Women in pest management: Karen Reardon


January 8, 2018

PMP interviews seven professionals about their journey so far, and what’s next in 2018.

What do a pest management firm owner, an industry federation president, two industry association executives, an industry product manufacturer, a pest researcher, and the 2017 National Pest Management Association Woman of Excellence winner have in common? They’re all profiled in our December issue. They’re all successful women in their respective fields, and they’ve all graciously shared insights about how they got here. In addition, they also offer advice to other women in professional pest management.

Every woman profiled for our series this year noted that the industry has changed — for the better — since they began 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. As Mary Vongas, pictured on our cover, notes, “Change means a possibility of innovation, advancement and growth. If you are flexible, plan your path, and work toward managing change, you can get your organization moving in a growth direction.”

‘Rising’ up for professionalism: Karen Reardon’s advocacy for the industry has helped foster a brighter future.

Karen Reardon

Karen Reardon is always ready to tackle the next challenge. It’s a great quality to have, for as the vice president of public affairs for RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), she has ample opportunity to educate the public on pesticides. Most recently, Reardon was recognized by RISE’s parent association, CropLife America (CLA), with whom she got her start in the pesticide advocacy industry in 1996. The Washington-based group honored her with its Chairman’s Award, celebrating her successful effort with RISE, which she joined in 2006, to defend against the ban of pesticide use on private property in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The award makes it seem like the Maryland bill is in RISE’s rear-view mirror. Reardon is quick to point out that is not the case.

“Like many of our issues, nothing is ever completely finished,” she says. “We went through the legislative process and took the case to the courts, where we prevailed. But the county appealed, and we’re working on the appeal on an appellate level.”

While it’s a victory for now, Reardon prefers to view it as an ongoing learning experience.

“We learn a lot as we manage issues. We then take the lessons we learn and pivot to the next thing,” she says. “We leverage best practices and lessons, and cast off what doesn’t work.”

Hard work pays off

Reardon started her career in the defense industry after graduation from Hood College, Frederick, Md. Whether communicating about military weapons or the responsible use of pesticides, she says, “you have to bring a lot of strategic thinking and problem-solving” to each issue.

“I gravitate toward the more technical areas, because I find them to be so interesting,” she says. “They can become personal challenges, but it also creates an environment of constant learning.”

In her 11 years with RISE, Reardon notes, the process of industry advocacy has changed immensely.

“Ten years ago, advocacy was dominated by face-to-face visits, testimony in person,” she explains.

“In today’s social space, everyone is an expert and uses social media platforms as a way to share their perspective. When I came into the industry, the goal was to get a quote above the fold in the newspaper or your letter published. Now, there are so many channels to share good information, there’s no barrier to entry. In some sense, it’s now a more level playing field out there.”

A positive future

Looking ahead, RISE recently launched a new outreach campaign, “And, Not Or.” Reardon is enthusiastic about the possibilities of reaching new audiences with this grass-roots approach. She knows there’s more hard work to be had in her advocacy position, but she’s ready to face it head-on.

“I tell my direct reports, there are no secrets to success. Passion, hard work, and remembering kindness are all we need,” she concludes. “Sometimes it’s tough. But when you look at this industry, everyone is so passionate, committed, and works so hard. We all have that opportunity to put our all into it.”

You can reach Editor Heather Gooch at hgooch@northcoastmedia.net or 330-321-9754.

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