ILCA Women’s Networking Group

The Gender of Expertise by Scott Grams
February 10, 2010, 10:44 pm
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2009-2010 was the first year ILCA put together the educational program for the MidAmerica Horticultural Show held on January 19-22, 2010 at McCormick Place in Chicago. ILCA, in conjunction with IGIA organized 32 educational sessions and three workshops spread across three days.

The usual refrain about the green industry is that it’s a “male dominated industry.” I am sure that, counting crews, that is true. What startled me about the educational programs that ILCA developed was the number of women picked as speakers because of their knowledge, expertise, and educational background.

The ILCA Education Committee never went out and tried to pick an equal number of men and women to serve as speakers. The Committee didn’t care. They wanted to find the most credible speakers on the relevant topics the Committee selected. I never once heard “we should get a female speaker” over the 9 months of planning that went into the 2010 MidAm educational program.

41% of ILCA’s speakers at MidAm were female for the ILCA-sponsored educational sessions. The following women donated their time to speak at the 2010 MidAm tradeshow:

Karla P.Lynch, The Morton Arboretum
Lori Vierow, Planning Resources
Karen Morby, Robert Ebl, Inc.
Pat Sund, Countryside Industries
Kathy Richardson, Grant & Power Landscaping
Keidra Chaney, The Web Farm
Terre Houte, Hursthouse, Inc.
Terry Guen, ASLA, Terry Guen Design Associates, Inc.
Melissa Osuch, HR Consultants
Grace Koehler, Midwest Groundcovers

If the Education Committee started out with the goal of making sure 40% of the speakers were female, it would be noble. Yet, those forced quotas seem disingenuous. Are we really going after the best if we start from a shrunken, identifiable, gender-based pool? I was more pleased by Education Committee’s mandate to find the best speakers available.

There are still major salary incongruities for women and men. women still own far fewer companies and businesses than men. There are only 6 WBE-certified landscape contractors in Chicago and 3 in Cook County. There are still long strides for women business owners and employees to overcome. What pleased me about the MidAm educational programs was the gender blindness that expertise and knowledge can cause. If I need the best brain surgeon, I don’t care if it’s a man, woman, or labrador retriever. I want the best. The same rings true when you want the best horticulturalist, HR professional, marketing director, or sustainable designer.

Salaries and job titles carry so much social baggage. For many, it’s impossible to put a wrench between job and gender. The green industry may be male-dominated but MidAm showed it relies on the expertise of women to move it forward. I was glad that came to light in our Education Committee’s blind search for talented presenters. 41% is still not a majority…but it’s a far cry from male domination.


Catch A Tiger By The Tail…Then Please Let It Go
December 9, 2009, 7:13 pm
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By Scott Grams
For once, everyone is talking about golf. Unfortunately, it is because the greatest golfer of our time has become embroiled in a sex scandal. When the mighty fall, they fall hard. I understand Tiger is a prominent and world class athlete. Yet even the enormity of his celebrity does not justify the sheer volume, shock, outrage, and coverage this story has received. What Tiger did is wrong but it does not deserve the level and depth of coverage it has gotten since Thanksgiving. It is like the Pope died.

I don’t know what is more disturbing, seeing tabloid news try to act like real news or real news act like tabloid news. Watching TMZ act like journalists is like watching monkeys dress in human clothes or dogs walk on their hind legs. It is comedic but unnatural.

It was Bryant Gumble who helped put the Tiger Woods story into perspective. Bryant is a career newsman who has seen stories come and go. He has seen stars rise and fall. He said that the reason the Tiger Woods story is still scorching hot news is not because of what or who it involved but due to when it occurred. Bryant said that November-February is the slowest time for news. Nothing happens. People are preoccupied with the holidays, cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Congress is usually mired in endless debate. The Super Bowl is still 2 months away. TV goes into reruns. Movie studios drag out their duds and Oscar dramas. The news cycle demands that a story may only be put to bed if another more interesting, shocking, and lascivious story dethrones it. Unfortunately for Tiger (and the rest of us) there is no end in sight.

Bryant was right. The story will languish on until a more scratching story comes along. He gave the example of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who got himself into hot water earlier this year when he both disappeared and then admitted to an international love affair. Now Mark is still in trouble but America has pretty much forgotten about the story. Why? Because a few days after the story broke, Michael Jackson died. All of a sudden we glommed onto that story and forgot about Mark, his love triangle, and the State of South Carolina.

Listening to Bryant Gumble I ALMOST forgave the media’s incessant coverage of the Tiger Woods story. I almost shrugged and asked, “what are you going to do?” But that isn’t fair. Why can’t we use “slow news days” to cover stories that would not be covered elsewhere. Why can’t newspapers cover charities? Why can’t radio stations interview good Samaritans? Why can’t television stations dig deeper into stories than the 30 second fluff we get most news nights? I’m not naïve enough to think these stories will replace commuter crashes, political scandal, or the War in Afghanistan but they should get a day to shine when the only other alternative is Tiger Woods.

Take for instance the McCormick Place union issue. The news media got excited for 2 days because they heard about the $150 case of Pepsi. That was the least surprising news I heard that day. I have union and catering stories that will make your hair turn white. BTW – 12 breakfast burritos at McCormick costs $96. Remember that next time you fold a 12-cent flour tortilla around a 15-cent egg. The loss of three massive trade shows will have dramatic implications on the city but the story only generated 2 nights worth of coverage. ½ of all Chicago’s tourism business comes from trade shows and we just lost 3 massive ones. Yet, the news media gave up on that story and would rather talk about Tiger Woods.

Our businesses use the slow time around the holidays to retool and think strategically. It finally allows us to catch our breath and look to the future. It is a time to organize our businesses and work on projects we wish we had time to donate to during the busier times of the year. For once, we feel like we are out in front of our professional lives. We don’t waste the quiet. Why do professional news organizations get a free pass? When you finally get a “slow news day” of your own, don’t waste it. Think of all the projects and people you wanted to concentrate on when time was at a premium. Remember, idle hands do the devil’s work…just act Tiger Woods.

Bang, bang. You’re dead.
November 9, 2009, 6:43 pm
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I’ve been a bad, bad blogger. I was supposed to log my entry on November 3rd and am only now posting it to the website. I made comment of this last week and my Events Manager, a seasoned blogger, said “Scott, it’s a blog. Everyone misses a blog post every now and then.”

That got me thinking about deadlines. There are few more ominous, foreboding words in the English language than “deadline.” It seems only fitting that the term should have an ominous origin. It actually relates to a physical line in Civil War prison camps. Most Civil War prison camps were so large that they could not possibly keep everyone under lock and key. Instead, they kept all prisoners on the grounds surrounded by two lines. The first line was there for a warning. If a prisoner crossed the line they were warned to get back behind it. It was acceptable for the prisoner to occasionally cross over the first line. The second line, the deadline, was less forgiving. If a prisoner crossed the deadline he was immediately shot on sight and killed.

The cruelty of history never ceases to amaze me.

Over time, the term deadline has been softened. It now means the timeframe in which a task must be completed. In the Civil War, crossing the deadline was not an option. You really only had one chance to miss a deadline. Thankfully, we are allowed one or two chances to miss a deadline in today’s day and age.

When I attended the ILCA Leadership Council I learned a quote that I love. “Missing deadlines is a fact of life, but, it is not acceptable to miss a deadline when the group depends on you.” I like that quote because it allows for human fallibility while remaining stern at the same time.

The quote provides a perspective on priority. Not all deadlines are created equal. I often get upset with myself because I fail to get something accomplished by the deadline I set. I will say “I must get my laundry done tonight” and then get upset when I fail to do it because something comes up. The quote provides forgiveness. Who cares if I don’t get my laundry done? The world won’t spin off its axis because I have to use my emergency pair of socks for one day. Sure, I should have tried but it’s not the end of the world if I take one extra day. In the grand scheme of things, that deadline was set by me, for me, and I can give myself a break for missing it.

Yet, the quote also admonishes us. Deadlines matter when others count on us. When the group suffers because I missed a deadline, it is my fault. I can lament that I’m busy, or overstretched, or something came up but those reasons are “not acceptable.” I should have prioritized better because now I am the impediment to progress.

I work with over a dozen committees in my job. These committees are made up of volunteers with full time jobs and not to mention personal lives. It is easy to forget that. These volunteers are saddled with all sorts of deadlines in their professional and private lives. Yet, in order to run ILCA effectively, I must abide by that quote. It does not matter that the volunteer does not get paid. When 9 or 10 other people depend on that volunteer to accomplish a task, it should be accomplished. That goes for me too. When I start lamenting how busy I am, I forget that these volunteers depend on me too. I should have prioritized better, plain and simple. It’s not fair to waste their time and energy because I failed to get my work done.

Not all deadlines are created equal. Sometimes we will stray over that first line with no repercussions. Thank goodness for that. Yet, real deadlines must loom large. Let’s stop beating ourselves up over missing the silly deadlines we set and start investing our time and energy into the deadlines that others depend on. It’s a great feeling to be depended upon even if we can’t always depend on ourselves.

One last bit of advice from the Leadership Council ties it all together, “make a list each morning of what you won’t get accomplished that day. That way, you can avoid the guilt of being human.”

Olympian Effort by Scott Grams
October 2, 2009, 10:29 pm
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On October 2, 2009 Chicago learned it lost the Olympics to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The announcement acted as a bit of an exclamation point on a rough year for many contractors, builders and developers who hoped the Games could bring a short term economic boost. At the very least, we hoped it would raise the level of local consumer confidence as public and private businesses geared up for the games. Sadly, the 2016 Olympics will not be coming to Chicago.

So what does this mean for the City of Chicago? Did we overstep our bounds and think we were a world class city capable of hosting the games? Nonsense. Chicago is a world class city already. I have traveled extensively throughout these United States and can say the only city that comes aesthetically close to Chicago is San Francisco. Besides, did the games make Atlanta, GA a “world class city?” Did the city immediately become the Paris of the South? No. Atlanta is still a fine town that once hosted the Olympic games. Los Angeles is a fine town the once hosted the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games neither made nor broke Atlanta or Los Angeles.

Regardless of what anyone thought of the Olympic effort, the 2016 Committee still deserves accolades. I respected their determination and volunteerism. They saw all of the good in Chicago. Is there anything wrong with having intense pride in the city? As Americans, we appreciate hard work and a job well done regarless of the outcome. We laud Olympic athletes who finish first but are moved by those who gave it their all and came up short. The 2016 Committee pushed this Olympic crusade and never lost faith. We were one of four finalists in the entire world. Let us stand and applaud their effort. Thanking 2016 after it’s all said and done is not a political statement. Let the politics rest for a minute. 2016 asked Illinoisans to once again dream of a bigger, better Chicago. This city has been built, burned, and rebuilt. We’ll get over losing the 2016 games. Let’s reinvest all that effort and energy into 2009, 2010, 2011… Seven years was too long to wait for prosperity anyway.

Putting the HR in “Her”
May 13, 2009, 2:31 pm
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I attended the ILCA Human Resources & Compliance workshop yesterday at ILCA Headquarters. There were over 20 attendees and 90% of them were women. Prior to the class, we went around the room and said where each person worked and what they did. “I manage everything” was the most common response. Everything included payroll, HR, administrative support, answering phones, prevailing wage, compliance, accounting, etc. etc. etc. It is amazing that these men and women absorb so much responsibility for our member companies.

It was also clear that many of these men and women had little formal training. They have become experts by being thrown into these positions. HR compliance is risky business. Our instructor, Heidi Trybus, has over 18 years of HR experience and detailed time after time where record keeping either saved or doomed a company. Many small businesses feel they are too small to be subject to scrutiny. That is not the case. It only takes one slip-up or disgruntled employee to jeopardize what it took years to build.

At the end of the workshop, many came up to me and thanked me for finally offering a program on HR. Many of these women don’t have a great resource or network to turn to. I was pleased to see strangers extending the dialog with one another long after the workshop concluded. It must be scary to have no formal training and yet have so much responsibility hanging over one’s head. One mistake with paperwork and an entire company can be at risk. Sometimes we think that it’s the people with the power equipment who take on the all the risk. Really, we all have some elements of risk and responsibility in our jobs. It made me realize that landscaping companies start in the back offices and manifests themselves at client sites. Smart companies realize this and invest in all levels of their employees.

Another topic was sexual harassment. We can all probably recount one office joke that went a little too far. Some of the examples Heidi used were black and white but many were in that grey zone. The key to remember about harassment is that it’s not majority rules. Even if only one person feels what occurred was harassment, the claim must be treated with respect, diligence, and care. Procedures must be followed. It must be kept discreet. It is beneficial to have both genders represented in all interviews. Lastly, it is vital to keep detailed notes and records but the details can never “slip out” regardless of how juicy or inflammatory.

Many times, what is considered a hostile work environment to one person would not be considered such to 99 others. That doesn’t matter. The goal of the sexual harassment process is to protect the company. It is not to try and change the cultural or moral beliefs of those involved. It is a waste of time trying to convince someone they were not harassed. Set procedures and follow them without cutting corners.

As women become more prevalent in all aspects of the green industry we need to remember that female HR pros have been here for years. These women protect ILCA member companies and their employees every hour of every day. These HR professionals are demanding, fastidious, and uncompromising because they have to be. Remember that next time they knock on your door asking for stacks of documentation or your time sheet. When the stuff hits the fan, their knowledge and organization may be the only chance you got.

Dude Break…
March 17, 2009, 9:49 pm
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I’m the only fella with posting powers on the WNG blog. I feel lke Bosley on “Charlie’s Angels.”


If someone would have told me that one of our Committees would set up a blog, I would have immediately guessed it would be the Women’s Networking Group. The WNG continues to show it’s at the forefront of technology and social networking. In fact, if someone would have told me one of our committees purchased jetpacks I would have assumed it was the WNG too. They aren’t really a Committee. They are more of a battlewagon of fresh ideas and energy that never stops moving forward.


When Events Manager Michelle Scott introduced the WNG to their new blog there was a certain sense of panic shared by some of the committee members. Uncomfortable glances were passed around the table as Michelle detailed the intricacies of the blogosphere. To many, blogging sounded on par with snowboarding, Nintendo Wii, and Red Bull. These are foreign concepts that lie in the domain of young people with multiple piercings and tattoos. Yet something drew the WNG to the concept. They seemed to recognize their role as trendsetters within ILCA. If no one else is comfortable doing it, the WNG will roll up their sleeves and dive in.


Just like with the Committee, there will be many members who feel uncomfortable with the notion of a blog. When we feel uncomfortable, we react negatively. That is one of the sad features of the human race; we vilify what we don’t understand. I don’t know when this happens. When we are little children we constantly want to explore. It seems that we hit a certain age and come to the conclusion that we now know everything we need to know. New technology becomes scary. New methods of communication become frivolous. New products become wasteful and unnecessary. Our childlike wonder and curiosity drifts away. Sometimes we need a helping hand to get it back.


To me, that communal spirit sustains the WNG. Let’s face it. Maybe 5% of us are good dancers. Maybe 2% of us are good singers (of course, I am one of the rare 1% that fall into both categories). Yet, at Mid-Am in January there was a collection of women and men singing and dancing and acting like fools at “Howl at the Moon.” No one thought about looking silly. We all just enjoyed each other’s company. How hard do you think it will be for a WNG member to call another WNG member for professional advice or assistance after she heard her croon “Respect” by Aretha Franklin?


The WNG allows its members to break out of their comfort zones. After all, a blog is the journal of an extrovert and the diary of an exhibitionist. The WNG isn’t scared to try and fail. If they roll out this blog and it’s slow to gain acceptance, it, it won’t be the end of the world. They will have tried another thing that smashes barriers, defies stereotypes, and makes all of our lives a little more fun.


I am so excited for another year of WNG events, activities, and innovation. And this summer, when someone zooms past me in a jetpack at Summer Field Day, it won’t even faze me.