Photo courtesy of Jenn Myers

It is no secret that the industry has had and continues to have a major workforce shortage. It is the number one challenge cited by landscape businesses; now, lawn care contractors are struggling as well. There is a way to embrace, welcome and grow an under-tapped sector of our workforce — and that is by prioritizing, recruiting and retaining women in the industry.

In the recent 2021 NALP Foundation Workforce Demographic Study, the data showed that women fill a fraction of the landscape and lawn care roles (8%) compared to the jobs filled by women in the workforce at large (47%). That is a huge disparity between the numbers of women working in our industry and in the workforce at large — and it is also a huge opportunity if attitudes and behaviors change to welcome women into our industry. I know this from personal experience.

Early in my landscaping career, after a recent promotion, I had a senior male manager tell me I wasn’t qualified for the role because I was: 1) too young, 2) too inexperienced (hadn’t paid my ‘dues’) and 3) a woman. This man said to me, nonchalantly in the office kitchen, that one of the reasons I wasn’t ready to lead was because I was a woman.

I was so very fortunate to work for a manager at the time who I felt comfortable sharing this episode with and who supported me in my role (and assured me I was very much qualified). Like the majority of management professionals in our industry then and now, my boss was male. He was willing to speak out for me, encourage me and help develop my skills as a leader — but that isn’t always the case. While women in our industry can cheer and advocate and inspire each other to greatness, we need the support of all, including male advocates, managers and business owners, who are willing to do the hard work with us.

How do we fix things? Let current and potential female employees know that they are welcome. Provide uniforms that fit comfortably; clean bathrooms at the office and offer solutions to identify and utilize clean bathrooms on or between jobsites. Create communities within the organization that help women to connect and bond and tap into the experiences of women on your team to help lead and drive this continuous change.

Call out inappropriate behavior by employees, subcontractors and customers. Don’t dismiss inappropriate jokes as locker room talk, or something that ‘comes with the territory.’

Support women who choose to have a family...and those that don’t. Encourage mothers-to-be, and be understanding of the needs of mothers (and other primary caregivers).

Recognize that women can be integral and essential to your business’ success at all levels. Ensure that female candidates are presented with a career path that includes upper management and doesn’t assume or push them into certain roles. Many of the college programs we work with continue to see strong gender shifts in their enrollment, with some programs reaching 70%+ female students. Are your interviewing, hiring and onboarding practices ready to tap into this talent?

Women are more than qualified, capable and ready to lead. Female employees are in the workforce. It’s up to us to show them the door is open, they have a seat at the table and we’re ready and willing to hear their voices.

Women in Landscaping is a column brought to you in partnership with the National Association of Landscape Professionals.