Women Making Strides in Horticulture, But More Progress is Needed

AmericanHort Women in Horticulture Panel
The Women in Horticulture panel at Cultivate’17 included (left to right): Alicain Carlson, Syngenta Flowers; Mary Jane Schermer, Express Seed Co.; Kathy Miller, Trail Nurseries; Kristine Lonergan, TVI Imports; Lela Kelly, Dosatron International; Laura Drotleff, Greenhouse Grower; Dr. Bridget Behe, Michigan State University; Anne Leventry, Pan American Seed Co.; Barbara Jeffrey-Gibson, Jeffrey’s Greenhouses; Regina Coronado, Bell Nursery; Mariah Holland, Metrolina Greenhouses; Marta Maria Garcia, Costa Farms; Susan McCoy, Garden Media Group; Kate Santos, Dummen Orange; and Jillanne Johnson, Kurt Weiss Greenhouses.

“We’re all the same from the neck up.”

That comment has stuck with me in these last few weeks since it was made by Dr. Bridget Behe of Michigan State University in a session I co-moderated at AmericanHort’s Cultivate’17, called “Women in Horticulture: Making Strides.”

The session brought together 13 women in a diverse array of powerful positions throughout the horticulture industry. From breeders to brokers to growers, and from scientists to marketers to presidents, the women on the panel talked about how they were called to horticulture and the evolution of their careers since.

Getting back to Dr. Behe’s comment, I believe she meant that women and men are equally capable, and have minds that function equally. But while I agree that we’re equals, I feel that on some levels, we’re not all the same.

As Barbara Jeffery Gibson, President and owner of Jeffery’s Greenhouses, noted during the session, women have unique traits that they bring to the proverbial table in horticulture, including our ability to multi-task, adapt to change, and handle stress. Dr. Behe herself also said marketing, which is traditionally a female-dominated role in the industry, “is where the rubber meets the road, and women connect left brain and right brain better, with the practical and emotional sides of our minds working together.” Suzi McCoy, owner of Garden Media Group, agreed, saying that because our main customer base is still women, the female perspective is invaluable because we know what customers want.

Regarding careers in the industry, Jen Zurko from Ball Publishing asked if equal pay is an issue. The overarching response: Yes. Even in some family businesses where women have executive roles, they’re not paid equally to their male relatives (from my own discussions), and in academia where pay is public record, this is clearly a problem. But the panel offered some valuable advice to women in horticulture: Anne Leventry, President of PanAmerican Seed, said women need to be aggressive about their salaries right from the start, and McCoy added women need to be their own best advocates. Lela Kelly, Vice President of Dosatron International, said, “Know your worth and do your job better; you almost have to.”

There were some men in the audience, one of whom asked how to recruit more women and support women in the industry. Emphasizing diversity at your company is a good start, the panel said. Kathy Miller, owner of Trail Nurseries, recommended supporting women who want to get involved in the production side of the business, and not to discourage them despite that it’s been a more male-dominated area traditionally.

“Support the role of women in your company and in this industry. People will recognize that support,” said Alicain Carlson, Technical Scientist, Syngenta Flowers.

I might be a little biased because I was so involved with this session, but to me, the hour we had was just not enough time. We could have filled an entire day or more with a compelling discussion about the role women play in this great industry of ours, not to mention where we’re going and where we need to be. Let’s take our cue from these women on the panel and women throughout horticulture, and make our industry one that embraces and promotes diversity and equality.

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