From the bottom to the top and in every area of the landscaping sector, we find women challenging prejudice. One might conjecture that, in 2022, surely the landscaping industry is no longer biased against women. Unfortunately, landscaping is still heavily male-dominated and the women trying to break through are pioneers for the generations who will follow. Whilst change has been creeping into the field, landscaping is a trade; one of the last bastions of male dominance. Many men believe that women simply do not belong. So, what is the experience of bias like for women in landscaping today? What motivates them to persevere and what advice would they give to other women hoping to join them? I spoke with a number of inspiring women about their experiences in the modern landscaping sector.
Caroline Shaw and Melanie Addlem work for Shaw Landscape Group in Wollongong. Caroline is the General Manager and Head of Company Culture whilst her husband Scott Shaw is the Founder and Creative Landscapes Director. Melanie is Marketing Manager and Head of Client Experience at the company. The company regularly employs other women such as Paris Halsey who recently completed her final 2 years at Shaw Landscape Group before finishing her apprenticeship in Landscape Construction.
On joining the business in 2017, Caroline simply wanted to bring her wealth of business acumen and experience to help take the landscaping business to the next level. With a BTEC National Diploma in Business and Marketing from London, over 25 years’ experience running a variety of businesses, and 15 years studying personal development and business philosophies, Caroline knew she could make a difference. Having not previously worked in trades, she did not think about encountering bias, however, she had identified several flaws in the industry, such as a real lack of customer service and a lack of female presence. At the time, the company was 100% male as were most of their competitors, suppliers and the like.
Unfortunately, even in the office of landscaping businesses, you can still find bias clinging. You might have thought that as general manager of the business, Caroline would not have been subject to bias, especially with her vast experience and business savvy, but this is not the case. Even now, some men are tempted to view her as just ‘the wife’ rather than the driven and talented professional she is.
Melanie is Marketing Manager and Head of Client Experience at Shaw Landscape Group. She too was new to the trade, coming from the fashion industry. Melanie loves working at Shaw Landscape Group and finds the industry to be like a breath of fresh air, however, she has experienced bias when out on site. The prejudice is usually from other trades on a busy commercial site who don’t often work with women. Regrettably, many men fail to recognise the real effect it can have on women as a whole. Despite this, Melanie loves the creativity landscaping offers and is motivated by helping improve customer experiences and building excellent client relationships. Many people find building and renovating their properties to be stressful so improved focus on communication and daily client satisfaction is paramount, particularly with an ever-growing female client base.
The good news is, that as both GM and Head of Company Culture, Caroline has managed to turn Shaw Landscape Group into a great place for men and women to work side-by-side. Caroline is motivated to do her very best for the business and their growing staff. By focusing on worklife balance, safety and respect in the workplace, women are free to follow their dream of a career in landscaping. With the right attitude and support, Paris was able to emphatically demonstrate that women are just as strong, capable and smart as the guys, if not even more so.
Just like Caroline and her team at Shaw Landscape Group, Simon and Victoria Davies at Manuka Gardens are avidly working to break the bias against women in landscaping. Victoria is Business Manager at Manuka Gardens, whilst her husband Simon is Managing Director and Head of Landscape Gardening. Victoria can certainly empathise with Caroline, reporting that there have been some ‘old school’ clients and contractors who always want to speak to the bloke. Despite launching the business together, some older generation men insist on treating Victoria as less knowledgeable, experienced or consequential than Simon.
Whilst the prejudice experienced by Caroline, Melanie and Victoria is relatively subtle, Manuka Gardens currently employs two young women who have had far more overt experiences of bias. Before joining Manuka Gardens, Tayla Croker and Mikhala Beaumont spent parts of their apprenticeships with what can only be described as less than ideal employers. Both women were treated by their employers as though women had no place in landscaping and their failure was inevitable. Both women were determined to succeed despite having to endure daily insults, derision, and highly unequal treatment. Both women are keen to point out that many of the younger men on site were far more supportive and respectful than the management, which hopefully reflects broader generational change and bodes well for the future of women in the industry.
Tayla and Mikhala were both aware they might experience some degree of sexism and bias as trade apprentices, although neither of them realised the extent of the workplace bullying and sexual harassment they might encounter. Nevertheless, they have worked extremely hard, physically and mentally, to excel at their trades. Both were fortunate to be employed by Manuka Gardens part-way later in their apprenticeships and the experience could not be more different. Their true value and potential have been recognised and nurtured. Simon and Victoria are far more progressive in their hiring approach than some landscaping firms, hiring individuals purely based on their skillsets and attributes. Aki Collins is a female horticulture apprentice the business has recently taken on, and all the women praise the support, friendship and camaraderie they experience at Manuka Gardens.
Having recently completed their apprenticeships, Mikhala and Tayla’s outstanding attitudes and skills have been recognised by the industry. In 2021 Mikhala was awarded Landscape Construction Apprentice of the Year by The Landscape Association NSW and ACT. Tayla was the first female to ever compete at the national level of the WorldSkills Competition, crowning that achievement with a Silver Medal. Both women are shining lights in the industry, demonstrating that not only can women participate in the landscaping industry, but they can absolutely ace it!
Neither Tayla nor Mikhala set out to be pioneers for women in landscaping, they were looking simply to fulfill themselves with satisfying careers that suited their interests. Mikhala had both ADHD and a creative streak so landscape construction appeals to her through its physical aspects, the variety, and the need to use every part of your mind and body. Tayla was interested in the outdoors and sustainability so she too was naturally drawn to landscaping. However, their early experiences sharpened the motivations of these exceptional young women. Tayla originally wanted to stay out of the spotlight, fearing to be judged for being female. When it became apparent invisibility was impossible, she resolved to show the industry just what women are capable of. She is now leading the way and mentoring other women to help them to also succeed. Originally, Mikhala was motivated by anger at her treatment, determined to show the strengths women can possess. She is now driven to help change the bias against women in the industry and lead by example. Mikhala and Tayla are both overwhelmingly proud of their achievements to date and relish the fact that they are making other employers sit up and take notice of the potential assets they have been overlooking. They are also delighted that other young women, who may have been intimidated or unsure of entering landscaping, have been inspired to take the plunge.
March 8 is International Womens’ Day and The Landscape Association is proud to support the industry to #BreakTheBias against women in landscaping. Together, we can create stronger industry that appreciates the passion, creativity and skills each and every landscaping professional offers to the field.