FROM EARLY CHILDHOOD TEACHER TO ARBORIST, CHELSEA SHOWS US THAT CHAINSAWS AND CLIMBING TREES AREN’T JUST FOR ‘THE BOYS’
Chelsea Robertson started out her career as an Early Childhood Education teacher, then in her early 20s went on to study Horticulture at Otago Polytechnic which she found enjoyable, but it wasn’t the exciting career she was looking for.
Chelsea had learned a little bit about arboriculture while studying, and tell us, “I was taken right away with how physical it looked; getting to work outside climbing and using chainsaws looked fantastic.”
So, she took a leapt of faith and decided to study a qualification in Arboriculture Level 4. The tutors at Otago Polytechnic were amazing and really made it worthwhile, she gained a wide variety of industry exposure through her time there.
After completing her qualification, she began working at TreeTech in Christchurch where she gained a love for working with botanical gardens.
In this role she rapidly progressed up the ranks and was given the responsibility of Crew Leader, where she enjoyed leading a crew of female arborists.
She loved seeing her team prove themselves and their capability within a maledominated industry. Following her time in Christchurch Chelsea then moved to TreeScape in Auckland where she worked as a Scoper.
Chelsea is now a Project Team Leader here at Pro Climb and we are grateful for the experience she brings to our team. In this role, Chelsea provides leadership and operational guidance to the Pro Climb crew as well as pitching and quoting for new business. Her goal is to use her teaching and education background to expand some of the Pro Climb school education programmes Chelsea is a proud and valued member of the Pro Climb team, and while she loves her job, being a female in the male-dominated industry of arboriculture isn’t without its challenges.
Her challenges have predominantly been around people’s automatic default thinking that arborists, especially in leadership roles, are male. For example, these are some of the things people have said to her…
“When are the guys getting here?”
“Make sure you leave all the hard work to the guys.”
“I want to speak to the guy, I want to speak with the guy in charge.”
“Are you the wife, or the receptionist?”
Chelsea views this type of response and behaviour as an opportunity to educate.
In a male-dominated industry like this, there are preconceptions around what a woman can or can’t do, and while Chelsea realises her physical differences, she has overcome this by seeing her value in other aspects of the industry. The only person she tries to impress is herself and she just uses different methods of getting work done. These attitudes will change over time with more female arborists entering and working within the industry.
A more pressing issue women face is equipment. With a market largely directed at men, the vast majority of chainsaw PPE and climbing equipment is designed solely to fit men. This is starting to be addressed slowly, with a few suppliers of arborist workwear are now starting to cater for female bodies. Clogger Chainsaw now produce women’s specific chainsaw pants and helmet providers are providing smaller options or padding to better fit smaller head shapes. These types of options weren’t available when Chelsea first started her career.
In her seven years working in the industry Chelsea has noticed a lot of change, she feels that New Zealand is very progressive regarding female support in the Arb Industry.
Arb Equipment Companies have started using a lot of females in their advertising. Husqvarna and Stihl both use females which is going a long way to change the perception of females and chainsaws.
New Zealand Arb companies are making females more visible in their advertising and recruitment campaigns too – “from a recruitment perspective It’s great to be able to visualise yourself in that position”
The New Zealand Arboriculture industry is highly supportive of female arborists, and Chelsea has never felt any discrimination from her employers or peers. “Females certainly have the respect of our peers in this industry” Chelsea tells us. She has felt extremely valued and supported when working on Council projects in particular, where female contractors are well represented.
When it comes to support from fellow women in the trade, Chelsea has found there are multiple female arborist groups on social media which provide an extra layer of support and advise on all sorts of aspects of the job. Blog posts and articles on subjects such as “Which harnesses fit women best”, “Climbing after giving birth” go a long way to make women in this industry feel supported and heard.
Not being one to blend in with the boys, Chelsea rocks a myriad of hair colours (it’s currently a vibrant blue), a pink helmet and awesome pink boots. Andreas (Rossy Ross), Director of Pro Climb says,
“Chelsea has certainly climbed to great heights in her career already, she’s a great asset to our team and we can’t wait to see what she achieves next!”