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Tree officers’ Diversity and Inclusion Report

Author:  Rosie Dobson
  04/08/2023
Last Updated:  04/08/2023

Rosie Dobson

The London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) Diversity and Inclusion Working Party (DIWP), in association with the Association of Tree Officers (ATO), has launched the 2022 ATO Diversity and Inclusion Report.

The ATO’s National Diversity and Inclusion Report

There has been a recent, noticeable increase in efforts to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) within the workplace and society. Increasing diversity in the workforce can provide advantages to employers by increasing the pool of potential employees, to include a broader range of qualifications, backgrounds and experiences. For tree officers, having greater diversity improves our ability to represent the communities that we serve.

The DIWP was formed in 2018 to investigate barriers to accessing the tree officer profession, to understand the current state of D&I within London tree officers, and to make changes and recommendations to improve accessibility and outreach. In 2019 London tree officers were asked to complete a D&I questionnaire and the results were published in 2020. The findings provided valuable insight into the diversity of London tree officers but did not give a complete picture of diversity within the UK tree officer profession, and so, in 2021, an updated and expanded questionnaire was sent to all ATO members and to the Tree Officer Forum.

181 completed questionnaires were received. The survey results presented in the report were analysed by the DIWP, including comparisons with national statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and with information published by other organisations/institutions. The findings identify areas where diversity is low, provide details on barriers to entry to and progression in the industry, and inform suggested actions to address these barriers and improve diversity and inclusion in the tree officer profession.

Survey findings

The survey findings indicated some positive elements of diversity in the tree officer profession and some areas in need of improvement. The results indicated that tree officers are not representative of the population they serve in areas such as gender, ethnicity and nationality with more tree officers being white or male or British than the general population. 85% of respondents stated they had no religion or were agnostic or atheist, in comparison to 29% of the UK population who stated they had no religion or responded ‘other’ in the UK Census 2011.

23% of respondents considered themselves to be neurodiverse, in comparison to 12% of the wider population, indicating that the profession may be well suited to the needs of neurodiverse people. Conversely, 6% of the respondents considered themselves to be disabled compared to 14% of the UK labour force, implying that the physicality of the sector may be a barrier to entry to people with a disability.

The survey included questions on tree officers’ backgrounds, training and qualifications. Unsurprisingly, 41.5% of respondents came from tree surgery, forestry or horticulture backgrounds, revealing a narrow range of paths into the profession. However, the results also revealed a wide range of influences and other factors leading respondents to enter the profession, including a love of nature, family or friends’ advice, careers advice, or experience in countryside management, local government and a wide range of other professions. ATO will shortly be publishing a range of pathways into the tree officer profession to demonstrate the range of options and support new entrants.

Only 6.1% of respondents were in assistant or other trainee-level roles, indicating a lack of such positions for new starters.

Over 57% of respondents worked in London and the south-east, indicating that the questionnaire may not have reached tree officers in other regions. The results could also indicate that there are more job opportunities in the south-east.

Barriers to entry?

Respondents were asked to identify barriers to entering the profession and ways in which these barriers could be overcome. Some respondents referred to very specific barriers, such as unconscious bias, sexism and lack of career opportunities, but other respondents stated that they had not experienced any barriers to entering the profession. The most commonly cited barriers were: an exclusionary industry culture, including sexism and unconscious bias; lack of jobs, training and funding for training; lack of career advice and career progression; and the low profile of the industry. Respondents recommended more engagement with schools and colleges, improved career advice, increased promotion of the industry in general, use of apprenticeships and in-house training, and improved career progression and salaries.

Suggested actions

The report includes aims and actions for industry organisations, for individuals and for employers. Employers are recommended to provide equality and diversity training, increase part-time roles, entry-level jobs and apprenticeships, promote training and work experience opportunities, reach out to wider communities with job adverts, provide support for individual employees needs, and promote and practise healthy working habits. The report suggests individuals can undertake diversity and inclusion training, practise good working habits and promote the industry through outreach and attendance at promotional events.

The report suggests that industry organisations can offer training and qualifications, including diversity and inclusion training as well as vocational and professional qualifications, can provide apprenticeship opportunities, can engage with educational providers and offer career advice, and can undertake further investigations into the barriers to entering the profession. The recommendations clearly link with the aims of the Arboricultural Association’s Women in Arboriculture Group which seeks to promote the industry, support women in the industry, support culture change and encourage a diverse and inclusive working environment for all.

The importance of diversity and inclusion is clear. Tree officers from a range of different backgrounds and experiences generate more ideas, creativity and innovation, which in turn improve problem solving and decision making, and so bring strength and resilience to our profession. Greater diversity and inclusion make us better able to represent our own communities and to address the shared challenges that we face.

The report is available here: www.ltoa.org.uk/docs/ATO-2022-diversity-report.pdf

The working party would like to thank Treework Environmental Practice and Connick Tree Care for their support in producing the report.

Rosie Dobson is a member of the London Tree Officers Association Diversity and Inclusion Working Party.


This article was taken from Issue 202 Autumn 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.