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Women in Urban Forestry, Arboriculture and Natural Resources: Reflections on three panel discussions

Reprinted from City Trees, the magazine of the Society of Municipal Arborists”

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, panelists included: 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).

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