Women's Work: The Challenges Facing Female Arborists

Historically arboriculture has primarily been a field of study and work dominated by men. Like many careers that require a certain amount of physical exertion, strength and risk, a cultural gender bias has, albeit not directly, excluded women from joining the ranks. More recently, following the larger social trend towards equality, attitudes towards female arborists within the arboriculture and forestry industries are changing, and more women are not only becoming arborists but excelling at it.

However, it’s not all progress: whilst women are generally making more entryways into the exciting and exhilarating field of arborism, there are still some pervasive issues throughout the industry that dog further progression.

Women in Arboriculture

An easy way to note the influx of women into the industry over the last decade or so is the microcosm of the climbing competitions that overlap with arborism, specifically the International Tree Climbing Championship. Run by the International Society of Arboriculture, the championship aims to train and prepare competitors for aerial rescue and survival, and despite beginning in 1976, the first female champion wasn’t named until 2001. However, since Christina Engel, the champion hailing from Germany, the number of women competitors has grown exponentially, with now over a third being women.

From the championship, female climbing champions such as Jo Holzer have become a driving force behind of creating an established platform for women in the industry. Running their own arboriculture businesses, such as Holzer’s Out on a Limb, these female entrepreneurs prove that making forays into the industry is possible, providing an inspiration for aspiring female arborists that simply wasn’t there a few decades ago. Alongside this is the parallel development of multiple organisations such as Women in Trees, that aim to represent, gather together and support female arborists.

Similarly, whilst forestry and arboriculture are two different industries, it is significant that reporting in 2016, the U.S. Forest Service declared that across their 40,116 employees, 39% were female.

The developing representation of women in arboriculture directly contrasts the outdated ideas that women either can’t handle or don’t want, a job in this industry.

 

Problems Women Face in Arboriculture

One of the problems women face in arboriculture are the preconceptions as to what a woman can or cannot do. Although conventional assumptions that women can’t work in jobs requiring strength or risk are starting to be dismantled, industries such as construction and arborism are still largely male-dominated. Whilst these issues tend to stem from deeply embedded traditions, such as women not being directed or encouraged into certain industries, or being dissuaded by a lack of representation, or the fear of facing discrimination, there are a few things that we in the arboricultural industry can address.

Female arborists have spoken in the past about issues they’ve faced with male colleagues, sometimes having to work twice as hard in order to prove their worth, or struggling to be taken seriously for a job in the first place.

Whilst this is something that can, and will, be changed over time with more female arborists entering and working within the industry, exceeding requirements and performing with increased visibility, a more pressing issue is equipment.

In part due to their underrepresentation in the Arboriculture industry, female arborists are often challenged by the lack of suitable equipment, primarily struggling to find vital safety equipment, such as PPE wear, to properly fit.

The main issue is that, with a market largely directed at men, chainsaw PPE and climbing equipment is almost without exception designed to fit the male anatomy, and not the hips or body sizes of women. Although a few suppliers do acknowledge the growing demand, there is as yet little change to address this. However, whilst small, the market is burgeoning, and an increased focus and development on women can only encourage more women to join the profession than ever before.

Equipment for female arborists

Equipment for Female Arborists

For an industry so dependent on equipment for safety and function, finding the correctly fitting protective clothing and equipment is essential. After talking to female arborists and our suppliers, we’ve rounded up the best quality and female friendly products essential for safe tree work.

Helmet

For women looking for a helmet that will fit a smaller head, the Kask Chainsaw Helmet SNR30, with Optime II muffs and clear roll down visor has a customisable size and will adjust as small as a 51cm head circumference. It comes with slide wheels for easy adjustment, a fully adjustable rear cradle and an EN12492 compliant 4 point chin strap.

The Petzl Vertex Chainsaw Helmet SNR32 starts at a slightly larger 53cm circumference but now comes with a thicker sweatband which can be affixed to give a snugger fit on smaller head sizes. The Vertex also comes with a four point chin strap, open and close ventilation system and high SNR:32 ear protection.

Chainsaw Trousers

Due to the 6-way stretch fabric and a wider range of sizes, the Breatheflex Chainsaw Trousers offer more suitable sizing, a shorter leg option (available quickly to order), and a more flexible fit for female bodies. The Type C trousers offer all round protection, with double layered fabric, and reinforced with abrasion resistant material for better resistance against thorns and brash. They are EN381-5 compliant, Class 1 with a cut-resistance to 20 metres/second.

Climbing Harness

The Treemotion Climbing Harness and Treemotion Superlight Climbing Harness comes highly recommended. With an increased focus on harness flexibility, the Treemotion harnesses come with extremely adjustable suspension systems, gear loops and all round shape. With the capacity to be tailored to fit almost any body, these harnesses are perfect for female arborists struggling to find comfort whilst climbing.

Protective Chainsaw Boots

The Class 2 protection Treemme Aquastop Pro chainsaw boots, come in a great range of sizes from 4 up to 14. Some boots such as the Meindl Airstream Chainsaw Boots, offering 30% more breathability than the average Gore-Tex shoe, are available in sizes as small as a UK 5 or 6.

Women are successfully starting to penetrate the arboricultural industry and are making their own impact. The most welcome step to further progression will be a move by manufacturers to recognise and respond to the PPE needs of women climbers, welcoming many more into this challenging and rewarding career.