Photo courtesy of Kelly Fortune
From an early age, I was guided to be a self-sufficient woman. That was helpful as I started my professional career, as I was greeted with very little support and an obvious glass ceiling.
As I tried to find my footing, the work dragged me down, leaving me emotionally and physically drained each day. The lesson for me was to work harder than others, keep my emotions in check and face the day with a positivity I did not always possess. I found myself fighting to be noticed and appreciated. After many hurdles, I found a home in the green industry, drawn in by driven and hardworking people I met.
In my role, I often found I was servicing landscape contractors that were not used to working closely with females. I loved to see their perspectives change as I perfected the use of the machinery, helped with their landscape designs and became an extension of their business. These relationships evolved into a true partnership, with me earning their trust and respect.
Like many women, I was balancing travel at work with a young child at home. I was missing out on the time with him that I would not get back. One thing that became a priority was knowing when to turn work off and be present at home. I fully gave all that I had when at work and traveling, but nights and weekends were for me and my family. This gave me a way to relieve the building pressures, but also increased my productivity and happiness at work.
There was also recognition that I needed someone to talk to, vent my frustrations, ask questions and receive guidance on navigating the day to day. I found a mentor to help coach me, and he helped draw out the qualities of the professional I was developing into. Working hard to learn the business, including time spent with production teams, I was finally building bonds with industry professionals and carving a path to what I hoped was a legacy independent of my gender. Currently, I am a mentor for the next generation who look to me for insight. They are taking notes from my “playbook.” We talk through work-life balance and discuss ways of continuing to reshape how to work within a male-dominated industry. When they see women in leadership roles, it gives way to hope as they sculpt their own path to success.
When I worked for a landscape contractor in Morrisville, N.C., we had a Christmas party where I received the “Chameleon Award.” This award showcased my ability to adapt to any environment. That was an inspiration on how I would look at every future opportunity. Put me where you need me, and I will soak up the colors and find passion in the work.
A great example was building our SiteOne nursery private label brand from the ground up. Being a willing chameleon, I developed a passion and pride for the legacy we are creating. This chameleon mentality has honed my skills of how to be gray in the world of black and white. The takeaway would be to look at how to be nimble when the direction changes, evaluate all sides of a situation and flex when the unexpected is asked.
At the end of the day, this industry and its experience can cultivate a woman that is as comfortable as the soil underneath your nails when you apply what you learn. Find ways to nurture positivity, confidence and flexibility, while incorporating that as a part of your DNA. This industry is made up of a wonderful group of people that has plenty of experience to share. Reach out to others to collaborate ideas, find a mentor and make lifelong friendships in the process. In other words, find a way to plant the next seed.
Women in Landscaping is a column brought to you in partnership with the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Kelly Fortune is an active member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals Women in Landscape Network (powered by Envu) which provides a forum for industry professionals to support each other’s professional growth. The Network is free to all industry professionals.