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Trees & Utilities: Women in Vegetation Management

Sept. 22, 2020
At a pre-event workshop, panelists answered questions and discussed ways to develop and advance women in the vegetation management industry.

The 2020 Trees & Utilities conference, originally scheduled for this fall in Milwaukee, moved to a virtual and online platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To kick off the event, more than 100 participants opted for a pre-conference, interactive workshop titled, "Women in Vegetation Management." 

Through the Zoom platform, participants listened to a diverse group of panelists--including a former student, researcher, consultant and executive--share their stories about how they got interested in a career in the vegetation management industry and the challenges they faced along the way. 

The speakers for the workshop were Amanda Opp, right-of-way supervisor for Flathead Electric Cooperative; Carolyn Mahan from Penn State; Maegan Mullinax, business development manager for ACRT Services and Roxie Lee, managing partner for UTAW Group, LLC. 

Here are six of their tips for women in the vegetation management industry to stand up, be heard and succeed in their careers. 

1. Be a lifelong learner and take advantage of training opportunities. Opp learned the ins and outs of the vegetation management industry by earning her Utility Vegetation Management certificate from Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. "It was a treasure trove of information, and it was the best training I could have picked," Opp says. "I came into my job with no vegetation management experience. I was so new, and the students mentored me." 

2. Be authentic. When you're working as a woman in a male-dominated field, it's tempting to be "one of the boys." A better approach, however, is to be genuine and true to yourself, Opp learned. 

3. Find a mentor. Lee says it's critical for young women coming up in the vegetation management industry to look for an internal sponsor. "Be proactive about it," Lee says. "Very few people are going to come to you and ask you what you want your career to look like 20 years from now,"  Mahan says when women look for a mentor, they don't always need to look for a female one. Male mentors can be just as valuable in helping women to reach their career goals. 

4. Call out sexist behavior. If you see or hear inappropriate behavior toward women in the workplace, say something and don't stay silent, Mullinax says. "It makes them feel uncomfortable, and if you do it once or twice, they will stop making comments," she says. Lee takes a different approach. If she hears a man making inappropriate comments, she asks him if he would be comfortable saying those same things around his daughter. That usually stops the behavior in its tracks. Mahan added that sometimes, the person who makes the offensive comments may not even realize that the words are offensive at the time. In these cases, she recommends pulling aside the person for a private conversation. Also, keep in mind that sexist behavior can be directed not only at women but also at men. 

5. Get involved in your community. Lee encouraged women in vegetation management to get involved in 4-H, invite college students to tag along with them during a workday and ask young people to come to association meetings and cover the cost for them to attend. 

6. Be prepared for meetings and support your colleagues. During the roundtable part of the workshop, the attendees asked for advice on how they could get their voices heard in a meeting. For example, a male colleague may repeat their idea in a different way and get credit for it. In these cases, the panelists said it's often helpful to stand up for female colleagues and support them whenever possible. Also, Lee added that it is important for women to state their point, know their business and stick to it in a business meeting.

Following the two-and-half-hour Zoom call, the participants can still network with one another and ask questions through the discussion group. For more information about Trees & Utilities, visit the Web site. 

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