by Kate Douglas Kestyn, Affiliate ASLA
The American Society of Landscape Architects was founded by 11 people. Do you know how many were women? One.
Beatrix Farrand studied the art and science of landscape before any formal academic programs existed. In the late 1800s women were excluded from public projects, but that didn’t stop Beatrix from gaining prominence. She began her career designing private residential gardens, but her later work is likely better known to you. It includes the National Cathedral, White House gardens, Princeton, and Yale.
She was the first. Since then, woman have come to serve a broad range of roles in the landscape industry. But we are still outnumbered by men. That’s why BrightView—the nation’s largest landscape company—founded GROW (Growth in Relationships + Opportunities for Women), the company’s first Employee Resource Group (ERG), with the goal to attract, retain, and promote women in the company.
Caring for our people is part of BrightView’s culture. The new corporate reality since BrightView went public is that shareholders have certain expectations and cultivating diversity is among them. “Being the largest landscape company in the country carries certain obligations as a leader in the industry,” said CEO Andrew Masterman. “The GROW initiative is just one way we can achieve that.” He added, “the women of BrightView are making history, changing the way landscaping is delivered, and leading the design, development, maintenance, and enhancements of some of the country’s most recognizable environments.”
Of BrightView’s 20,000 team members, only 7 percent are women, so the company sees a lot of opportunity to help achieve the goals of GROW. In particular, the company has identified specific roles that are ideally suited for the traits and characteristics of women. “Women are more likely to be team players, enjoying working with others. With this focus on cooperation over competition, women are more likely to band together and tackle work problems together,” says Amanda Orders, Senior Vice President for Human Resources and GROW Co-Founder. “A lot of our positions require our team members to collaborate with a range of people, both inside and outside of the company. Having women in these positions ultimately makes the company more successful.”
I have had the honor of serving on the Board of GROW since its inception and am responsible for all of the programming and events we provide. It is not my “day job,” but rather my passion. So I am excited to share what we have achieved in a short period of time and how you can implement a similar program in your own organization.
In particular, the group has launched the following initiatives:
- An annual Impression Survey to understand how our women feel about working for the company and how we can better support them.
- A quarterly newsletter focused on the women of BrightView and providing programming specific to the topics identified by our female team members. Content has included executive presence, mentorship, work-life harmony, communication, and leadership.
- Quarterly webinars to provide more in-depth professional development.
- Regional conferences to give our women the opportunity to network and receive additional education.
- A mentorship program to better support and connect our women, especially those who work in all-male environments or who have never had the opportunity to work with a more senior woman.
- A national partnership with Dress for Success to support the women benefiting from their program, with the ultimate goal of bringing them into our workforce.
- And, opportunities for our women to volunteer for stretch assignments specific to their interests.
“ERG’s can play an important role in integrating a diverse workforce and help to keep employees engaged and motivated by giving them a sense of inclusion,” says Caroline Weilert, Vice President of Marketing and Co-Founder of GROW. “We have been thrilled to see the positive impact GROW is having on BrightView and the renewed sense of engagement from our female team members.”
So what have we learned in the two years since GROW was first conceived? Or more importantly, how can you apply this to your firm, regardless of size?
- Get buy-in from leadership. ERG’s, regardless of the focus, cannot be successful without the support of leadership.
- Start by asking questions. Our first initiative was a survey to all of our women to see what they needed and wanted. It provided the foundation for everything GROW is doing today.
- Communicate. Make sure that your intent and the value you are providing is known to everyone, not just the women. The last thing you want is for your ERG to be perceived as strictly social or a “girls club.”
- Involve everyone. The quarterly GROW newsletter, for example, is distributed to everyone in the company, because the content is relevant to everyone, not just women
- The process will be organic. We have shifted gears or recalibrated many aspects of GROW as we have evolved and know that we will continue to do so. We originally wanted to have one large national conference, but we determined that having smaller, regional events provided greater impact for our women.
- Check in. Back to the organic thing—touch base periodically with your women to make sure you are having the results you want, and if not, try something else.
- And lastly, don’t underestimate the impact even the smallest effort can have on your culture. One thing that we determined by surveying our women is that some of our uniform choices didn’t always work for their bodies. We have a task force now looking into better fitting options and more selection, a quick “win” that will send a significant message to women in the field.
Ultimately, BrightView wants to ensure that every person in the company can achieve great success. We see GROW as just one way we can do this. If you’d like more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. This is not my job; rather it’s my passion.
Kate Douglas Kestyn, Affiliate ASLA, is an Associate at BrightView Design Group with almost 25 years of experience in the industry. She combines a passion for success with a straightforward, pragmatic approach to develop and implement tailored strategies and solutions. However, it is her support for women that sets her apart. Kate serves as a founding Board Member of GROW (Growth in Relationships + Opportunities for Women), a company-wide initiative to attract, retain, and promote women. Additionally, she serves as an example for women within BrightView through her firm leadership as well as her involvement in ASLA’s Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN).
Kate will be speaking at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego this November for the WILA PPN education session: What We’re Getting Right: Working Toward Gender Parity in Landscape Architecture.