"Breaking Gender Barriers"
October, 2000 by Lisa Shaheen, Editor in Chief
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,
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
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
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
"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
"This was the first stimulating type of work that
I ever did," she says.
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,"
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."
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
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
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
"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."
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,
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,