By: Madison Grimm
Pest management has long been characterized as a male-dominant field, yet we continue to see more women take on field-based and office roles in the industry. To close out Women’s History Month, women at Copesan discuss their experiences, what they enjoy about working in pest management and their advice for industry newcomers.
Women in a Male-Dominated Field
Being a female in a typically male-dominated industry can bring unique experiences and challenges to the job. Kiersten Bauer, Quality Assurance Support Specialist, shares that when she started in the industry as a pest management technician in the field, she did feel her gender impacted how she was perceived. Particularly as a younger woman in her early 20’s, she felt she was not always treated as an expert, even when the information she was providing was sound advice. “Some people were caught off guard being approached by a female technician,” she explains. “It can sometimes interfere with your ability to strictly address the pest issue.” Tara Haywood, Director of Client Services, echoes this, saying that gaining credibility has been a huge challenge she has faced in her career. To combat this, Haywood takes every opportunity to learn more through courses, obtaining my applicator’s license, and learning from experts in the industry.
Jen Kita-Johnson, Sales Liaison, has experienced trust and respect within the industry, but notes that during the first few years in her role she worked harder to establish that foundation. She attributes learning about different communication styles to the shift. “Everyone communicates differently,” she explains. “If you can flex your way of communicating to meet another person’s style of understanding, it makes a big difference.” Claudia Stephan, National Account Executive, echoes this, as learning to modify her messaging to different personalities has also helped her form more successful client relationships.
Kathy Davis, Customer Service Representative, explains that being a woman in pest management requires you to have tough skin and be incredibly knowledgeable about your job. She encourages women to stay focused on their clients and on their goals. Mary-Agnes Janke, Marketing Manager, explains that some challenges she has faced are more related to her job function. “In the pest management industry, marketing is not always understood, as what the department manages can greatly differ between companies,” she quotes. “More than once I’ve been referred to as ‘one of the marketing girls’ or asked if I can ‘make a document pretty.’ That mindset sometimes comes with an assumption that I don’t understand the business, or what goes into servicing our clients.” She explains that to help reframe this misconception, she works to ensure our business partners understand the value marketing brings to our company.
Despite the challenges of overcoming gender stereotypes and gaining credibility in their roles, these women have seen progress in female representation in the pest management industry. Janke explains that more women have been moving into leadership positions within the industry over the last few years, both in pest management providers and industry suppliers. She continues, “Our Copesan network has quite a few amazing female leaders who I credit with breaking through the walls of the past. They have all provided great examples of how to navigate the industry as a woman.” This is being noticed by industry veterans as well, Stephan notes that through her career she has also seen an increase in female pest management technicians in the industry.
An Industry to Be Proud of
Spend even a short amount of time with someone in pest control, and you’re sure to find the industry to be filled with passionate people who love what they do. Haywood appreciates how those in the pest management industry are trusted to care for sensitive environments, and she is most proud of the protection we provide – both of client brands and the greater food supply chain.
Bauer shares her interest in identifying patterns within the bigger picture of pest biology. It takes a great deal of critical thinking and technical knowledge to solve pest problems, and it is that problem-solving aspect that attracts her to the industry. She also admires how environmentally conscious the industry is, “I think it is often a misconception – when people think of pest management, pesticides harming the environment is the first thing to come to mind.” She goes on to explain how the use of any treatment product is regulated by the EPA, and certified applicator licenses required to perform service as a technician are issued through the Department of Agriculture.
Davis loves that her job allows her to work with different pest management companies associated with the Copesan network nationwide and how the industry supports the importance of sanitation in retail stores, restaurants and other facilities. She also enjoys the people that she works with, both in the office and in the field, “Everyone is very involved in their roles here and you learn something from every individual.”
Stephan also admires the genuine teamwork and passion found in the industry, “If there is a new issue or problem that comes up, we work together with different strategies to resolve. I love seeing how excited the teams get to resolve a new problem – sometimes our staff is like a group of kids in a candy store!”
Janke remarks on the industry’s passion and sense of responsibility, “Coming into this industry with no previous pest control experience, I was surprised to see how passionate people in the industry are – from the field to the office. There’s an innate sense of pride in the business that is like none other I’ve experienced. Many of the pest management companies we work with have long-standing, family-owned business models in place, and I think that contributes in some way. But there’s also an understanding of just how crucial pest management is to protecting client health and our food sources.”
And as for deciding if the industry is right for you? “If you care about people, are detail-orientated, enjoy communicating with others and solving problems, and want to make a positive difference in people’s lives, then this is the right industry for you,” Kita-Johnson says.
Learn, Learn, Learn
When asked what advice each woman would give to someone starting out in the pest management industry, their answers had a common theme – to learn as much as you can.
“Take it season by season,” Bauer encourages. “With the industry being a seasonal business, it takes a long time to learn, and honestly, you’ll never learn everything about pest management, so learn as much as you can along the way.” Kita-Johnson echoes this, saying that there is always something new to learn and you will continually be presented with new challenges.
Davis wants to remind any newcomers that there is no such thing as a dumb question. She says, “If you don’t have that excitement, that energy when you learn new things, you will not be as successful. Ask questions, be patient, be considerate.”
Haywood’s advice is to collaborate with others, learn the industry, be responsive and promote the importance of a diverse workplace.
“Listen, and learn, listen and learn. It is a science,” Stephan advises.
“Come with an open mind and a willingness to learn and understand the industry,” says Janke. “The pest management industry is made of up really interesting people of various levels of knowledge and expertise, and many of them are excited to share what they know. We provide a service that is constantly needed, and the industry is changing in unique ways right now. It may be an industry I never would have thought I’d end up in, but I can honestly say I’m glad I did.”
Kiersten Bauer, Quality Assurance Support Specialist, found pest control while searching for environment-related careers out of school. Her current role supports the field quality team, with a focus on data collection, trend analysis and technical support.
Kathy Davis, Client Service Representative, wasn’t familiar with the pest management industry when she started at Copesan in 1997 and was surprised to find it very interesting. She provides client service support to our internal teams and clients, while also challenging her with a range of special projects.
Tara Haywood, Director of Client Services, was looking for a service-driven and recession-resilient industry when she came into pest management. In her role, she leads front-line client management, including client onboarding, communicating and monitoring service delivery and providing continuous support to our clients and field teams.
Jen Kita-Johnson, Sales Liaison, enjoys that no two days are the same in her job, and it is that versatility that has kept her interest in the industry since her start in 2005. Jen supports the Copesan sales team by assisting our sales team in research, client onboarding and proposal management.
Claudia Stephan, National Account Executive, was seeking a national account opportunity and was always fascinated by insects when she came to Copesan in 2008. She provides dedicated account management for our clients, advocating for their needs with internal and field service teams.
Mary-Agnes Janke, Marketing Manager, joined the pest management industry in 2016 after nearly a decade in e-commerce. Her role supports a versatile range of Marketing activities including brand and communication management, tradeshow strategy, event planning, and more.