Why is it so difficult for women to imagine themselves working in Arboriculture?
My own experience has been exclusively in-the-field educational. At school I would never in a million years have considered my job, didn’t even know it existed, trees were just the landscape you were born into, a feature of the cosmos, the background to life. Now I analyse them, use digital means to communicate collected data, interpret my own findings for other professionals, summarize, draw, evaluate, negotiate, supervise, implement, report and project-manage.I know I’m part of the larger effort to keep trees around us, they’re terrifically valuable in so many ways, and I do it on behalf of everyone who wants to see it done but isn’t in a position to exercise practical influence on development sites. It’s extremely rewarding.
So I’ve phrased my question very deliberately.
Relevant statistics abound, all culled from very reliable research – here are a few:
I’ve already pointed out that Arb Association membership is 89% male. And it’s clear that the dominant tree-surgery aspect of Arb, it’s ‘lumberjack’ image, is a significant barrier to female participation. But as described above, my own work is thoroughly arboricultural in focus yet belongs in a more analytical, technical sphere. So what’s the bigger picture for women (or the lack of them) in technical fields? A pathetic total of 17% of people working in technology are female. Interestingly, of the 7% who study Computer Science only half of these actually go into a job in the field.
Under 20% of technology leadership roles are held by women.
82% of men in start-ups believe their companies pay enough attention to addressing diversity, while 40% of women disagree.
A recent study of Fortune 500 companies that had at least 3 women in executive roles showed that the average return on equity increased by 53%, and their return on invested capital increased by at least 66%.
90% of people out of paid work because they are caring for the home or family are women. In the words of Amber Rudd when she was Minister for Women and Equality, “That is a huge loss not only to those individuals, but to our economy and to business all over the country.”
What are we really to make of this? What do we do?
I don’t know about you but, in any given week there’s a fierce competition for The Issue That Is Uppermost In My Mind. Last week was like a pile of jumbled string, but this issue has won out because we’re in the run up to the Arb Association’s Women in Arboriculture remit-setting meeting. I’ll be there. And when I look at the challenge we face if we want to change things, when I try to unjumble that particular pile of string, I find I have to look a long way back into how things come to be like this before I can make any sense of where we are now.
In a nutshell, it seems to me that the problem must have its roots in the way we bring up girls. I guess it might be a wee bit contraversial to stop staring at the male of the species belligerently for a moment and ask what’s wrong with women that they can’t imagine themselves in these roles, but surely it’s one of the biggest questions to be answered?
Almost something we shy away from, isn’t it? I can feel my reluctance to compose the next paragraph working its way through my bloodstream like ice-water as I write. I wonder if there’s a way I can side step any awkward conclusions? Let’s see….If we just recruit without gender bias, if we open the doors fairly to training and education, if we offer good childcare and put money towards helping folks back into the workplace after career breaks, it’ll all work out, won’t it?
Nah. It won’t. The number of women going into technical fields has stalled over the last 10 years. The rate of movement toward gender equality in the workplace has stalled epic-style https://www.futurity.org/women-gender-equality-1710682/ and the reasons for this are not that easy or particularly comfortable to unpack.
Our society is stubbornly paternalistic. Perhaps we aren’t open about it but, deep down, a lot us still believe that a household should (normally) be headed by a father-figure, a family (normally) headed by a man and society in general structured around the wise leadership of morally authoritative males of a certain age. Despite the tremendous social change all around us, from more single-parent households than ever to gay marriage and gender fluidity, this patriarchy is still ‘normal’ in our heads. There is evidence that girls (and boys) pick this up at a very early age and set their expectations of themselves and their future lives accordingly. In my humble opinion, there is a thread in the female psyche, embedded by society, that supports beliefs such as –
It’s ok to have a man take care of the practicalities of life on our behalf
Giving support to others while they fulfil their potential at the expense of our own is a morally correct way for a woman to conduct her life
Being quiet and undemanding is appropriate for women (and the opposite is not)
Women are born to care
Equality is about doing the same jobs men do, in the same way
That this heavy undertow exists (and I’m certain it does) troubles me in the extreme. Given the creative expansion we might experience if it wasn’t the case, I find the realisation, the
acknowledgement that there are influences at work causing us to limit ourselves in this way, well….pretty grim.
I wish we were brave enough to talk about the subconscious yet very real factors stubbornly propping-up inequality. If we’re going to do it, we have to be unafraid of stating just how disadvantaged the society we’ve built has left over 50% of the population, and we have to evaluate honestly what it’s going to take on our part to completely rebuild this structure in a freer, fairer way that benefits everyone equally.
Suppression deforms. As it is with trees, so it is with human beings. Fellow women, in Arboriculture and everywhere else, I suspect we‘ll have to take a difficult journey into our own subconscious minds before we can begin to change the world.