Out of seven industry leaders, Abby Santos was the only woman on the stage during a panel discussion at a conference I attended this winter. A landscaper in the audience asked her how the industry can better market itself to women and recruit women.

Santos, owner of No Ka Oi Landscape Services in Hawaii and NALP’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, made the point that the industry should do more, but it can be difficult to recruit women or show them a path for progress in the landscape industry when there’s only one woman on the board of the national association.

“It has been a struggle in a man’s industry. Like in the construction industry, I have mostly men working for me, four women,” she told me in an interview later. “Very few women want to come in at the entry level. Women who want to do it have to be prepared to deal with that reality.”

According to our 2015 Landscaper Census, just 11 percent of the industry is female. I’m not here to say that’s too low or too high, but as contractors across the country struggle to find qualified candidates for employment, the green industry could do a lot better by making itself a better place for women to work at all levels. That means treating them fairly, viewing them as competent, capable employees, and having a zero-tolerance policy on harassment.

For a lot of reasons, we don’t all start from the same point in life. Just because it’s been easy for one of us doesn’t mean it’s been easy for all of us, and just because I haven’t experienced harassment or hurdles in my life doesn’t mean other people haven’t.

Just because I haven’t experienced harassment doesn’t mean other people haven’t.

And Lawn & Landscape could do better as well. We can and should do more to profile and promote women in the industry. The landscape industry has no shortage of smart, talented women leaders – Christy Webber, Jen Lemcke, Debbie Cole, Barb Stropko and Joy Diaz (who is on the NALP board) all come to mind.

We don’t lack for sources and we need to feature more women. But we won’t do it just because they’re women, but because they’re running interesting and innovative landscape or lawn care companies.

So that’s what we can – and will – do at Lawn & Landscape. But the industry as a whole needs to diversify its labor pool and make itself a better place for women to work, and to show them that there’s a path for their success as landscapers, too. – Chuck Bowen