In honor of International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8th, I have set out this month to interview some amazing women in the service industries in an effort to learn more about their journeys and to get their take on what the future of field service holds for women.
I started my interview series off with Maria Pallotta, Chief of Staff at Canopy Lawn Care. In her role, she is responsible for executing the overall business plan and leading the execution of systems and processes that will enable growth and scalability. She also leads the recruiting, onboarding, training and employee empowerment initiatives at Canopy. Maria joined Canopy about six months ago after spending nearly eight years with an agency called Coalmarch Productions that catered to service industries. While speaking at a conference, Maria met Canopy’s CEO Hunt Davis, and was struck by his authentic desire to run an innovative and inclusive field service organization. “One of the things I really love about Canopy is that our leadership team is fresh and open-minded,” Maria says. “We don’t have a deep history holding us back – we just have the future pulling us forward.”
Maria explained to me that, like many, she didn’t seek out a career in field service but rather happened upon it (through her time at Coalmarch). She is passionate about the industry because of the potential that exists. “There is so much room for growth in this industry – so much untapped potential,” she says. “The concept of making a career in field service more appealing not only to women, but to anyone, is an effort that as an industry needs work. The more work we all do on this front, the greater the overall industry’s ability to capitalize on the potential that exists.” Here Maria provides her advice for how to start tapping into that potential.
Acknowledge The Challenges
If you don’t put effort into recognizing the challenges that do exist in getting and keeping women in the industry, then you can’t take any steps toward making improvements. “The reality is that the industry is male-dominated, and to move beyond that requires most organizations stepping outside of their comfort zones,” Maria says. “Think of something as simple as the job descriptions you’re using – are they off-putting to women? Wording like ‘must lift 50 pounds,’ or ‘will encounter harsh conditions’ will deter women from even applying. That’s not to say lie if there are certain non-negotiable requirements, but be cognizant of how you’re communicating the role and responsibilities to ensure you aren’t ostracizing candidates unnecessarily.”
To get more women to apply, think about what is appealing to them. Flexibility, for instance, is a big draw. You also want to think through the candidate and new employee experience to identify potential issues. “It took me five months to get one female interview candidate,” explains Maria. “In that case, you want to ensure the interview experience is going to make that candidate feel welcome and comfortable.” Thinking through aspects of the job that you perhaps haven’t before – like whether or not there are female uniforms – will help to put a candidate at ease.
You also have to consider what happens once you begin having success and bringing women into the workforce. Will all appropriate measures be taken to ensure their experience is positive? Will they have mentors? Are there visible examples to those new employees of women succeeding within your organization, or industry? Is the language you use in your resources, meetings, and interactions inclusive? As hard as it is to get female candidates, you want to ensure you do all you can to make it a successful fit for both parties.
Build a Culture of Inclusiveness
“The best way to focus on creating a company culture that women can thrive in is to focus on creating a culture that anyone will want to be a part of,” says Maria. “If you truly consider what will make your employees engaged and happy, you will end up with an environment where everyone can succeed. This starts with ensuring everyone has a voice, and that those voices are heard. Asking questions and voicing opinions should be welcome and embraced by all.”
A strong company culture also includes considering how you develop a career path for your employees, rather than it being just a “job.” Canopy has done this by introducing a progression of six levels of promotions that field employees can achieve even before reaching management level. “Today’s employees are growth-minded – they are going to seek growth, period. You’d rather they do that internally versus externally,” says Maria.
Maria acknowledges the fact that while these words sound both practical and simple, the process is challenging. “Making the foundational changes necessary to welcome more women into the world of field service is very, very hard,” she says. “It’s natural to want to stick with what’s easily attainable – but the organizations that push beyond that comfort zone and dig into some of this hard work are the ones that will reap the reward of all of the potential that exists.”
Fighting battles of exclusion and inequality herself only spurs Maria’s fire for working toward a more woman-inclusive industry. “When I go to industry events, I always feel I have to prove myself more than my male colleagues. I feel judged on my appearance instead of on my words or my actions. Women in this industry have to fight harder than men to earn their credibility, and that has to change. It will change, and I am honored to be a part of that transformation.”