In the latest in our ongoing series shining a light on women in the arb sector, their careers, and experiences, Jo Hedger, brand ambassador for Husqvarna and Teufelberger, shares her story. 

What is your background?
I grew up on the Dorset and Hampshire border in the UK, enjoying time outside either in the woods or at the beach. I loved playing music as a child, playing drums in bands, and had an artistic side, enjoying drawing and graphic design.

Where are you based?
I still live in Hampshire. I have travelled a lot but always love coming home, appreciating my local area.

Forestry Journal:

What made you pursue a career in arboriculture?
My skill of graphic design took me to explore horticulture/landscape design as a career. I knew working day-to-day in a building wasn’t for me, but I thought learning about horticulture and combining it with design would give me a good balance. 

However, when I started to learn about trees, I was captivated by them. A friend who was an arborist took me climbing and I fell in love with the idea of working with trees.

I haven’t looked back since.

What does your day-to-day work involve?
I run a tree-care company, so there is a lot to do every day. I employ really good staff who allow me to concentrate on running the business, meeting customers, pricing work and still being able to climb most weeks, which can be pruning or removals. 

I also run a training company which is a Lantra training provider, where I can run Lantra training courses and carry out NPTC assessments.

What was your first experience in arboriculture?
Technically not arboriculture, but my father did forestry and ran sawmills. Even from a young age, I was surrounded by chainsaws, felling and tractors. I had no idea people climbed trees for a living, so when I saw it when I was 18 studying horticulture, I had a natural attraction to it.

READ MORE: Women in arb: Founder of Roaming Goat Stump Grinding Lucy Turner shares her story

What was the last job you worked on?
We have a variety of jobs scheduled every week. This past week we were on a clearance job – a domestic site which had been neglected and the property was to be rebuilt, so a lot of overgrown trees were either removed or pruned to retain.

What is your proudest achievement in the industry?
I work really hard at tree-climbing competitions. I have been doing this since 2005 and have attended competitions in America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. My proudest moment was recently, when I won my fifth ISA International Tree Climbing Championship title in Copenhagen.

What is the most important thing you have learned during your time in the industry?
To value yourself and your business correctly. Be rewarded for producing quality professional work to a high standard rather than undervaluing yourself in order to be the cheapest. As a result you can invest in your staff and equipment to provide a great service to your customers.

Also, I’ve learned that you cannot do everything yourself in business. In order to grow you need to allow others to take responsibility and inject their own ideas and skills.

What has your experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry been? What kind of obstacles have you faced/overcome to get to a senior role?
Personally, I have not faced too many negative obstacles in the industry. I strongly feel that regardless of gender you need to be yourself, be strong-willed and confident. I never saw being female as a disadvantage. Any negative opinions I have come across I actually saw as a challenge to overcome and gave back as good as I got.

What can be done to encourage more women into the sector?
To educate early in someone’s life what arboriculture actually is and what career options there are. If you regularly see women doing real tree work on social media, magazines etc, you subconsciously become familiar with it. And if it’s done without highlighting the fact they are female, it would improve the whole industry’s view of women in arb.

How important is a good work-life balance when working in the industry?
What’s that? Seriously though, I have learned this is extremely important. 

Forestry Journal:

In my 20s I used to work every day, but you soon get burnt out and that becomes dangerous in our work. I realised I tried to please everyone all of the time, and this isn’t possible. Something always suffered. So you need to take time out and, in the end, everything gets done. My life is pretty much just trees, though. With my hobby as tree climbing, most of my spare time is spent practising new techniques or systems, but it’s something I love and enjoy so I see this as something different to work.

What are the biggest challenges facing the sector at the moment?
There seems to be a difficulty in finding new staff who are competent operators. There is also a problem where good-quality training is not valued enough – the industry as a whole seems to want cheap training in order to achieve a qualification, but then complains about the lack of ability of operators. Initial training and, more importantly, continued training and development is essential to raise the standard of our industry.

Forestry Journal:

What gives you job satisfaction about carrying out your role?
Positive customer feedback. When they appreciate how difficult our job is and why they are paying a professional price for a professional outcome. I also really love looking at a finished job such as a large reduction where you have managed to achieve what the customer requires and have been able to prune correctly to avoid issues to the tree you are retaining. And when you pass that tree over the following years and it looks great.

From your perspective, do you see any shift in attitudes in arb? Is it becoming more inclusive for women?
I think it’s a lot better than when I started 20 years ago. I think it’s easier to see women in arb due to social media etc, so it does encourage someone who would be apprehensive of starting their career.