Celebrating Diversity in the Horticulture Industry

By Mandy Gerace, CGG, 2022 CNGA Board President

CNGA Board President Mandy Gerace, CGG

I am so proud to be a part of an industry and a company that recognizes the need to support women and diversity. Growing up in the industry, I have seen it evolve, thanks to organizations like the Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association (CNGA) and Syngenta Flowers, with its Syngenta Women in Flowers Team (SWiFT), that support events promoting women in our industry.

Each October, CNGA has been carrying on the tradition, started by the Colorado Nurserymen’s Association many years ago, to honor women in our industry by hosting a luncheon – the Women in Horticulture Luncheon. The event started in 1994 with Harriet McMillian and Susan Yetter as the first speakers about English Style Gardens-Rocky Mountain Style. This year, I was honored to participate as one of the three panelists to speak at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I spoke alongside Bridget Blomquist from The Denver Botanic Gardens and Lindsay Squires from Tagawa Gardens. I represented CNGA as president, and also my company, Syngenta Flowers. Both organizations support and promote women in horticulture – CNGA through the Women in Horticulture Luncheon and Syngenta through the SWiFT program. It was great to hear Bridget’s & Lindsay’s stories and how they ended up in our industry. I related to both, and pieces of each of their stories echoed my own.

In 2020, some women in my organization started SWiFT to provide both women and men opportunities for personal and professional growth. It also offers internal networking and an optional career path benefit. The goal of SWiFT is to embrace and encourage diversity because that is what drives innovation and allows us to outperform in the market. The Syngenta team works in more than 90 different countries and represents 123 nationalities. This year the campaign theme is to #BreakTheBias, which encourages building a world free of bias, stereotypes and sexual discrimination. SWiFT meets monthly and selects a different topic to discuss. We believe that with allyship everyone thrives.

At the Cultivate Convention in Columbus, Ohio for the past few years SWiFT has sponsored the Annual Women in Horticulture Luncheon in partnership with Spring Meadows and AmericanHort. For Cultivate’22 the luncheon included keynote speaker Jean Steele who focused on positivity and wellness. It was a great networking event with over 300 men and women participating and enjoying Jean’s motivating message. It is a great event for raising each other up in our industry. International Women’s Day was on September 29th and is just another reminder that we still have work to do. The share of women in the horticulture workforce in the United States is over 40%. That number grows every year and has never been higher than it is today. The average age of an employed horticulturalist is 41 years old. In 2021, women earned 96% of what men do. The most common degree for a horticulturalist is a bachelor’s degree – at 60% – and on average they stay in their job for 1-2 years. Women continue to grow and thrive in the horticulture industry, and with organizations like CNGA and SWiFT, and events such as Women in Horticulture luncheons, we will continue to gain strength and momentum in an industry once dominated by bias and stereotypes.