Tales from the treetops
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, arborist Louise Grønbæck encounters her fair share of prejudice. Not that she lets it bother her. As the Danish champion of professional tree climbing, she doesn’t need to prove anything and besides, the trees couldn’t care less about her gender. “I was lucky because when I started out I got to know some really skilled female arborists who showed me that in this profession it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman,” she says about her career choice.
Arborists vs. loggers
Arborists are sometimes mistaken for loggers, but the two professions have some significant differences. Whereas loggers cut down swaths of trees for lumber, arborists specialise in caring for and maintaining trees, mainly in the areas where humans and trees intersect - in cities, suburbs, parks and urban woods. The arborists carefully scan the trees for signs of disease, damage, old age or anything else that could potentially make them a safety hazard. To an arborist, each tree is an individual with a story to tell.
Today, Louise Grønbæck and her colleagues from Trädakuten head out to a recreational area where some old beeches need to be trimmed to keep limbs from falling down on people passing by on the trails underneath the trees. While Louise Grønbæck and her co-worker Johan Austad start hauling themselves up a tree, Trädakuten founder and CEO Henrik Ritsanong watches from the ground.
“Not many men can get up in the tree as smoothly as Louise. Some men use more muscle power and women use their flexibility. But other than that, there’s virtually no difference between men and women among skilled arborists. They do the same job, Henrik says.”
Louise Grønbæck, who is originally from Aalborg, has worked as an arborist since 2015 and competes in professional tree climbing several times per year, “to get inspired.” She’s nabbed the bronze in the European Tree Climbing Championship three times, has competed internationally and is the reigning Danish tree climbing champion. Still, she sometimes encounters prejudices from customers who doubt her skills as a female arborist.
“I don’t think they’re being mean; I think they don’t know any better. Some refuse to talk to me and only talk to my male colleagues, others just ignore me. That doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen,” she says.
“Sometimes, a customer wants to compliment me, but it comes out as an insult. They’ll say things like ‘Oh, are you going to climb?’ Sometimes I make a joke about it, sometimes I just ignore it.”
As an arborist, working outside rain or shine comes with the territory and wearing the right gear is crucial.
“Days when it’s windy, rainy and snowy at the same time are really tough mentally. If you get cold or wet, that’s not fun,” Louise Grønbæck says. Just like the other workers at Trädakuten, she’s equipped with workwear and outdoor clothes from Fristads.
“The pants we trim trees in need to be lightweight and flexible, but also durable, because we climb trees all day long. And the jacket must be breathable, because we get really warm when we climb,” she says.
Back at the woods, Louise Grønbæck calls it quits after cutting up some fallen logs with a chainsaw. Later today, she’s heading back to Denmark for a holiday, but soon enough she’ll be back at Trädakuten, the company Henrik Ritsanong founded in 2007. Trädakuten is growing fast and he needs her skills now more than ever.
"The tree needs cut, the branch is going down. If it’s a man or a woman holding the saw, it doesn’t matter," he says.