arboretum’s Introductory Tree Climbing for Women course in October 2019.

I have been very lucky to have been taught to climb by men and women and to have been fortunate enough to have taught courses for both men and women. In the last 10 years of my career, it’s become clear that both genders have their strengths. It’s to my amazement the hidden “diamond in the rough” raw talents women possess, and we as an industry need to better harness them.

While co-ed courses are wonderful, there is an amazing chemistry created in an all-female class or workshop. In October 2019, Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, hosted its seventh-annual Introductory Tree Climbing for Women course. With each year, I see the same magic when women from completely different walks of life and skill levels are taught new concepts and bond underneath a beautiful white oak tree. Some of them attend the class as a birthday present to themselves and some because they want to step outside their comfort zone, but many attend to learn the skill so they can show their employer they are ready to climb.

And, yes, I can absolutely understand an employer’s apprehension toward bringing female climbers into the field, particularly if they have not had a lot of exposure to the potential women hold. In countless situations, I have been told, “You are the first woman I’ve ever worked with who wants to be a climber.” It’s a gentle reminder to me that they are in unfamiliar territory and want guidance on how to treat me. Often, they wonder whether they should treat me like a woman or treat me like a male co-worker. What I’ve tried to explain is that I’d prefer to be treated like a “person” rather than be treated differently because of being a minority. It’s really a sweet exchange because I am able to give them permission to be who they are and to remind them that I know I’m a “girl” and that we don’t need to make a fuss over it.

Ultimately, even if a woman is completely fresh to the industry, she can change the entire culture of your company for the better. What I have consistently seen over the years is that women meant to work in tree care have far more physical determination, are emotionally flexible to challenges, are non-competitive, and self-sacrificing to the team and have a profound desire to mentor or nurture their teammates. These are phenomenal leadership skills for a tree climber to have, and they greatly add to the dynamic culture of a crew.

Pausing for a group photo during the Morris Arboretum’s Introductory Tree Climbing for Women course in October 2019. “These women were excited to be there and weren’t just checking off continuing-education or Accreditation boxes,” said one participant. Photo by Kyle Hawk.

Even more formidable is the potential created when a woman is supported by another female climber. As Emma, one of this fall’s workshop participants, said, “That energy was a fusion of self-challenge, excitement for your classmate and camaraderie in facing your own physical limitations openly. These women were excited to be there and weren’t just checking off continuing-education or Accreditation boxes. Everyone had a different reason for being there, but they shared a common desire to challenge themselves. Despite the diversity of intentions in taking the course, each participant could pursue her goals for the day full-on because of the openness of the group.”

Brudzinski in the saddle during the Morris Arboretum’s Introductory Tree Climbing for Women course.

This past fall was an especially powerful experience, as 15 strangers came together to learn how to climb and showed me once again just how obvious it is that women are naturally incredible and talented climbers. I believe Meghan, another student who attended the course, summed up the experience perfectly: “Like most opportunities in life, I got the opposite of what I expected. I learned intricate technical knowledge about ropes and climbing gear. The most rewarding part of the class was the personal growth I experienced. I was able to help, as well as teach, some of the other students in the class with knots and climbing techniques. I loved encouraging the other women and seeing their expressions when they accomplished something they did not believe they could. I believe everyone came to the class to learn a skill, but also gained personal confidence and a passion for climbing. I am so happy I found another community of badass female climbers. I can’t wait until next year!”

Knots and climbing techniques were on the curriculum, along with personal confidence and a passion for climbing.

At the end of the day, I foresee a time when this industry is more evenly mixed between both men and women, where our differences are respected and our strengths are valued, where gender is no longer an issue and we are all just badass climbers.

Rachel Brudzinski, CTSP and Certified Arborist, is a production climber with Shreiner Tree Care, an accredited, 29-year TCIA member company based in King of Prussia, Pa., and an instructor with North American Training Solutions, a 12-year TCIA Associate Member company and PACT Crown partner based in Douglas, Massachusetts.

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