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Green Industry Job Opportunities for Women Continue to Grow

Women still only make up about 10% of the green industry workforce but they are fiercely passionate about and committed to the field, both in growing their own careers and encouraging other women to join their ranks. 

We asked three women in the green industry for their thoughts on the opportunities for women in the profession, how the industry has progressed since they first started and what advice they offer to other women in the field.


The Only Woman in the Room


When Jean Singleton CIC, CID, CLIA, EPA WaterSense Partner, president of Naturescape Irrigation, began taking Irrigation Association courses and certification exams in 1998, she was frequently the only woman.

“This always surprised me because I was never one that was hung up on gender roles. I think this came from the fact that my father never treated me any differently from my brothers,” the Illinois-based professional said.

Growing up on a small 82-acre hobby farm in Indiana, she developed a love for the outdoors, growing food from seed, caring for animals, and a strong work ethic. In 1983, her parents bought a small landscaping company, and she spent college summer breaks working for the business planting flowers and watering turf manually at The Westin Hotel in Rosemont.

After college, Singleton worked as an accountant in Domino’s Pizza’s regional office. When Domino’s relocated to Detroit in 1990, she joined the family business full-time. At that time, the company had changed to strictly irrigation contracting. As it grew, she formed the irrigation service department.

“I love the interactions I have with our employees and customers. On those days that we face a challenge, I absolutely love to see how our team comes together to solve the issue and get the job done,” Singleton said. “I have so much pride in how our team works together and has each other’s back; this extends past working hours as well. Our company truly is an extension of the family.”

Valerie Mechelle, grounds supervisor at the College of DuPage in Illinois, can relate. She started her career at a park district in 1987. The compound housed multiple divisions, including parks, forestry, mechanics and greenhouses. Of more than 100 staff, she was the youngest at 22 and the only female.

“I was hired as a ground’s worker. But for my first two months, I was assigned to the greenhouse because they really didn’t know what to do with a female worker,” she said. “During this time, open testing was held for several lead positions in the park district. I took the test and received one of the highest scores ever recorded. I was immediately moved up to a crew leader and placed in a challenging section of the city with the intent that I would quit.”

Mechelle remembers facing vile harassment daily. Back then, there was no me-too movement, no HR. It was push forward or quit. She saw it as a challenge and spent five years working hard, which earned her many accolades before moving on.

“I have yet to come across any aspect of this industry that a female cannot do,” Mechelle said. “We might not have the physical strength to do the tasks the same way as men, but through body mechanics and approaching the problem with a different mindset, everything is possible.”

Allie York Tripaldi, an inside account manager for Ewing Outdoor Supply, joined the green industry nearly 30 years after Singleton and Mechelle. While men still far outnumber women—91% of workers are men, and 9% are women—women are increasingly joining the industry in various capacities and are generally made to feel more welcomed than in decades past.

Tripaldi is a fourth-generation family member for our company; her first position was in a local branch. She grew up in the green industry, working odd jobs in her family’s distribution business during high school summer breaks. But after college, she left the landscaping field for a job in the tech industry.

“When I first started at the branch, contractors would come in and say, ‘we’ve never seen a woman behind the blue counter,’” Tripaldi said. “Interestingly, there are more women in the industry on the East Coast, and we have several branch managers and account managers there, and I’m hoping we’ll see more at other locations across the country.”


Opportunities for Women in the Industry

The industry is grounded in growth—the work is fundamentally about all aspects of growing and maintaining planting materials in various environments. But it’s also about fostering growth in its workers, particularly women, Mechelle said.

“I have seen so much growth in the confidence level of women in our industry, and it is because of this industry. I have had female workers go on to be assistant directors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and leaders because they found their confidence doing tasks that they never thought was possible for them to do,” she said. “There are so many specialties still to be developed in these industries.”

Women also bring unique perspectives and skill sets that can bring unexpected elements to project designs.

“I think when more women are at the table it naturally fosters a more collaborative problem-solving atmosphere. Clients also appreciate a more patient thoughtful approach to their properties,” Singleton added. “I had a situation last season where I was one of four contractors that a homeowner had called about her sprinkler system.  She said she hired our company because of my thoughtful analytical approach to her property even after telling her upfront I was sure I would not be her cheapest option.” 

Tripaldi added, “In the green industry, we are beautifying a park or an outdoor landscape, and I think there is something special to woman’s eye in that area. We see a lot of landscape architects in the Bay Area, and it inspires other women to think ‘maybe I can get my hands dirty.’”


Words of Advice to Women Considering Green Industry Jobs

“My advice to women looking to get into the industry would be to find a company with a culture that is supportive and values education,” Singleton said. For those already in the industry, if you are not already in a company that is supportive, find one that is. If you are a woman in management, mentor those around you and lift employees up. Be the light of change in your organization and if the road looks long take pride in the small steps you make year on year and keep moving forward.”

Taking advantage of any educational classes or seminars that you can find to grow your knowledge base. Increasing your technical skills can also come through connections with others in the industry.

“I admire Missy, a Ewing account manager in Florida, because I feel my tech knowledge is not as strong. When she started in the industry seven years ago, she didn’t know the tech side either,” Tripaldi said. “She said success is about being honest and reliable, and if I didn’t know an answer, to find out and get back to the customer.”

Tripaldi had another role model to look to for inspiration. Her grandmother, Sue York—a second-generation Ewing owner—and a trio of female programmers wrote the inventory management programs that fueled the company’s explosive growth from the 1990s to the 2010s.

“For her, it was a job that needed to be done, and she was going to figure it out,” Tripaldi said. “When I called to tell her I was coming back to the business, she was super excited for me—it was the first time we ever talked about it—she is inspiring.”

TAGS: Women in the Green Industry, Green Industry