Women in the Green Industry: Female Frontrunners

Linda Nelson, president of Greenscapes and winner of the inaugural Women in the Green Industry Award, describes her journey in the green industry and how she got where she is today.

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Women In the Green Industry Award Winners

Linda Nelson, president of Greenscapes and overall winner of the Women in the Green Industry awardLinda Nelson, president of Greenscapes and overall winner of the Women in the Green Industry awardGreenscapesWhile the green industry has made steps in the right direction when it comes to the promotion and inclusion of female employees and leaders over the past several years, there’s still more work to be done.

That is why Green Industry Pros magazine is honored to recognize those women who are forging the path for others through our inaugural Women in the Green Industry Award.

The award was developed to honor outstanding female leaders in the green industry whose accomplishments offer a road map for other leaders looking to leverage the landscape industry for competitive advantage. The hope is that these women who have been selected will inspire even more women to choose careers in the green industry.

“Many great women have cleared the path for me, and it's our responsibility to make sure that no weeds grow up in that path and it stays clear for other women to keep pushing forward,” says Linda Nelson, president of Greenscapes and overall winner of Green Industry Pros’ Women in the Green Industry Award.

Congratulations to Linda and to all our winners of the Women in the Green Industry Award. 

Female Frontrunners

When Linda Nelson attended her first landscape conference in the 1980s, male attendees often mistook her for conference center waitstaff, asking her for coffee refills or for directions to the restroom.

“They were not accustomed to me being there so it came as a challenge,” Nelson says. “It was the way we were cultured. Women went to college to find husbands, become teachers or become nurses. Very few went to college to come out and do landscaping.”

Nelson, president of Greenscapes in Naples, Fla., refused to let those (often unintentional) snubs discourage her. If anything, she doubled down, building her family’s small landscaping firm into one of the largest landscape enterprises in Southwest Florida.

“It was more into the early `90s when I started to get the recognition of Greenscapes being a female-owned company,” Nelson says. “It’s been great to see it evolve, and it’s been very rewarding to see more women get involved in this industry.”

The green industry has come a long way since Nelson was identified as someone who did not belong in the industry, but there is still room for improvement.

Nelson shares her story in hopes that women and men alike will thrive in the industry.

Humble Beginnings

Nelson got her start in the industry by laboring at her family’s landscape company, started by her mother before Nelson was born.

“The green industry was always in my nature because my mother opened up her landscape company pretty much the same day that she found out that she was pregnant with me,” Nelson says. “I love the green industry because you’re giving something back and you’re getting to see things grow. I can honestly say I have never gone to work a day in my life. It’s a rewarding field.”

Under her leadership, Greenscapes transformed from a small residential lawn care firm with two parttime employees and two fulltime employees into a commercial company with a clientele of condominium and homeowners’ associations. The 286-employee company was recently acquired by The Sperber Cos., and Nelson continues to serve as president of Greenscapes.

In addition to leading Greenscapes, Nelson continues to give back to the landscape industry. She serves on a Collier County committee to assist in the development of local codes that have impact upon landscaping and the preservation of the environment, The University of Florida’s IFAS has asked her to speak and teach on numerous occasions and The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association sought her input during the development of The Horticultural Professional, a textbook that is used throughout the state.The University of Florida’s IFAS has asked Nelson to speak and teach on numerous occasions.The University of Florida’s IFAS has asked Nelson to speak and teach on numerous occasions.Greenscapes

A certified best management practices instructor, Nelson also singlehandedly developed a standardized, comprehensive 12-hour curriculum for a local 83-year-old nonprofit, The Wonder Gardens, establishing the Florida Landscaping Expert Certification program. She delivers the adult learning program every year.

Despite her successes, Nelson has experienced hurdles as a female in a male-dominated industry even outside of conferences, for example, when she would go out to talk to potential customers.

“You could feel communities going out to bid show favoritism toward the men sitting in the room,” Nelson says.

However, Nelson says that mentality is changing.

“Now as there are more landscape committees being female based, you can see the dynamics in the room changing, but it’s about the introduction,” Nelson says. “It’s introducing an industry that has been historically male-dominated to the value and benefits of the female perspective. Celebrating and welcoming diversity in our company has been a key driver in our success.”

Geared for Growth

Nelson attributes her tremendous success to two main factors: continuing education and her team.

In fact, her nomination form stated: “Linda’s belief in and reliance upon education and training has always considered the alignment of objectives and company goals. Linda thoroughly enjoys witnessing employee ‘firsts’ that being part of Greenscapes provides; whether this is an employee’s first successful sentence in English or a first car purchase or moving his or her family into their own home, her delight is apparent. Linda loves helping all of her employees succeed and does so by providing educational opportunities and mindfully working to reduce any barriers that could hamper that success.”

Intertwining employees and training programs, Nelson developed a team-based operating strategy built upon comprehensive educational training programs to make the team proficient in various functions. Each team has a team captain who supervises the members in their expertise in areas such as trimming, mowing or installations. To further keep employees accountable, Nelson created collateral materials to achieve these goals, and the company sets clear goals and performance measures, provides continual training and then measures performance.

Nelson’s educational pathways for employees have resulted in several women assuming supervisory and management roles, decades before other companies caught on to the practice. She jokes that her company was the “Wild West” in the late `80s with a 95 percent female installation team. Now, women comprise 30 percent of general entry, 50 percent of middle management and 70 percent of senior level positions at Greenscapes.Nelson’s educational pathways for employees have resulted in several women assuming supervisory and management roles, decades before other companies caught on to the practice.Nelson’s educational pathways for employees have resulted in several women assuming supervisory and management roles, decades before other companies caught on to the practice.Greenscapes

Nelson says promoting careers in the landscape industry as a viable career path for women has been a natural fit for the company.

“Everyone is treated equally, everyone’s got a job to do, whether you’re male or female,” Nelson says. “It’s also about good identification. Future employees identify with that person in the picture in our hiring brochures. Part of our employee development is talking to some of these women and saying, ‘I was in the field, but now I’m an operation managers two years later, responsible for $500,000 worth of work every year.’ So it’s building them up that way.”

Nelson’s development of her employees doesn’t start and stop with only women, however. Several Greenscapes employees are the third generation of their families to work for the company, and under her tutelage and with her blessing, some have even gone on to open up their own companies.

“It energizes me and makes me to want to go out and inspire more and to see how I can reach and help,” Nelson says. “I hope that I’m planting enough seeds that these ‘trees’ will grow and provide shelter and shade for generations to come.”

Looking Ahead

For other women looking to build a career in the landscape industry, Nelson encourages them to open the door and take the first step forward for themselves

“Women have so many talents and sometimes, they don’t allow themselves to express those talents because they’re going back to that 1980s mentality that it’s a man’s career when it’s quite the contrary,” Nelson says.