As part of my postdoctoral research through the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Forestry, I’m currently examining the role of women in arboriculture and urban forestry in North America to understand the barriers they face and the strategies they use to overcome them.
This research and sharing progresses the goal of improved labour and education practices in urban forestry and arboriculture which in turn allow for more socially equitable and diverse work environments. It seeks increased recruitment and retention in the workforce for both men and women. It promotes increased awareness of gender equity in arboriculture and urban forestry, and it showcases the important impact women have made in these fields.
Throughout 2018, I had the privilege of sharing my postdoctoral research results at several conferences with three events that included panel discussions with other women in urban forestry, arboriculture, and natural resource management. These events included the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Ontario Chapter Conference in Huntsville (February), the ISA International Conference in Columbus, Ohio (August), the International Urban Forestry Congress (IUFC) in Vancouver, British Columbia (October), and the World Forum on Urban Forests (WFUF) in Mantova, Italy (December).
The three panels, which included a diversity of experiences and knowledge, dealt with a number of topics that included: marginalization, poverty, violence, discrimination, access to education, leadership opportunities, childcare, successes, and strategies from diverse perspectives and countries.
Our panel at the ISA Conference in Ohio in August was facilitated by Dana Karcher, Davey Resource Group. In addition to myself, panelistsincluded: Dr. Sharon Jean-Philippe, Associate Professor of Urban Forestry in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, University of Tennessee; Maria Tranguch, Arborist Crew Leader with Bartlett Tree Experts in Bala Cynwyd, PA; Lauren Marshall, National Program Manager for Urban & Community Forestry with the U.S. Forest Service; and Sarah Sankowich, System Arborist at Unitil.
What was interesting about this panel was that none of the panelists knew one another, nor were we from similar backgrounds, and yet many of us raised the same concerns and shared similar issues. One of the questions that surfaced from this discussion was: What is the role of men in advancing these dialogues and institutional changes with regards to gender? I have noticed that it’s convenient to fall into a pattern of “men vs. women” dialogue. That’s not the conversation I intended to evoke, nor is it the conversation I want to have moving forward.
Over the past year, I have received much positive feedback from both men and women. Some men have inquired as to what they can do to help to change the culture, and some men have raised the point that it’s not necessarily about educating women to be more understanding of men, rather, it’s about educating people on respectful workplace practices for both women and men.
I’ve had some reactions from men that have been quite defensive, while other men have sincerely asked how they can be part of the solution. In response to men being defensive, most women have agreed there are some topics of conversation that do not pertain to men—for example, going through childbirth or menopause and the impact those experiences have on women, particularly those working in operations, climbing, and fieldwork. That being said, there have been no sessions or discussions or even online groups, that I have seen, that exclude men.
Overall, most men I’ve spoken with have been supportive, understanding and eager to discuss opportunities for change. I’m grateful to the International Society of Arboriculture for inviting me to present and contribute to this panel, and for supporting my participation at this event.
Our panel at IUFC in Vancouver was facilitated by Dr. Lindsay Campbell, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service. In addition to myself, panelists included: Nadia Chan, Urban Forester, City of Surrey; Dr. Susan Day, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia (at the time, at Virginia Tech); Wenda Li, Arborist, Elite Tree Care; Caitlyn Pollihan, Executive Director, International Society of Arboriculture; and Katrina Van Osch-Saxon, Professor, Fleming College.
What was unique about this panel is that all the panelists represented various sectors of the industry. This made for another unique discussion and Q&A at the end. Using a tool called Mentimeter, we invited the audience to contribute their responses to questions, including: What is the value of women getting together and having conversations like this? As panelists were responding, the audience contributed their responses via the Mentimeter app on their phones, and a word cloud was generated (see graphic).
Our panel discussed perspectives on how we could create space and opportunities for women to build careers in urban forestry, arboriculture and natural resources, encourage more women to enter and advance within the fields, and build a diverse and inclusive workforce in the future. Part of this is being more vocal about the diversity of careers available to women as viable options. In addition, we can look beyond the traditional or common partners (e.g. industry, NGO) and make more diverse and complimentary partnerships with, for example, health networks, career centres and recruitment agencies.
On the panel, I was happy to share the example of Bartlett Tree Experts, an industry employer, who held a three-day event in April 2018, at their research Lab in Charlotte, North Carolina, called, Women in Arboriculture: Maximizing Talent, bringing female employees together for networking and skills training and was the first of its kind organized by an industry partner for female staff.
Our panel was also posed with this question: If you could propose one concrete, next step action toward strengthening the role of women in our field and building equity—what would it be? Responses included:offering formal and informal training sessions (from climbing to pruning; writing to research); formalizing cross-cultural and international mentorship programs; and connecting to media.
It is empowering for women to feel they are not alone, and that they are being heard. Creating female peer-to-peer networks serves to inspire others, share strength, and build a global support system. I’m excited to see that this conversation is ongoing on many online forums and in different capacities. I’m grateful to the organizing and program committees of IUFC for accepting our proposal to present at this event.
Lastly, our panel at WFUF in Mantova, Italy, was hosted by the U.S. Forest Service Office of International Programs, introduced by Rachel Sheridan,Program Specialist, U.S. Forest Service International Programs; and facilitated again by Dr. Lindsay Campbell, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service. In addition to myself, panelists included: Elida Fundi, Community Development Specialist, Tanzania Community Forest Conservation Network (Tanzania); Radmila Ustych, Economic Specialist, NGO FORZA Agency of sustainable development of Carpathian region(Ukraine); Rossana Landa, Program Manager, Fondo Mexicano para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza (Mexico); and Maria Arroyave, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering at Universidad EIA in Envigado (Columbia).
What was particularly eye-opening to me during the WFUF panel, was hearing from international colleagues about the differences in how women experience gender inequity. One of the main questions with which we contended was: What are some of the greatest challenges or barriers facing women in urban forestry and natural resource management in your country? Responses ranged and included issues of discrimination, lack of infrastructure, racism, and more. Where in North America we deal with more glass ceiling issues such as pay gap and promotion bias, in the other countries represented, panelists described conditions of severe poverty, and physical violence against women.
During the opening panel of the WFUF conference, Director of Forestry Policy and Resources with the FAO, Eva Muller represented the gender balance on an originally all-male panel. She addressed the need to keep women and children in mind when planning for urban green spaces. The inclusion and overt acknowledgement of gender equity set a tone for the rest of the conference and kept the conversation going throughout the week. I’m grateful to the U.S. Forest Service International Programs Division for inviting me to represent Canada as part of their delegation at this event and supporting my participation. This panel was recorded and is available here.
It has been a great experience to see the positive response to my research, these events, and to our film, Women Branching Out: A diversity of careers in urban forestry and arboriculture, which I produced in collaboration with Fleming College in Ontario. I’m thankful to my academic supervisor and coauthors, Dr. Cecil Konijnendijk, Dr. Lorien Nesbitt, and Barend Lötter, for their contributions and support, and to our UFORIA research team at UBC for helping us workshop some of the initial ideas.
Our industry is comprised of passionate individuals and organizations that work tirelessly to improve our urban trees towards a healthy social ecology on many fronts. I am proud to be part of this journey and of the many diverse people, networks, boards, and affiliations with whom I have the privilege of working, and I will continue to contribute through my various academic and professional endeavours. I welcome any opportunity to advocate for women in arboriculture and urban forestry, share stories, and ensure that a diversity of voices are heard widely.
By Adrina C. Bardekjian, MFC, PhD