Deborah Cole

Writer/Speaker/Consultant, Founder and Former President of Greater Texas Landscape Services

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

Photo courtesy of Deborah Cole

I never considered myself a leader or mentor. As a young girl guided toward traditional roles of the day (you know the ones), my sights weren’t set on leading anything or anyone, much less founding and leading a multimillion-dollar landscape corporation. The joke was on me: The universe had other plans.

After 35 years of a gazillion successes and an equal number of goofs, I left my employee-owned company in the hands of a talented group of leaders and leaders-in-training. On reflection, my proudest shared successes were the professional growth of team members. They morphed into leaders of enthusiasm, integrity and skills beyond what they thought possible. Mentoring women was an especial joy for me.

Admittedly, the majority of the staff in our company was male, many of whom felt that leadership in some form was their path. On the whole, the percentage of women working in green industry companies varies. Published figures indicate that there are fewer than 25% of females in production/leadership positions in landscape firms.

Why is this the case? Women continue to face challenges with workplace culture including societal beliefs about women and their abilities in the industry as well as pervasive stereotypes of women and what roles they can play.

When asked recently if I have any regrets in my former life as a leader in business, I responded that I wish that I had done more to encourage women in leadership roles in all businesses, not just ours.

Women-led companies excel. As reported by Forbes Magazine, these companies tend to perform better than male-led firms in the standard business metrics. Gender diverse companies stand out in more ways than one. Research shows that gender diversity results in increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making and higher employee retention and satisfaction. The Harris Poll shows that slightly greater than half of Americans surveyed prefer to work for a female leader. Along with surveyed workers indicating they prefer working for a woman, they state that in female-led groups, they feel the teams are more purpose-driven, more likely to offer equal pay and focus on fair and equitable working conditions.

Millennials who place a high value on work culture want to work with organizations that champion values which in the past have been considered “soft.” These values are compassion, collaboration, and the freedom to be a unique individual. The same group said that women more often lead with a focus on these values and that having a female in an executive position makes them believe that they can also achieve a leadership role. More than once I was encouraged to stop worrying about the “soft stuff” and focus on numbers. I’m proud that I stood my ground (soft as it was.)

Leaving the industry in frustration should not be the only choice. I believe that being a role model and mentor when possible will move the needle on an increase in numbers of women in leadership while setting the stage for others in the future. Giving lip service to increasing numbers of women in leadership is not enough. We must lead by example and be the leaders and role models. Be the change we wish to see. The talents we have as women are essential to the success of green industry businesses whether in management, administration or operations.

Editor’s note: Deborah Cole is an active member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals Women in Landscape Network (powered by Bayer) which provides a forum for industry professionals to support each other’s professional growth. The Network is free to all industry professionals.

June 2021
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