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Opportunity abounds for women in arboriculture

January 5, 2022 -  By

While the number of women in arboriculture — the cultivation, study and management of trees and shrubs — is low, women say there’s plenty of opportunity for females in tree care.

Sisters Melissa LeVangie Ingersoll and Bear LeVangie, co-founders of the Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop, studied forestry in college and became arborists. The sisters found the industry was a great combination of their education, athleticism and passion for nature and the outdoors.

Natalie McNeill

Natalie McNeill

“It’s always pushing me physically and mentally,” Melissa LeVangie Ingersoll says. “I feel blessed every day to have this career be the one I chose to do for life.”

Natalie McNeill, a district manager in the Davey Tree Expert Co.’s Fort Collins, Colo., branch says she feels fortunate that as her career progressed from intern to plant health care technician to district manager, she didn’t face too many struggles.

“They can gain respect for you if you’re knowledgeable about what you’re talking about,” she says when facing adversity as a woman. “Stand up tall and let them know that you know what you’re talking about.”

Support is critical

Bear LeVangie says as she and her sister lead tree climbing workshops, they commonly meet frustrated women. They’re often stuck with a bad manager or in a role they weren’t hired for and they have to fight to perform the job they were hired to do.

“Typically, they get fed up, and they leave,” she says.

Megan Kacenski, an arborist representative in Bartlett Tree Experts’ Bala Cynwyd, Pa., office says a strong, supportive network of mentors — of both men and women — has helped her in her career in arboriculture. She encourages women entering and in the tree care industry to find a team.

Megan Kacenski

Megan Kacenski

“Find different people, people that are great managers, great climbers — all different aspects of the work that we do,” she says. “Once you have a support system that is going to push you in the long term, you’re going to be able to do some really great things in your career.”

Allie Buchanan, a district manager for Davey Tree Expert Co. of Canada’s Windsor, Ontario, office, says a supportive manager helped her as she entered the industry five years ago. A former boss spent a few hours with her, showing her the ropes — literally — with her crewmate. After teaching her about tie points and how to execute the knots, they sent her up in a safe tree to practice climbing.

“They were just giving me tips when I was up there,” she says. “I had the biggest smile on my face. It’s the best part is just having a one-on-one interaction with someone and having someone teach you what they know.”

Melissa LeVangie Ingersoll says the industry needs to continue to showcase the possibilities in arboriculture. (Photo: Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop)

Melissa LeVangie Ingersoll says the industry needs to continue to showcase the possibilities in arboriculture. (Photo: Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop)

Bear LeVangie says there’s also endless resources for women to tap into, whether that’s the Women in the Arboriculture network, a local chapter of the Tree Care Industry Association, state or local arborist associations, Extension offices and more. It’s about identifying those resources in your area.

Kacenski agrees, noting, “If you need someone locally, it’s just a really supportive community. They can just kind of help you do whatever you need to do.”

Industry advice

As for advice in the industry, Bear LeVangie says it’s important for women to persevere and not take no for an answer.

“Whatever your focus is — the way you can best do the job, gain education — whatever your path might be, keep asking until you get the ‘yes’ you need to help you meet your goals,” she says.

Kacenski says she struggled with understanding her physical limitations on the job but also recognizing the strengths she brought to an arborist team.

Bear LeVangie (pictured) says there’s a vast network of resources through national, state and local organizations for women looking to pursue or further a career in tree care. (Photo: Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop)

Bear LeVangie (pictured) says there’s a vast network of resources through national, state and local organizations for women looking to pursue or further a career in tree care. (Photo: Women’s Tree Climbing Workshop)

“As a really young arborist, I wanted to be able to throw the 300-pound log on my shoulder and carry it 100 yards to the chipper,” she says. “My crew leader taught me to learn my strengths and the way that we work together. Not everyone’s going to be the strongest, biggest person on the job and finding ways to navigate that is really important for individual skills development, as well as in learning how to be a productive member of the team.”

McNeill says it’s important for women to understand that it’s not uncommon for all arborists to struggle with the fit of personal protective equipment (PPE), including climbing harnesses and helmets, so don’t be afraid to speak up. This isn’t a gender issue, she says. It’s a safety issue. PPE is the first and last line of defense, and fit is critical.

“Females in the industry are less likely to ask because you don’t want to be seen as a complainer,” she says. “You should speak up for yourself. If you’re (a male who is) managing or leading a female climber or a female in the industry, you have to be open to that as well.”

There’s a future

Melissa LeVangie Ingersoll stresses the importance of the industry to continue to raise the profile careers for both women and men. And she sees both a bright future and a strong need for more arborists.

“I believe a lot of younger people don’t even know that our career exists,” she says. “Because their everyday existence does not overlap with an arborist, it does not overlap with a company that cares for trees.”

McNeill says it’s important for women to know there’s a place for them in arboriculture.

“You bring an important value to the job,” she says. “There’s not many of us. So, the more we can bring into the industry, the better the industry will be. You have to find the people that support you, persevere and you’ll go big places in the industry.”

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University and has been in B2B publishing for seven years. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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