Girls, Women, & Tools

When you picture a typical construction worker, who do you see? When you think of a landscaper or lawn specialist, what do they look like? The answer is probably a man and that makes sense. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represent only 10.9% of the construction industry even though we make up approximately 47% of the total workforce. We exist, but unfortunately we aren’t common enough to impact biases and stereotypes. Ready the pulpit, this is where I come in.

The Facts

Of the 10.9% of women working in construction, 87% of them hold office jobs. This means that only about 2.5% of these women are tradespeople, the people who are getting in the dirt, working with tools, sweating, and putting in the physical energy. Also, only about 7% of these workers are in leadership roles. So not only is it rare for women to work in construction in general, it’s even more infrequent for them to work in the field or in an executive position. In my experience, there are also even less women in the hardscaping aspect of this job than the landscaping.

Why?

My question is always, why? Isn’t gardening a pastime traditionally seen as feminine? Landscaping isn’t that far off from gardening, so it’s baffling to me why so few women work in outdoor construction and yard work. I know too many who have not even considered this type of job because they were intimidated by it being a male-dominated profession. But apart from personal gender biases and negative perceptions of women working in more physically demanding jobs, another reason for this gender gap is a lack of adequate training and resources available to women. 

Where to Begin 

From my personal experience, the best resource I can recommend to anyone wanting to try their hand at construction would be a technical school like Lanier Tech or Gwinnett tech. I got a degree from Gwinnett Tech in horticulture and landscape design. It was there that I had the privilege of learning from some amazing professors who taught me everything there is to know about landscape design. I learned how to look at the grade and elevation of a yard and immediately find where the water is flowing and even more, where it should be flowing. This spatial analysis skill has been one of my greatest assets for years now working in the mountains and hills of North Georgia. 

High school is another place where you can dip your toes in construction. Lumpkin County High School actually has a construction department where they teach kids skills like carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. The kids even get to build houses for underprivileged families with Habitat for Humanity. 

I taught for 7 years at Lanier Tech and rarely had women in my classes. We did all kinds of projects that were physically demanding like building patios, retaining walls, and using heavy-duty compaction equipment. But here I was, a woman, actually teaching the class. I want women to know there are plenty of construction jobs out there for them. They just have to take a little leap of faith and trust people like me who have done it.

The Reward

This enormous gender gap in the construction workforce is something I hope will change as time goes on and women realize the satisfaction and reward they will receive when working with their hands. Even though I have a lot of education and have worked many academic jobs, I found my true calling in creating with my hands. I started with planting but now I have done it all. Whether it’s building a wall, growing a plant, or installing a patio, the feeling of fulfillment I get when I create something from nothing is unmatched.

Women in Landscaping

Jenny Hardgrave

When I first entered into the landscaping scene, I knew of one woman in the business, Jenny Hardgrave, owner of Simply Flowers Inc. in Atlanta. According to her website, Hardgrave graduated from college with a degree in Nursery and Landscape Management. After moving to Atlanta, she discovered her niche with a local landscape contractor as a seasonal color designer. Hardgrave then started her own business in 2001 with 10$ to her name and 12 clients. She now has over 700 commercial and residential clients totaling $2.5 million in sales. She has served as president of the Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turf Association (MALTA) and was recognized in 2007 by the Georgia Green Industry Association (GGIA) as Communicator of the Year. Some of her most recognizable properties are Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, The Carter Center, Centennial Olympic Park, Lenox Mall, and the City of Marietta to name a few. An inspiration to us all, Hardgrave is a prime example of how far women can go in this field. From her website: “These accomplishments, along with the success of Simply Flowers, are a testimony to Jenny’s skills, talents, tenacity, and exceptional customer service. Jenny has built a professional design team that is recognized as the southeast’s premier color-scaping specialist.”

Although we do not have any female construction/landscaping help now, we have had many women work for us in these types of roles in the past. I hope more will come. 

Sierra Sonen 

This is a picture of Sierra Sonen. She was a college student who worked for us part time. She didn’t know much in the beginning but she was willing to learn and that she did. Sierra helped with digging, pulling weeds and old plants, mulching, and other landscaping tasks. Her previous job was working for a dentist where she realized she needed to be outside more. I admire her willpower and am thankful for the time she spent with us.

Robin Adair

This is our wonderful former employee, Robin Adair. Robin was not afraid of any big tools, in fact she loved using them. She was tough and willing to go the extra mile for clients. She moved to Athens and we miss her as well.

Other women I can’t forget to mention in this list are my friends, Pamela Keene and Terrie Thamer. These are women who started as clients of mine, became my friends, and are now master gardeners on their own. I like to think I had a hand in their journey as I know they have in mine. Check out their blogs to learn more about how they got into landscaping and gardening. 

Pamela Kenne (left) and Terrie Thamer (right)

Change is Coming

The good news is, the world is changing. Gender stereotypes are becoming a thing of the past which means women and men have the freedom to explore whatever job or industry interests them. According to The New England Institute of Technology, “In 2018, the percentage of women in the construction industry stood at just 9.9 percent. In 2020, they constituted 10.9 percent of the entire workforce, signifying a steady increase in women’s employment within the past two years.”

My goal is to encourage women by leading as an example of how it is possible to do construction, love it, and make a career out of it.  Women are strong, powerful, and smart. Can you imagine what might improve if women were involved? There is a famous bridge in London nicknamed the “Ladies Bridge” due to the fact it was built almost entirely by women during World War II. It is also known for being the only bridge built on time and on budget. I will let you make your own conclusions on that one…

Here is the TedTalk from Emily Pilloton-Lam that inspired me to make this blog. It is definitely worth the watch.

From Emily: “I am determined to help more women enter into and grow in the trades because these are exciting, well-paying and essential jobs. More than just an economic opportunity, though, is a chance for women to play an equal and substantive role in the making of our physical world. Construction for many women is purpose-driven work, a career in which power tools represent personal power. I want to walk on sidewalks, cross bridges and enter buildings that I know were raised by a community of builders that represents us all.”

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