As with most paths, the way is not always a straight shot. Career and industry trends ebb and flow, and the green industry is no different.
The national discussion about women in our industry, however, is not a trend. It’s a topic that’s here to stay, and we’re excited about it! Ewing’s own Sue York has been a pivotal pioneer and helped lead the way for so many women in our industry.
Jill Odom, Content Manager at the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), wrote about women in the industry a number of years ago. From what women do and how they found the industry in the first place to encouraging more women to join us, Odom’s insight led us to discussions with our own team.
While there are a lot of mantras, the old saying “follow your own path” can be practical advice. Whether you’re new to the industry or a pioneer like Sue, we’ve gathered these four pieces of advice from employees at Ewing to help you grow your career in the green industry.
Follow the Path That Makes Sense for You
All the women we talked with at Ewing arrived in their current roles in different ways – no path was the same.
“I got into the industry after studying Horticulture at Brigham Young University – Idaho,” said Sarah Anderson, Branch Manager at Ewing Burlington. “After working at several landscape maintenance companies, and helping my husband start his own landscape company, I was approached by Ewing to work as a sales associate.”
“I first got into the green industry because of my family tie to the business,” explained Kathy DiVecchia, Account Manager at Ewing. “I was in the restaurant business for about 11 years prior to starting in this field. My mother worked in the green industry, and I decided to give it a try. I loved it right away. The opportunity to come to Ewing and start a new division was the challenge I was looking for.”
“I was in my early 20’s when I moved from a small town and into Dallas, Texas,” said Wendy Bass, Director of Customer Financial Services. “I was fortunate enough to find a career and had two great mentors.”
“In 2003, I was looking for a job and it was recommended I look at a landscape supplier that was currently hiring,” said Account Manager Christy Herbert. “I began working in the retail store, and after four or five years, I had made enough connections with contractors and clients to move into a sales role for that same supplier. After 14 years with that company, I left to work for Ewing as an account manager! I have been with Ewing about 3 and half years now.”
Whatever path leads you to the green industry is your own, and the path you choose to take throughout your career will be your own as well.
The Number of Possible Paths is Limitless
The Ewing employees we talked with expressed their enthusiasm for the many and varied opportunities that lie ahead for women in our industry.
“The sky is the limit in this line of work,” said DiVecchia, who mostly works with hardscape materials in the aggregate arena. “The industry itself has so many categories that there is always an opportunity to continue learning and staying in front of what the market is leaning towards in trends.”
They also stressed that there are ways to overcome obstacles that might block your path.
“My biggest struggle has been confidence in myself,” explained Anderson. “I wouldn’t call what I deal with discrimination, but some people believing I am incapable. I feel it is important to always be kind, but also stand up for myself as to my skills and knowledge.”
By taking the time to learn about products, equipment and best practices, women can work around a potential obstacle or remove it completely.
“I make sure I am confident in what I am talking about, assure the client I am more than capable of filling their requests, and sometimes throw in that I have been doing this a very long time,” Herbert said. “It is just about educating the client on our abilities and speak to things they can relate to.”
DiVecchia said that early on, it was difficult to gain trust in a male-dominated industry. “It took a few years to gain the knowledge I needed to be able to intelligently speak on the specs and aggregates needed for certain jobs,” she said. “I had to really prove myself to gain trust from the companies I was helping.”
It’s also possible as you learn more about products or expand your business skills that new avenues will open up and provide additional opportunities to grow your career.
Leverage Relationship Skills
Stereotypes about women and relationships are abundant, but if you are a woman with great people skills, don’t be afraid to leverage those skills in the workplace to help your customers.
“Relationships are the key to our industry,” said Bass. “We want to grow our customers, so we coach them with our knowledge, help them become successful and help them in hard times. They will not forget, and you have a partnership for a long time.”
“Women can make very personal relationships with clients,” said Herbert. “That improves the trust and makes us easy to rely and lean on for solutions.”
“What I love best about the green industry is my customers,” said DiVecchia. “I am a people person by nature, so I love everything about the people. I have been doing this job for close to 19 years now. I have met some great people that I have been helping run their business for over a decade.”
In some cases, being strategic about building those relationships can help too.
“I like to develop a professional relationship over the phone before meeting in person,” explained Herbert. “If a first meeting is in person, I make sure I am overly prepared and well versed in whatever situation we are working through.”
“I think the majority of customers enjoy working with a woman,” added Herbert. “We remember the details of their families, genuinely inquire about their lives and help them efficiently do a job that needs a bit of organization.”
It might be a stereotype, but if you are relationally focused, leverage that skill both to help your clients and to guide you as you strategically navigate your career path.
Share Your Experiences with Other Women
Talking with like-minded professionals has been a good business practice for decades, and it applies here as well. Women in the industry can support each other and encourage other women to join us by sharing their experiences, good and bad.
“Navigating as a young woman in a man’s industry had its challenges,” said Bass. She dealt with crude jokes, men talking about other women and foul language, but she learned not to let the comments bother her. “You must develop a thick skin and learn to take things with a grain of salt.”
“In the beginning I was very young (and looked even younger!),” Herbert said about her experience. “It was hard to get customers to trust that I was old enough and educated in the things that we were talking about.” She added, “There is also a level of respect that comes when a woman has been in the green industry for years and has proven to be a trusted partner to the client.”
For her part, DiVecchia explained that “this industry is not intimidating! From the outside looking in, women tend to think that it is.” She said, “Learning the products and getting in front of people can seem like a lot but the branch managers and yard managers are very helpful, and you can pick up enough info in a short time to do well.”
“This industry is very rewarding!” added DiVecchia. “I have had so much success in my short time at Ewing! I can’t wait to see how the business progresses in the next decade and where I will be when that happens.”
If you’ve followed a unique path throughout your career in the green industry, you are not alone! As more women join our workforce, it becomes increasingly important to share experiences and encourage each other to follow our own career paths.
What do you think members of the green industry could do to attract more women to join us? Let us know in the comments below.