Carving a Path for Women in Tree Care

Those who participated in the pre-conference Women in Tree Care Workshop learned about resources to help them succeed. Photos by Richard May.

A standing-room-only workshop held in conjunction with TCI EXPO ’21 in Indianapolis this past November gave women in tree care an opportunity to connect with each other and learn about resources available to help them advance their careers. This sold-out pre-conference event, the Women in Tree Care (WITC) Workshop, was held November 3 and featured a panel of industry leaders and experts who are paving the way both in the office and in the field.

“The workshop really gave women an opportunity to interact during breakout groups and build camaraderie,” says Tchukki Andersen, TCIA’s manager of industry expertise. “It’s exciting to give women new opportunities to connect and learn from each other and hear other viewpoints.”

While the WITC Forum, also held during TCI EXPO ’21 (see related story, page 36), laid out some of the dynamics of the challenges and opportunities women in the tree care industry face, the workshop was more business-centered, with topics such as creating an inclusive work environment, onboarding and conflict resolution.

It also gave participants – both men and women – an opportunity to network, share experiences, bounce ideas off each other and start building a supportive community they could reach out to after the event.

“We’re finding more and more women who are interested in the tree care industry,” says Andersen. “Some women want to get out of the office and into the field, and some women want to move from the field to the office. They are getting their toes wet in different areas of the industry.”

Several of the women who spoke at the workshop provided feedback on the event for this article, both to improve on it for future events and to share with others some of what they gleaned from taking part.

Amy Grewe (center) handed out prizes to lucky winners during the round-table discussions.

“TCIA selected industry leaders to share their stories on how they have succeeded to light the path for others,” says Nicole Belhumeur, human resources (HR) manager at Bartlett Tree Experts, a 47-year TCIA member company based in Stamford, Connecticut. “The workshop’s theme was to focus on positivity, encouragement and education over negativity. During the discussions, we highlighted progress and recognized the efforts being made to move the needle forward.

“We also discussed the steps we need to take to continue moving in the right direction. Many strategies that companies can implement to improve the workplace for women can be equally beneficial to men. I felt we were all trying to lift each other up and show that there is a path for women in the industry, and it is possible to succeed.

“The workshop also provided the opportunity to establish new relationships with other women and men in the industry,” she continues. “After EXPO, one of the attendees introduced me to her colleague who also works in HR. A few weeks later, we spoke over the phone and shared ideas and advice. I am sure many others have similar stories. Relationships built during these workshops will play a direct role in helping more women advance, which I experienced firsthand.”

“I have been involved in the WITC forums since they began, and this event was a clear indication that this programming is a welcome and important part of the event (TCI EXPO),” says Jennifer McPhee, co-owner of Harrison McPhee, Inc., an accredited, eight-year TCIA member company based in Millis, Massachusetts. “As moderator, I had a chance to interact with the audience and really hear the diversity of conversations women in our industry are having.

“I thought the diversity of topics was good. For the panel topic I was involved in, which also included Nicole and Alex (Julius), we established a goal of recognizing the progress women have made in the industry, while identifying the next most important challenges to tackle. The three of us had very different paths to our positions, so we also wanted to underscore the importance of all women in tree care, not just those working in the field. It has become apparent that many women in admin positions do not feel as confident identifying themselves as women in tree care because they are not doing a physical job. I have not seen any feedback on our panel, nor any of the other presentations, so I’m not sure if this resonated or not.

“I do think the tone of the day was positive – very important – and not a place to dwell on the negative aspects of our job,” stresses McPhee. “When the group began meeting a few years ago, I think there was much women needed to say, not having had a forum to have done that in before. Therefore, it took a couple of meetings to just ‘get some things off their chests’ before we could move forward. At this meeting, energy was high. There was a good mix of attention to admin and field crew. I think this is a priority to continue with. The admin teams seem very hungry for more information on business topics.

“One of the interesting points made was that hopefully someday we won’t even need a WITC conference, because no one will see any difference between women and men. I think this should always be in the back of our mind as we plan these events,” says McPhee. She notes that suggestions for moving that forward are to:

  • Continue to promote attendance among men. “Their input – and willingness to hear the conversation – made the meeting more robust and reinforced a good pattern of communication.”
  • Continue to offer topics that apply to both men and women. “Something on management or finance would benefit all and attract more attendees.”
  • Always include some roundtable discussions or small-group work, “because it encourages interaction and decreases lecture time. The attendees loved the opportunity to contribute.”

”I think the biggest challenge will be to find interesting topics that satisfy a wide range of people,” adds McPhee.

“I see the conversation moving away from the ‘women’ conversation and just presenting great content that would make anyone a better professional. It seemed most people left very satisfied, and the networking/bonding was an important element of that.”

“Overall, I think this workshop was effective and had great value,” says Bear LeVangie, executive director of the Women Tree Climbing Workshop in Lincoln, Vermont. “The overwhelming feedback from ‘the word on the floor’ was encouraging! Attendees really enjoyed the box lunch, which provided a nice touch to reinforce networking opportunities at each table.

“Having Jenn as the moderator was terrific, as her ability to shift the audience’s energy in between presenters kept the event fun and engaging. Also, thank you, Jenn, for promoting the re-use of the lunch boxes and/or bringing them home to recycle. Will there ever be a day when generating less waste will be a ‘shall’ in the world?

“All of the presentations were impactful, and aside from Alex and Nicole being separated from the stage, their insight and wisdom were well received.

Nicole Belhumeur, standing at right, with Bartlett Tree Experts, speaks during the WITC Workshop. Bartlett, along with Davey Tree, were sponsors of the event.

“I did hear some disappointment about the workshop being a separate-ticket item,” says LeVangie. “For many years, TCIA has hosted pre-conference events aimed at reaching a group of people different from the main audience. TCIA promotes being inclusive, yet creating stand-alone events excludes attendees with lesser financial means. Therefore, these events end up excluding those target-group voices from the conversation. I would love this workshop to include more topics beyond gender, such as race, non-binary, etcetera.”

“I couldn’t be more grateful for the amazing people who attended the first-ever WITC pre-conference, and for TCIA for providing me with a platform to share my experiences in developing a positive company culture,” says Amy Grewe, Certified Arborist and vice president and owner of Arbor Aesthetics Tree Service, an accredited, nine-year TCIA member company based in Omaha, Nebraska. “This was my first public-speaking opportunity, and I loved the level of engagement from the attendees from start to finish, even when my presentation was at the very end of a long day. I connected with so many people and enjoyed learning of all the journeys that have led them to this place.” (See Amy’s related article on page 26 in this issue of TCI Magazine on the Women in Tree Care Forum, which also took place in conjunction with TCI EXPO ’21.)

“To start, it was incredibly positive seeing a sold-out room with a mixed (men and women) audience,” says Alex K. Julius, employee development and safety-training specialist with The Davey Tree Expert Company, an accredited, 49-year TCIA member company based in Kent, Ohio. “It’s nice to see so much support. I also heard the other women’s forum was a packed room.

“The topics discussed were hardly women’s issues, but people issues. Conflict resolution, earning grant money and career development are topics any member of TCIA could benefit from learning more about. The question I have then is, was the room packed because people wanted to be there for women, or because the speakers offered information that would be appropriate for anyone? I think it’s a combination of both.

“In the future, we will make better progress if we are integrated into the regular programming,” says Julius. “If we do it right, at some point, the pre-programming won’t feel necessary. More women presenting on topics related to arboriculture will help with our own professional development, increase exposure and build a stronger camaraderie with our peers.”

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