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Pest Control Magazine

"Breaking Gender Barriers"

October, 2000 by Lisa Shaheen, Editor in Chief

While there are some obstacles to be over-come, women are an asset to pest management companies.

Here's a riddle for you. A man and his young son are in a terrible car accident. They are both rushed to a hospital emergency room. Unfortunately, the man dies in the ambulance on the way there. The little boy is in serious condition and in need of an operation to save his life. However, the emergency room doctor refuses to operate, saying, "I can't operate on this boy because he is my son." So, who is the doctor?

Is the doctor the boy's stepfather? How about grandfather? Or maybe a more complicated scenario in that the man who died is actually the stepfather, and the doctor is the boy's biological father? The true answer is really much more simple than all this. The doctor is the boy's mother.

"I am not of the `women's lib' generation, so the most difficult obstacle was merely getting out of the house and moving into the work force. Originally, I was going to teach school, so my work day would be similar to my children's schedule. When I became involved in business, maintaining marriage and motherhood commitments at the important level I believed they should be, became a paramount juggling act."

--Bonnie Everts, co-owner, Pesco Pest Control Services, Inc., Indianapolis, Ind.

"I think that there are really two areas. The first was to be taken seriously as a businessperson by industry peers. The second was to become a master at time management. Because of the additional commitments in my life, learning to prioritize has become a significant professional advantage."

--Judy Dold, president, Rose Exterminator Co., Northbrook, Ill.

It's not at all unusual to see women technicians, supervisors, owners and operators. However, even though the work may be equal among men and women pest managers, some of the challenges can be quite different.

Roberta Grossman is an account representative for Rose Exterminator Co. in Troy, Mich. She currently sells home service, but spent 20 years as a technician prior to her current position. Grossman notes that often, customers are as amazed today as they were 20 years ago when a woman shows up from a pest management company--especially as a technician, and even as a salesperson.

She believes customers, especially males, are surprised because they don't expect a woman to be
working with "bugs and rodents." In the beginning, Grossman set out to prove herself, and found that
a professional demeanor was the key to her success.

"I've never had a woman think that I couldn't do the job. Most of the time, it's men who think a woman isn't capable of taking care of a situation," Grossman says. "But, I've actually had men thank me and shake my hand when I leave. It's all in how you present yourself."

Diane Rast, a branch manager at Gregory Th' Service That Cares, Anderson, S.C., also sought to prove what she could do as a female in the pest management industry, and says she occasionally fields comments like, "Oh a woman does this, too?" Her biggest obstacle has been fitting into this traditionally male-dominated industry.

"You have to work twice as hard to prove what you can do," Rast points out. "Whereas, all men have to do is say they can do the job and it's taken at face value."

As a branch manager, Rast has total responsibility for five technicians (three males, two females) and one office staff member. She started out as a technician herself beginning in 1987, by answering an ad for a small pest management company in Jacksonville, Fla., that said "females encouraged to apply." She had no knowledge of the industry, but was encouraged solely because they hired females. Her training was "on the job."

"On my first day, the girl who was training me said, `Put a capful of diazanon in your B&G. Go in the house, start at the right side of the front door and spray all around until you make your way around the house and back to the front door'--that was my training," she quips.

At Gregory, training was different. Rast spent a month riding with one of the company's lead technicians before taking over her own residential route. After a year on a residential route, she moved onto a large commercial route, which consisted of healthcare and food processing accounts for two years. In October 1998, she was promoted to commercial supervisor, then in January 1999, she became branch manager. Rast was the first female at her branch location to work as a manager.

In her current position, she continues to go out into the field so that she can stay abreast of everything that is going on in the industry, as well as to stay in touch with the technicians. She keeps current by participating in regular verifiable training, administered by Gregory's technical director. Rose provides monthly branch training, as well as company-wide sessions conducted twice annually for Grossman, who was also trained on the job. While she admits being a little squeamish about insects at first, Grossman found her way to pest management out of pure job necessity, and it turned into an interesting career.

"This was the first stimulating type of work that I ever did," she says.

The Pros

Both Grossman and Rast agree that being a woman in this field has its advantages. For one thing, in many cases residential customers tend to be women themselves, and they appreciate being able to work with someone like Grossman or Rast.

"Women have much more success as a technician in residential accounts because, usually, you're dealing with the lady of the house, and she's much more comfortable dealing with a woman," says Rast.

Grossman says trust is another plus.

"In home service sales, customers trust and relate to me more as a woman," she projects, and adds that her experience working as a technician gives her an edge as a salesperson.

"I know what I'm selling, and that's another advantage," she asserts.

Grossman's experience as a technician helps her in sales because she can evaluate each account and know how much time the technician will have to spend there. So far, she has sold more than the previous two people in the same position.

For Rast, being a woman in the pest management industry can be the best of two worlds.

"I believe I have the advantage because I can work like a man, but I think like a woman," Rast asserts, and adds that this innate characteristic is especially helpful in her role as a manager. "I'm aware of the technicians' feelings and I'm more attentive to their needs."

The Cons

As with any job, some days it's not all roses. As a woman in this field, both Grossman and Rast have had their share of quirky incidents. Both have found that a professional reaction is the smart way to temper potentially sticky situations.

However, even with job experience, these women know that they must still exhibit common sense and be concerned about personal safety. In one instance, Grossman was sent to an account to take care of a roach infestation. When she arrived at the address, she realized it was a halfway house and that about 20 men were living there. Grossman drove around the block a few times before deciding that she shouldn't go into the account. She went back to the office and spoke with a supervisor, who rectified the situation by sending a male technician to finish the job.

"The older and harder I got with my position, the more I learned to stay professional. When you let people know you're not participating, it helps," Grossman tells Pest Control. "There are certain areas that we would be leery of sending females."

Grossman is quick to point out that situations such as the halfway house are the exception to the rule. Common sense, as well as technical training are necessary for her job. Ordinarily, dog bites are a hazard she's more likely to face. In fact, she was bitten by a German shepherd on two occasions, and that "scared her for a while."

At one large commercial account, a customer grabbed Rast and tried to kiss her. In typical "bad movie-style," when she went out to her vehicle, the battery was dead. It ended on a good note, with the customer apologizing and actually offering to charge the battery.

Rose stands behind its technicians, unless there's a real personal conflict between a technician and customer on a route--and that can happen. However, Rose will not pull someone off their route because the customer "doesn't want a woman, a particular race or age," for example.

Not necessarily as a woman, but as a manager, Rast's primary goal is to motivate her technicians to do the very best job that they can. One way she does this is through a contest for a Technician of the Month award, also known as the Flick Award, named for the ant character from the movie A Bug's Life. The winning tech wears a badge denoting Technician of the Month, and he or she carries a stuffed Flick around in the truck for a month. Plus, the winning technician receives gift certificates good for free truck washes, and the best part of that is--Rast does the washing!

"I wash their truck, and that's what they like the best," says Rast. "It's something that puts me in their shoes."

Rast will even run a technician's route for a day as a reward for superior job performance. These perks are designed to help keep technician morale boosted.

"I really love what I'm doing," Rast reports. "I feel like I can pass on what I've learned over the years and I can treat my technicians the way that I wanted to be treated when I was a technician." PC "

Although there are many obstacles, I think the largest hurdle has been to get people to understand that I can get as down and dirty as my male counterparts, and that with a little ingenuity and elbow grease, I can overcome any lack of brawn. On the opposite side, the greatest advantage has been that 1,000 folks can be in a room and trying to remember everyone's name--often I find myself being the only female (or one of a few females), and everyone can remember what my name is and where I am from."

--Dr. Linda Mason, professor, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.

"The biggest obstacle we have overcome in our industry has been within our associations--state, national and international. I am very proud that for the first time this year, we will have a woman as president of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) [Bonnie Everts], as well as a woman president-elect [Judy Dold]. These women are there because of their experience, abilities and achievements--not as tokens.

Having been one of the first women to serve on a state board of directors, I have a great deal of respect for what a woman who breaks those traditional boundaries has to endure to be considered equal. I actually had one male board member tell me that he didn't really mind my presence at the meeting but it would be better if I would show more cleavage".

--Barbara Morehead Kunst, manager, multi-family housing division, Fischer Environmental Services, Mandeville, La.

Editor-in-Chief Lisa Shaheen has received numerous awards for editorial quality and performance. She is also an active member of several industry organizations, including Pi Chi Omega.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

Reprinted with permission from Pest Control Magazine, October 2000


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