International Women's Day

Celebrate women's achievements. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

What We're Doing

This year we've put together some testimonies from women in management positions from across horticulture. These stories are being shared so that women can relate and find comfort in them, and to expose and examine the experiences that these women went through and learn from them. We hope that in light of these stories some difference is made within our industry.

ypha

Natalie Porter - Co-president of the YPHA

"I came into the industry at the age of 22- not only as a woman but also as the boss’s daughter, and so I was immediately on the defensive: expecting prejudice, cries of nepotism and generally to be under-estimated.

At times I have probably stamped my feet louder than necessary, and there are undeniably some in the industry who find me ‘too much’. I would argue that the same behaviour that leads people to think of me as ‘gobby’ or ‘bossy’ would have led a male-counterpart to be described as ‘assertive’ and ‘determined’. It is also entirely possible that I would irritate these people just as much if I were male.

It has sometimes felt like I’m a novelty feisty female in an industry undeniably dominated (especially at management level) by men. However, I feel incredibly lucky to have had such strong female role models like Pippa Greenwood, Caroline Owen, Tamsin Westhorpe and more, who had forged a path before me and created a space in the industry for women to be well respected as equals.

Through my role as a co-president of the YPHA (Young People in Horticulture Association), I am delighted to see the proportion of men/women coming into our industry starting to become more even. At our recent RHS Wisley event, over half of the attendees were female – amongst them entrepreneurs, garden centre managers, head-growers and more. I sincerely hope the industry continues to develop its respect and empowerment of women in horticulture in such a way that we start to see a more balanced representation at the higher levels of operation."

Rose Press Gardens

Elizabeth Fox - Owner The Rose Press Garden 

"I believe my journey to starting my business has been harder as a young woman. Whilst building my business I have been seriously underestimated by some men in the horticulture industry. I was once calling up to see if I could buy stock from a horticultural supplier and they immediately told me they weren't interested in dealing with small businesses- they hadn't even asked about my business and the quantities of stock I wanted. Funnily enough after telling them the amount of stock I wanted, their tone changed and they were desperate for my business, but it was too late.

On the other hand, I've also had some incredibly supportive and understanding discussions with male suppliers and contacts in the horticulture industry, but the vast majority assume as a young woman in my 20's that my business is small and that I'm not worth speaking to.

I'd really like this to change and for a phone call for business to be treated the same whether male or female."

Mollie Higginson - Co-Founder of YPHA and Sales Rep. at New leaf plants

International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women, not just across our industry, but all industries, yet over the last decade not a lot has changed, with wage gaps between genders still present and still few women in CEO roles.

Horticulture is a very inclusive industry, and I think most would agree that once you step into our world you are welcomed, no matter your gender, sexuality, or race. It’s an industry where you become more like family to one another and are always encouraging others to grow.

YPHA has a great split of nearly 50/50 for she/her and he/him but that isn’t so across all of our industry, with some plant nurseries still not having females above admin roles, and most MDs still being white male. It is tough to find role models in an industry with so few females in senior positions. I fear it is because women weren’t pushed in the horticultural industry 10 years ago, but this is changing, with people like myself stepping into management roles, aiming to one day run the family nursery. I fear women aren’t encouraged to enter horticulture because there is a concern that females are perceived ‘less capable of doing the heavy lifting jobs’ where hard graft is required, and I am sure every female in our industry would disagree with this.

We could focus on the negatives; how over the last 5 years things haven’t changed and the number of women in management hasn’t increased, but I believe that this is changing. More women are coming up through our industry hoping to be MDs, owners of businesses and chairs of boards. YPHA is trying to push, not just women, but all young people to be more present within our industry, to act as those role models for children now and to shout about how our industry isn’t just for the ‘lads failing at school’, but for everyone, offering more manual jobs to those in science and TV.

Jane Lawler - Lawler Associates

At my interview for my first job after University, the HR Director asked me if I was intending to marry and have children? How things have changed – at the time I was not in the least shocked or surprised, and I had no idea how to respond – not least because at 22 it was not really top of my priority list! But I went on to enjoy a great early career with that employer in a team where I was the only woman, other than the bosses secretary who, by the way, had zero empathy with her fellow female and had a very ‘old school’ subservient approach to the men in the team. Not a great example to set for other young women.

I learnt to deploy a positive attitude and a sense of humour that really got me through the gender attitudes which prevailed in the workplace in the 1980s. But, I can’t honestly point to any examples of where I allowed it to hold me back – if anything it made me more determined. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Maybe I was lucky, but when I had my son, my then boss was so keen for me to continue to work effectively in the business, he went out of his way to accommodate my changed circumstances. The business supported me in finding suitable child care and allowed me to work flexibly for a couple of years – long before it was actually a legal requirement. Although getting back to work as soon as possible after having my son was not really a choice – because the maternity pay in those days was pitiful!

I continue to deploy humour to deflect any gender bias or discrimination in the workplace. When I was part of a Board of Directors managing the sale of a business to private equity investors, at a dinner arranged at a smart hotel, designed to give the Board and the Investors time to get to know each other, we enjoyed the use of a private dining room. A large group of twelve of us, our host asked us how best to arrange the group around a large round table. I suggested we should adopt the normal convention and sit boy-girl alternately. The eleven men I was with didn’t seem to appreciate the irony!

It’s been a bit lonely sometimes, but I’ve found our industry a pretty balanced and fair place to work, most of the time. Horticulture is a great leveller.