While the green industry has continued to grow and change throughout the years, experts agree that there’s still more that could be done to make the field appealing to women and minorities.
Total Landscape Care talked with Sierra Saint, co-owner of One Love Lawn in Grove City, Ohio, and Dee Larson, owner of LandscapeGal in Northfield, Minnesota, to hear their stories of coming up in this field and the challenges they faced as green industry women.
Getting their start
Growing up working with her father at his excavating company, Larson says she was no stranger to working with heavy machinery when she entered the green industry.
“From the time I was young, I was a farm girl out there greasing machinery, fueling machinery, helping with site surveying and setup and doing what I could do to help my father,” says Larson.
Larson earned a degree in landscape design and horticulture from the University of Minnesota Waseca and went on to work for two nursery and garden centers, as well as a design/build firm.
During the 2008 recession, Larson says she was inspired to begin the process of starting her own landscape design company. After working three different jobs in the green industry, she decided it was time to try her hand at running her own company.
“I thought, well, am I going to let myself do this all over again, work for someone else and put my eggs in that basket or am I going to make this happen for myself?” says Larson. “I said it’s now or never. I was well advanced in my career, so I decided now’s the time.”
Larson remembers that the week she decided to pursue her own business was also the week her father passed away. This, she says, pushed her to take that leap of faith and become a business owner just like him.
Since LandscapeGal was founded in 2012, Larson says it has been going strong and has continued to gather dedicated clients.
For Saint and her husband, starting One Love Lawn was an excellent way to provide for their family, as well as put their landscaping skills to good use.
Saint says the company has been in business for six years, and her favorite aspect of this line of work is interacting with their clients. Saint says she also enjoys utilizing Instagram to showcase the company’s projects, as well as connect with other green industry women.
“I wish I knew more ways to get women to come out and be part of this,” says Saint. “I know not everyone’s a big social media person, and I’m not either but I try. What drives me is trying to get more females to show they are in this industry and doing great work. That’s what gets me going.”
When she and her husband originally decided to start their landscaping company, Saint says she received backlash from men within the industry and misunderstanding from women outside of it.
Saint says when interacting with other non-green industry women outside of work, the field isn’t always socially accepted as a career. Saint says it’s almost like women landscapers are looked down on for doing manual labor for a living, and she believes this social stigma also contributes to the lack of women in the field.
“For a while, I was embarrassed about it, and I would just tell people I worked in the office,” she says. “But then I realized that I had nothing to be embarrassed about. I work hard, I love what I do and I do it well.”
Larson has found over the years that more women are going into the field now than in the past, but she still thinks there’s a misconception about the industry that keeps women away. She says many women think that the green industry is a grunt job with low pay, but Larson says those days are fast changing.
“There is this misconception that it’s low paying and a steppingstone job, and it really is not at all,” says Larson. “It’s a really rewarding career, and there are a lot of places that women can go in this industry. They just have to want to do it, and they have to have their mind open to the fact that it’s possible.”
Dealing with adversity
While things might have improved slightly for women in the green industry, Saint says to this day she still gets laughed at due to people not believing she has the skills to do landscaping jobs.
Saint adds that when showcasing project photos, some don’t believe she did the work herself because they didn’t actually see her performing the tasks.
While she says interacting with other landscapers in the area has become better with companies she sees often, there are still plenty more than treat her poorly.
Along with being looked down on for her gender, Saint says she is also treated poorly because of her race. Saint says there have been numerous times in her career where clients would find out she was performing the work and they would refuse service.
“In my city, I’m working with more than just being a woman; I’m also a black woman,” says Saint. “So, not only do I get it from being a woman, but I have some people who don’t even want to shake my hand or even pursue any kind of business with me because I’m black.”
In her area, Saint says she sees hardly any women of color that are part of the green industry, and she believes many of them are denied business based on their color.
Larson says her biggest challenges have been dealing with assumptions and biases based on her gender.
“People say, she couldn’t possibly know what she’s doing when it comes to equipment operation, retaining walls or grading, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Larson. “I’m really good at all those things, and I was driving a bulldozer when I was 12. I can climb in any piece of equipment that I own and have no trouble.”
She says people also assume that since she is a woman, she doesn’t have the necessary strength to perform landscaping jobs. Truth be told, Larson says she’s stronger than many of the men she’s worked with over the years. To her, it’s more of a mindset than an actual lack of physical strength.
Saint says she continues to advocate for women and minorities in the green industry by promoting the field online and by taking time to talk with any women landscapers she comes in contact with.
Her mission, she says, is to spread the word that the green industry is no longer a boys’ club, and women have just as much of a place in this field as anyone else.
Check back tomorrow for part two, where we’ll see what these landscapers are doing to bring more inclusion to the industry, as well as their advice to other women in the field.