Groundbreakers: Women In Landscaping

As women take on more leadership roles in the Green Industry, other females will be encouraged to join the ranks.

By Nikki Hendrickson
From the February 2023 Issue

Women make up 47% of the American workforce ( However, they only make up 6.5% of landscaping and groundskeeping workers (Statista). For many years the Green Industry has ignored nearly half of the workforce.

Why is this? Do employers think women can’t handle the physicality of landscaping, like digging holes, planting trees, lifting bags of fertilizer, climbing trees, etc.? Do they think females can’t handle the heat of working outside? Do they think women can’t operate spreaders, sprayers, and heavy machinery? We can do all the above and do it well. It’s time to start actively recruiting the fairer sex.

My Background

Why am I writing this article? A little bit about me. Over the course of my career, I’ve pulled hose, sprayed trees, fertilized lawns, operated skid steers, and shoveled snow. I’ve been a sales representative for Bayer. I’m currently a sales rep for Advanced Turf Solutions. I’ve been in this industry since 1999, and I can’t imagine being involved in any other industry.

I have my Bachelor’s Degrees in Entomology and Horticulture Production from Purdue University and my Master’s Degree in Entomology from the University of Kentucky (UK). In 1999 I graduated from UK and started looking for a job. I always thought I’d do research, but after four years of summer research internships, I realized I wanted to work outside.

With my degrees, the landscaping and turf industry made sense. I found a position at Mark Holeman, Inc. as an integrated pest management associate. The role would oversee ornamental and turf applications and would meet with potential customers to sell programs. I applied and got the job.

First Job

There were several questions about my physical abilities and work ethic. Would I be able to pull 300’ of hose? Would I be able to fill the fertilizer hopper and push it when it was full? Would I show up week after week to fertilize and spray chemicals? I had no doubts about my abilities, and I did that job for nine years.

I wasn’t the only female within the maintenance department. The department manager liked to hire women for trimming and annual plantings because he felt they paid more attention to detail. He took a chance on me, and I think they were very happy with their choice.

In 2002, my manager asked if I’d be interested in running for the Indiana Professional Lawn & Landscape Association (IPLLA) board of directors. He thought they needed a woman on the board. He wanted me to break into the “boys club.”

Association Involvement

There are plenty of female role models in the Green Industry.
We just need to make them more visible.”

— Nikki Hendrickson

Women In Green Industry

I was elected to the IPLLA board of directors in 2002 and have been involved in some way ever since. I served as president in 2006, and I’m currently their education director. I’m also the past president of the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation (MRTF) and the Indiana Outdoor Management Alliance. I’ve also been on the Purdue Ag Alumni Association for ten years. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time serving on industry boards. I feel it’s a great way to give back to an industry that has given me so much. Association boards are also a great way to network with other people. Anyone can learn a lot by being involved with an association board.

As mentioned, when I first joined the IPLLA board, I was the only female. However, a couple of years later, there were three of us. Since that time, there has always been a female board member. I was the third female president in 2006; there have now been six since the founding
in 1987.

Not every association is lucky enough to have that much female involvement. I’ve been involved with the MRTF since 2008, both as an elected and appointed position. I’ve always been the only female serving on the board other than the executive secretary. I served as president in 2021 and there has only ever been one other female president since the board’s founding in 1945.

More Representation

So why such a difference between the two associations? MRTF has more golf involvement than IPLLA and according to the U.S. Golf Association, women are only 1.5% of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s (GCSAA) nation- wide membership. So there’s a slim chance that an appointed board position from the golf associations would be female. In my years on the board, Industry reps have all been males—except me. I don’t think associations are averse to women on the board; it’s more likely that not enough women are adding their names to the slate. It’s simply a lack of women.

Why do we need female representation on Industry boards? Not only do females add diversity and a different perspective, but having women on Industry boards can encourage female involvement. It gives women in the Industry someone to look up to. I feel it’s the same with female speakers at Industry events. We need attendees to see as many females in key roles as possible. There are plenty of female role models in the Green Industry. We just need to make them more visible.

Take Action, Be Passionate

Women are capable employees and leaders. Women should willingly volunteer service to industry associations. We should nominate ourselves and other females to run for association boards. I think associations should monitor event attendees to search for women who actively participate in programs. Someone who participates would make a good board member.

Look at associations in your state and see who needs female involvement. If you or someone you know is interested, run for the board or encourage them. If you are unsure about a board position commitment, ask to volunteer in some other form. Join a committee or offer to help with a fundraising event.

Once elected to a board of directors, it can take a while to get adjusted and feel comfortable to be vocal. I’ve been the only female on a board before and it can be intimidating. Women are often considered emotional. Is it fear? Lack of confidence? Are we too passionate?

I say, be passionate. If you love the Industry, be involved. Women should be confident. Take time to find your place on the board. When you’re comfortable, speak up. If you have goals, let them be known. If you want to climb the leadership ladder, tell the executive committee/director. Everyone has their own strengths. Know what you bring to the table. I was good with education programming, so I served on the education committee for many years. If you have ideas to increase membership, or how to improve a golf outing, let your thoughts be known.

We need to prove to everyone that women deserve the same respect and praise that men do. As women take on more leadership roles, we become accepted. Women need to step up to the table. I truly believe, as we take on more leadership roles, other females will be encouraged to join the Industry. Women have a voice, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Why Recruiting Women Is Your Next Power MoveWomen In Green Industry

The recent rally cry for labor has been unprecedented. Intensified need has owners venting their struggles to find and keep good help.

Hendrickson is a sales representative at Advanced Turf Solutions, a Green Industry distributor that serves lawn care professionals throughout the Midwest and beyond. Hendrickson earned a Bachelor of Science in Entomology and Horticulture Production from Purdue University and a Master of Science in Entomology from the University of Kentucky. She is passionate about entomology, turf health, and sharing her Green Industry knowledge with others.

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