If we were to assess the status of women in the tree care industry in their view, it would boil down to
a) women now are an established, integral part of the industry and are growing more so every day; b) they largely have grown way past the stage of being a novelty and needing acceptance by their peers; and, c) they are stridently confident in their abilities and eager to prove themselves and to make a mark on tree care.
This is according to a sampling of women spoken with for this article who represent the new age of tree care. We asked each how they “got here from there,” and how they might advise other women looking to make their own mark. The ultimate takeaway is that they have nothing but optimistic things to say about what lies ahead.
“This is a near-perfect time for women to get into the tree care industry and to advance,” says Lauren Maltby Damplo, CEO of Maltby & Co., Inc. “The industry as a whole is starving for skilled help, and that means there are lots of opportunities for women. Companies are desperate for skilled people who love working outside and with trees.”
Heather Dirksen is president of Arbor Masters Tree Service, a 23-year TCIA member company headquartered in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. She oversees this 66-year-old, $35 million business with 180 employees that now boasts nine branches in five states – Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Virginia. A private pilot, she is often flying herself or with her husband between offices.
“I was brought in as a consultant to run the Dallas office, and I turned it around,” she states. Subsequently, Dirksen says, she was an understudy for the previous company president, Jerry Day, for three years leading up to his retirement and her appointment.
“I’ve always been in a male-dominated environment,” Dirksen says, “including military air traffic control or running an airport. In high school, I even played (boys’) football,” she states matter-of-factly. “I am competitive, and I like to win.” Adapting to a male industry? “I do not think about it. It’s how my parents brought me up. Mom worked in a factory for 35 years, and Dad made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted to. So I think I’ve always had a different perspective from other women.”
She urges women to think about that approach and adds, “I don’t think of myself as, ‘Gosh, I’m a woman in a man’s world.’” Sometimes, even though the industry, right down to the crew level, has gotten past that, Dirksen says, “There are times when the subject comes up. Yesterday, I had a subcontractor who commented that women are better at some things than others. Sure, but that’s a people thing,” Dirksen says, stressing it’s not a gender thing. For example, she adds, “I was told women were better at multi-tasking. Yes, I am good at that, but I do not know if it is a matter of nature or nurture. Instead of defining ourselves that way (alluding to gender), I would love it if we say people are people in tree care.
“For anyone to grow in the tree care industry, from the field (crew) to executive – and regardless of gender – for recommendations, I’d say find two to three mentors who are five steps ahead of you.” Further, Dirksen advises that to be a well-rounded person in tree care, ensure that one of those mentors is someone with what she calls a scientific foundation in plant health care.
Those mentors, she continues, should “understand you and your goals, be a friend and help you learn leadership.
“I absorb whatever I can from those around me, taking the positive and leaving the negative. Learn to be humble and learn what you can from those you respect around you,” she advises. “When it comes to being a mentee, do your homework, take advice seriously and, regarding successes and failures, learn from both.”
Lauren Maltby Damplo
Another woman who’s taken the reins, in this case by succession along with other family members, is Lauren Maltby Damplo, CEO of Maltby & Co., Inc., an accredited, 27-year TCIA member company based in Stoughton, Massachusetts.
“My grandfather started in tree care following a decline in the wool industry,” she recounts. “We think it all started because a tree fell on his house.” As the family story goes, he had seen a bucket truck and crane in use and thought they could be used for tree work. In some ways, she says, “he was ahead of the game.”
Three of his sons took over the business in the 1980s, one being her dad. “Now the third generation runs the company, my brother, a cousin and me,” Damplo states.
“I did not come up through the tree industry, never worked on a crew, never studied arboriculture. I just fell into it when I came home from grad school. Dad offered me a job in the office while I was looking for a ‘real job.’ When I was offered that real job, Dad said the company could use me and matched the offer. I stayed, and that’s how I landed here,” Damplo explains, noting she has worked in the office for 13 years.
Her evolution to CEO was a transition process with a bit of an amusing tale attached to it. “I had worked with my dad, who was the former treasurer of the company, and thought I would eventually take over those responsibilities. When we all sat down to sign the papers, I discovered the company attorney had put my name down as president.” One of the family jokes is that her cousin took her job as treasurer. Damplo has been CEO for the past four years.
“Before I started here, there was a woman tech who did plant health care and another in sales, a Certified Arborist,” Damplo recalls, “but for the most part, when I started, when people would see a woman in our industry, they’d think she was a secretary.
“One of the first things I did as CEO was to make it almost illegal to use that word (secretary) here, because there’s so much to the tree care business. Over the last five years, we have had three different women working on crews and a lot more looking to get involved. Acceptance of women in tree care has become amazingly easy. It really is nice to see how welcomed women are.”
Damplo states categorically, “When someone is a hard worker, willing to learn and do their best, that’s when they gain acceptance – and it is not about gender.
“I obviously come from a family-business background, but I see that the direct path to success is ability – people, men and women, coming in and trying so many aspects of tree care, not only climbing and cutting. For example, there is long-term care, planting … find your niche,” she says. “When you find what you like to do, you usually excel.”
For women, or any employee for that matter, Damplo says the biggest key to career success is communication with management. “Explain what your goals are and what you want to do and try. I see this with men and women. If they do not communicate, management does not know what they want. Even in annual or semi-annual employee evaluations, people are hesitant to share and communicate those things, sometimes just wanting to get through the process. Discuss your career goals is my best advice.”
Her company stresses in-house training and utilizes leadership tools to achieve this with management. She points to a woman on staff now who is taking a college semester off from work to finish her degree. “And we are quite proud of her.”
Again, she stresses, this approach is “less just about women and more about everyone.”
Regarding mentorship, Damplo says many of her employees have 20 years, and several 30 years, with the company. “They are amazing at taking new employees under their wings. This is largely an internal-training-and-promotion culture. We rarely hire anyone for higher-level positions other than from within. Mentorship is part of our culture.”
Damplo continues to advise women to seek mentorship as a key to their happiness and success in the business.
Heidi Baumgart, vice president of marketing and team development for Arborwear, a 24-year TCIA corporate member company based in Chargin Falls, Ohio, and maker of industry-specific clothing and protective gear, took a circuitous route to the tree care industry.
“I came by way of ad agencies,” Baumgart explains. “One of my first opportunities was to manage an account for a pesticide and herbicide manufacturer, and a later opportunity was in marketing and sales analysis for a luxury landscape design-build firm where I was on the client side, before I landed at Arborwear.
“Regardless of gender, we’re all here already, all a great part of a great industry making a huge impact in companies where we work and lead every day. Let’s deal with it and move on,” Baumgart urges. “We do not need to be treated differently. Certainly there’s a need to accommodate women, just as there is a need to accommodate tall or small people. Smaller heads take smaller hats. We have to accommodate the varied needs in the tree care industry.”
Regarding clothing and gear, she says, “The female body is something to accommodate, just as we do others.” To that end, “We work very hard,” she says, “and one of the main things we do is ensure that we make women’s arbor wear that fits, so it’s all part of the same crew uniforms and meets all the same safety requirements. There are challenges, but we solve them as we would for anyone else.
“I do think women who find success in this industry have the attitude that, if they want to accomplish something, nothing will stop them. And if you have the opportunity, take someone along with you. No one will stop me if I have something in my head,” she states.
Baumgart sees that women still struggle with bias in the industry, “But in my experience, that comes from men who see us as a threat, not as a partner, and that is too bad. We all can grow together in this industry.”
She laments online groups where women tolerate a lot of bias, not only in tree care. “That means you must be doing something right. Just keep going,” she advises. “Regardless of gender, when I see someone being beaten down, it is usually by someone else who feels threatened.
“I take inspiration from those who blazed a path in front of me. There are some amazing women in this industry who have set examples, even among competitors.” Baumgart cites women in tree care whom she had known prior to entering the industry, who not only welcomed her but continue to check in on her.
“You asked about mentorship. It’s about a group you respect for thoughtful leadership, a sounding board of people who can level with you. In fact, you can be a mentor and be mentored by the same people. It does not have to be a hierarchy.
“Investing in oneself is something women do not do. Perhaps that’s a cliché, but it’s true. We give, but we do not invest in ourselves. Just this past year, I worked with a professional leadership coach, which has been so formative to my career. I’ve figured out how to work better with customers, peers and direct reports.” Also this past year, she won a TCIA Excellence in Marketing Award and assisted in the Women’s Forum at TCI EXPO ’21.
“Don’t ever shrink to make someone else feel more comfortable,” she says, and quotes an aphorism, stating, “If I’m too much for you, find less elsewhere.
“I do think there are some excellent men who see that women get the opportunity to participate in this industry just like others. That’s just as important as women helping women.”
When asked about actively recruiting women specifically, Baumgart says, “I actively recruit. At Arborwear, there are more women than men. But there are no quotas.”
Megan Bujnowski was, until recently, a safety supervisor in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a large tree care company. She is currently working for various training companies and pursuing starting her own business in the industry with a focus on women-led training as well as women-specific courses.
“I was fortunate to grow up in a town (Hudson, New Hampshire) with a fantastic vocational program,” she explains, “complete with fully functional shops and farms, a 100-acre woodlot and a forestry program.”
Bujnowski says that even in high school, she was able to spend half of every day working that woodlot. There she learned a lot about arbor care, from climbing to timber sports; she even became an accomplished competitor, especially with chain saws, individually and as part of a team. “It was an easy decision. I could take chemistry and physics or spend my day in the woods with chain saws. I fell in love with tree care and had a knack for it,” she explains.
She credits her interest and success on mentorship. “My instructor was the best thing that happened to me,” Bujnowski maintains. Then it was on to the University of New Hampshire, first for an associate degree in forestry, followed by a bachelor’s degree in 2012.
Facing a bad economy then, Bujnowski migrated into telecommunications, among other things, teaching crews how to climb cell towers and later managing jobs in that industry. Her background led to a stint as product specialist for Husqvarna, traveling throughout the U.S., appearing at conferences and leading some classes. She was able to draw on her skills, both with chain saws and in arboriculture, until she was recruited by a tree care company.
“Since I started working with chain saws,” Bujnowski says, “I wanted to close the gap between men and women in the tree care industry, and I’m confident I know how to do that.”
Ironically, and with a bit of humor, Bujnowski says that, as a woman and a trainer, she has an edge over her male counterparts. “A male has to work for attention. I do not. I don’t care if a class is doubting my abilities or it is sexism. I just need five minutes, and I have them (their attention).” In the end, she says, she’s just looking to “make connections with people. My job is to get people home alive.”
Though not directly associated with recruiting, she notes that a lot of people have reached out to her about hiring more women. Just from a safety perspective, she says it makes a lot of sense. “Look at the studies. The industry is 97% male. In crews with a woman, they are 80% less likely to have major accidents and fatalities.”
Today, there are numerous factors creating opportunities for women to join and excel in the tree care industry, and there seem to be many women and men already in the industry willing to lend a helping hand.