April 1, 2019
Women, landscaping and opportunity
By Allan Dennis

Like many other skilled trades, the landscaping industry has been a bastion of men.

That’s changing. Over the past number of years, more and more women are entering the arena previously dominated by men.

Rod McDonald, whose column has appeared in Landscape Trades for the past number of years, owned and operated a successful garden centre/landscape firm in Regina, Sask. He recalled his first experience hiring a woman. “In 1980, when I first hired Heather, the guys of my crew were a little taken aback that their supervisor was to be a woman. But they got over that hurdle, and surprisingly, it didn’t take them that long.”

There are many similar stories like this one over the past couple of decades. Now, women are a part of the trade. “When I speak at a conference, many of the faces are now female,” writes McDonald.

Part of the reason for more women coming to landscaping is the shortage of skilled workers. Many industries have realized it is time to get past the stereotypes and employ a more diverse workforce. In sectors like construction, where the demand for skilled workers is highest, companies are actively recruiting women to fill open positions.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has reported that by the year 2020, Canada will be short one million trades workers.

Ahead of other trades

Sally Harvey, Director of Education and Labour at Landscape Ontario, is one of the earliest females to work in landscaping as both an employee and business owner. “I have seen good progress over the years. With 54 per cent of the population, there is still work required to increase females in all trades,” Harvey comments.

Harvey is also a board member of the Ontario College and Trades. She says that landscaping shines above many of the other trades, with a rate of 30 per cent females employed in the industry. “We are ahead of other industries in terms of apprenticeship,” says Harvey.

In the U.S, just 11 per cent of the industry is female. According to Tammy Evans, President of Canadian Women in Construction, “Women comprise 11 per cent of people employed in the construction industry. Of that 11 per cent, only four per cent are actually ‘on the tools’ and in the past ten years, this number has changed by less than one per cent.”

London advocacy group

In response to more women coming into the industry, and as an encouragement for more females to examine landscaping as a career, a new organization, Women in Landscaping, was formed in 2018.

Carla Bailey, of TLC Landscaping in London, Ont., who also serves as a member of the Landscape Ontario London Chapter, is co-founder of Women in Landscaping.

“Many young females see the industry as not attractive for work and lifestyle,” says Bailey. “They think that they will be laid off for four months, with low pay and no benefits. We need to educate them that working in the landscape industry isn’t about low pay, layoffs, etc.” As well, Bailey says many girls are intimidated by large equipment, while boys tend to naturally get into it.

Bailey says not only are more women coming into the industry, they are staying. “It is especially true of those people who are well-educated. We encourage women to begin the process of networking with others in the industry. This is a must if you are going to survive in this industry.”

Women in Landscaping is led by four leaders in the profession: Carla Bailey; Pam Cook, Fanshawe College; Michelle Peeters, Ron Koudys Landscape Architects; and Riley Irwin, Baseline Nurseries — all from different walks of life.

The organization recently hosted its spring shindig on March 22 at the Civic Gardens in London. Dianna Clarke, Manager of Parks Operations for the City of London, was this year’s keynote speaker. “The event also featured extraordinary women in the industry who shared what it means to be a woman in our industry yesterday and today,” says Bailey.

Women in Landscaping is very appreciative of sponsors for the spring event, and thanks Grand River Stone for being a champion of women in the industry.

At the inaugural event last year, over 30 professionals and educators heard keynote speaker, Sally Harvey, speak about her entrepreneurial path and extensive background within the profession. Following Harvey’s address, it was reported that “a lively roundtable and panel discussions produced engaging conversations about common concerns of women in the profession.”

Bailey recalls seven years ago when she worked with women having difficulties in landscaping. She says those difficulties are slowly disappearing.

“I want everyone to understand that we are not anti-men,” says Bailey. “We are working to encourage more women to enter the industry. We also encourage women now in the industry to act as mentors.”

Pam Cook, an instructor at Fanshawe College’s horticulture program, says, “Each industry member is different. There are great owners who understand and are willing to increase numbers of female staff members.” She notes that women tend to be more conscious of safety issues compared to men.

Both Carla Bailey and Pam Cook said their advice to women is to be more assertive in both company and association meetings. “Know your self-worth,” they say.

Language outdated

In her March 2018 monthly column in Landscape Ontario magazine, Myscha Stafford, LO Membership and Chapter Coordinator, wrote about the culture or work environment on job sites in regard to women.

The column contained words by Kristal MacMillan, Operations Manager at Christine’s Touch Gardening in Toronto. “I think the common language of our profession is outdated, sexist, and is a catalyst for behaviours. I think a lot of behaviours are implicit and done subconsciously. Awareness and change at the highest levels are essential to make an effective and lasting change in our profession and to get on track to a more level playing field.”

MacMillan highlighted some of the methods her company uses. “By language, I mean the use of the following terms: man-hour and foreman for example. In our company, we have always used the terms labour-hour and crew leader or supervisor. It is commonplace in our company to use non-gender specific terms and all of our systems are set up to reflect this so that it quickly becomes the common language for our entire team.”

Pay equity

Another issue is part of the greater wage disparity that exists between men and women in all levels of employment. Women working full-time earn 24 per cent less than their male counterparts.

The Canadian government’s policy is, “Pay equity is not the same thing as equal pay for equal work. The concept of equal pay for equal work means that people who perform the same job, or similar work, must be paid the same wage, regardless of their gender. For example, a female janitor and a male janitor in the same establishment should receive the same wages for performing the same work. Pay equity refers to the concept of equal pay for work of equal value. It adds a new dimension to the concept of equal pay for equal work by requiring that jobs within an establishment be compared on the basis of their value to the employer. In other words, pay equity does not limit comparisons to similar work but requires the comparison of very different jobs, such as a female clerical job with a male janitor, or female lab technician job with a male carpenter.”

The Ontario government has legislation called the Pay Equity Act to ensure that employers pay women and men equal pay for work of equal value. This means that men and women must receive equal pay for performing jobs that may be very different but are of equal or comparable value. The value of jobs is based on the levels of skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions involved in doing the work.

Attracting high school students

There are a number of groups working to attract females to the landscaping industry. One such event occurs this May in Edmonton, Alta., with the Girls Exploring Trades and Technologies Conference. High school girls will talk with certified tradeswomen, apprentices and technology experts who have pursued rewarding careers. Through these women’s stories, experiences and knowledge, students will be motivated to pursue trades as a career.

Last year, nearly 300 young women from grade seven to 12 participated in the first-ever Women in Trades Experiential Learning Day at Kemptville College in Kemptville, Ont. The hands-on learning experience was hosted by Landscape Ontario, Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. The goal of the pilot project was to better engage and provide positive experiences for youth exploring various career pathways.

The Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program offers horticulture to high school students. There are presently 24 schools providing the program in Ontario.

Record of leadership

A look at the 46-year history of Landscape Ontario shows two women have served as president of the association: Monica van Maris in 1987 and Joan Johnston in 2000.

In 2017, the inaugural Monica van Maris Green Professionals Woman of Influence Award was presented by Landscape Ontario and Toronto Botanical Garden to its namesake in recognition of her pioneering achievements as a green professional.

In her acceptance remarks, van Maris, a longstanding volunteer reflected on her role to encourage more women to participate in green industry leadership, “since they were already such essential contributors to their family businesses.”

A survey of Landscape Ontario chapter boards and sector groups reveals there is still much effort required to encourage women to take on more leadership roles. Most chapter boards have mostly men serving in leadership roles, while the 11 sector groups overall have even fewer women.

The exceptions to this are found in Georgian Lakelands and London Chapters, where women are in the majority. In sector groups, the pattern follows with the designers’ group having more women serve on its board than all other sector groups combined.

If the number of females receiving scholarships over the past few years is an indication, more and more women should be moving into positions of influence within the landscaping industry.

Over the past 10 years, the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation has awarded over $330,000 in scholarships to students pursuing a career in the green profession. Nearly half of those scholarships have been awarded to females.

Regardless of gender, the staggering statistic of a one million worker shortfall as early as next year, means more work is required to attract and retain workers from all walks of life to the landscape profession.