Sep 1, 2020, 14:00 PM

Chani Humphries loves the great outdoors, and always wanted to be an arborist. But when she joined Citywide as an apprentice arborist in 2012, it was a tough transition – especially for her male colleagues.

“They’d be saying things like ‘why don’t you leave that for the boys’, or ‘I can’t believe you’re that strong’,” she recalls with a grimace. “They didn’t really mean to be sexist – but it did take a bit of getting used to!”

Today, Chani, 36, has none of these problems. As Citywide’s first female operations supervisor overseeing a Trees contract, she leads a mostly all-male team, who treat her with “nothing but respect”.

“It’s changed significantly over the past five or six years,” she says. “My team really support me – and women in trade generally. They know what I can do, so I don’t have to prove myself to anyone any more. They know that I know what I’m talking about, so there’s a basic understanding between us all.”

For about four years, Chani was the only female arborist at Citywide, and found her predominantly older colleagues struggled with having a younger woman on their teams. But slowly things started to improve.

“I think it’s helped that we have so many women in our executive and senior leadership teams, who can talk about issues from a woman’s perspective. There are also a number of really supportive men in the senior management, who’ve helped me and encouraged me to grow.”

Compelling role models

Chris Elliott, the Operations Leader who gave Chani her big break, says it’s the growth of women in senior operations roles who provide the most compelling role models for women joining the business.

“When they see people like [General Manager - Municipal Victoria] Lisa Carty doing such a great job, that’s a great influence,” says Chris.

“Women have many strengths that men can often struggle with. These qualities lead to better planning and the ability to think through jobs, not to mention multi-tasking … Besides, being an arb is not just about strength. There are so many qualities women can bring to this role that the guys can learn from. I’m proud that this is becoming the norm now at Citywide.”

Chani is part of a steadily growing female presence in Citywide’s Trees and Open Space divisions – where there are now 29 women on our teams.

Joy Venz, a 36-year-old former secondary school teacher, was inspired to join Citywide when she met two of our team leaders at her school careers fair.

“I’d been teaching for 15 years and, though I loved it, I realised I didn’t want to be a teacher for another 15 years,” she laughs. “I’d been thinking about the outdoors space for a while – as I really want to keep contributing to education and a more sustainable environment for our children.”

Having joined Chani on one of our trees teams, Joy plans to enrol in a Certificate 3 in Arboriculture. She says she knew before joining Citywide that, while it would be a male-dominated role, she could fit in here.

“I never thought about doing this kind of work for anyone else,” she says. “I was confident that Citywide would look after me. After I met Neil [Baker] and Simon [Mossman], I did some research and got a strong vibe that women are valued here – and that premonition has proved right.”

So has it been tough fitting in? “Not at all. No one cares that you’re a woman here – although I have noticed that my size and strength can be a bit of a disadvantage. But no one makes me feel bad about it – everyone’s happy to help,” says Joy.

“I just know that I have to get stronger and more mechanically minded to do the job better. But that’s definitely part of my plan!”

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Simon Mossman - Group Corporate Communications 
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