In the pest management industry, it doesn’t take long to find a colleague who is willing to help. When you started out, did you rely on the advice of colleagues who shared the knowledge they had gained over the years? Or perhaps you had a mentor who encouraged you to ask questions, no matter how trivial? Learning from someone who had a similar experience can make any lesson invaluable.
That’s why more and more female owners, managers, technicians, administrators, product developers, sales representatives, marketers, researchers and entomologists have been flocking to two groups that focus on topics related to women: Professional Women in Pest Management (PWIPM) and Women in Pest Control (WIPC).
“When you bring women together, good things happen. It really is that simple,” says Allie Allen, staff liaison for the National Pest Management Association’s (NPMA’s) PWIPM council. “Some women in the industry are isolated, and giving them ways to connect helps them find mentors or a support network.”
Group gains traction
WIPC began as a Facebook group, but morphed into so much more. Bobbie Terry, owner of The Bug Lady Pest Services in Cedar Creek, Texas, founded WIPC in 2017 and shortly thereafter brought on Lisa Myers-Botts, owner of Peacock Pest Prevention in Cypress, Texas. They hosted a conference in August, and plan another for September 2020.
The Facebook group is open only to women in the pest management industry, no matter their title. At press time, it had more than 600 members. An average of 147 posts are created each month, and Wednesday is the busiest day, says Myers-Botts. Clearly, feedback has been positive.
“This is not about excluding men,” she notes. “It’s about learning to embrace our power in a male-dominated industry.”
No topic is off-limits for the members of WIPC, who work in all facets of the industry.
“This is a judgment-free place where women can talk about issues specific to them, like how to deal with a period while you are out in the field or how to adjust backpack sprayer straps for your breasts,” Myers-Botts says. “We hope that by having women in all these different roles, including product reps, we can make real changes that will help women be more successful in the industry.”
Myers-Botts says that success will help encourage more women to pursue pest management work.
“It has been a male-dominated industry for so long, but it is a service industry, and women always have been drawn to service work,” she adds. “Why aren’t they drawn to this industry more? We hope to help women see that this is good, honest work with flexible hours and great opportunities.”
Myers-Botts says members of the group develop lasting friendships, share ideas, and support and learn from one another. They also gain the strength to realize their worth.
Terry, who launched her pest control company at age 60 and has encouraged other women to strike out on their own, has some solid advice for women in the industry.
“Stay strong, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she says.
WIPC member Ruby Luna agrees.
“When people think a certain job is not suitable for women, just do it,” says Luna, marketing and operations manager for JD’s Pest Control, Lawn & Termite in Laredo, Texas. “Do not be intimidated by what our society defines as a ‘man’s job’ and a ‘woman’s job.’ We can all make a difference.”
The success of the Facebook group gave Terry and Myers-Botts the idea to get together with other women in the industry. They welcomed women in the industry to Austin, Texas, in August for a one-day WIPC conference, and more than 100 attended.
“This has been a labor of love for Bobbie and me,” Myers-Botts said at the conference. “We started out wanting to give everyone a safe place to talk about issues that are specific to us in the industry.”
The event was notable for being female only; the attendees, presenters, manufacturer and media representatives, and photographer all were women.
Presentations focused on such topics as green pest control, wildlife exclusion, the future for women in pest control, and the importance of Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) certification. Female representatives from more than 20 companies showcased their products and services. in an exhibit area.
Plans are underway to hold next year’s conference in Houston, Texas, the weekend of Sept. 25. There, the first WIPC Business Grant will be awarded. It’s designed to help any woman who wants to launch her own company, or assist a woman who has been in business for less than one year; details on how to apply will be announced soon.
History of helping
PWIPM, meanwhile, has been in existence since the 1980s. It became an NPMA affiliate group in 2005 to provide networking opportunities for women in the pest management industry. Its mission is to attract, develop and support women in the pest management industry through educational programs, resources and peer networking.
Each year, PWIPM hosts professional development sessions and networking events at NPMA events such as Legislative Day, Academy and PestWorld; awards professional empowerment grants; recognizes an industry leader through the Women of Excellence Award; raises money for charity through a 5K race at PestWorld; and publishes quarterly newsletters.
PWIPM events are open to all women in the industry; membership in the NPMA is not required. In addition, many men subscribe to the newsletter, join the Facebook group, and attend events to show their support or to learn how to be the best colleagues possible, Allen says.
“Just knowing there is a network for them is appreciated,” Allen says. “When women come together at events, relationships start that can last lifetimes. The pest management industry is like a big family, and I think the first taste some women get of that is through PWIPM.”
The NPMA encourages women to start local PWIPM networks. Leaders are required to be NPMA members to keep messaging consistent, but all women are welcome to join.
Allen says one of her favorite local network success stories pertains to a tactic employed by Pam Blauvelt, vice president of operations at Griffin Pest Solutions in Kalamazoo, who runs the Michigan PWIPM network.
“They held a wine-and-paint night and encouraged attendees to bring a friend, even if the friend was not in pest management,” Allen says. “That was a great recruitment tactic for the industry.”
Currently, 24 states and five countries have local PWIPM network programs, and more are in the works. The local program includes quarterly conference calls so the women leading the groups can talk about their success stories or ways to encourage other women to get involved.
Allen says PWIPM strives to make it as easy as possible for women to come together. To that end, its Facebook group (which passed the 1,000-member mark this year), local networks, and the fact that NPMA members can use their member profiles to share what interests them is helping extend their reach and rapidly grow the network.
“The lessons learned from the concerns and ideas voiced by PWIPM members help us serve the industry better,” she adds.
These include the weight of recommended equipment; diversity on boards, committees and conference speaking opportunities; and recruiting more women into the industry.
The PWIPM Facebook group also helps spread the word about the NPMA’s resources and events. Members share pest control memes, industry research articles, and news about women in the industry. They also post where they are located or traveling to in order to meet up. Some recent, popular posts center on members seeking advice on how to deal with customers that make them uncomfortable, how to chart their career path, and which uniforms are functional and fit women best.
“Having a network builds confidence. And at some point in every person’s career, they need a little confidence boost to advocate for needs, go for a promotion, or deal with a situation,” Allen says.
She notes that for many women, groups like PWIPM and WIPC are resources from which they can get the confidence they need. The pest management industry can grow as a result.
“The solutions posed by group members to both women-specific and universal challenges are important,” she says. “They give women a safe place to contribute.”
A fulfilling career in pest management isn’t the only benefit to being a member of a group.
Often, bringing women together is all that is needed to “make the magic happen,” she says. “Women who connect through PWIPM build lasting friendships, start to chip away at problems, and go about their days with the knowledge that we are always here for them.”
Involvement in these groups goes deeper than simply becoming a member, however. And Allen says her hopes for PWIPM in particular are not just for women.
“Through the events, ideas, and resources we get from PWIPM, we can help everyone be better colleagues for women and help women thrive in any position,” she says. “In addition to making the industry great for women who are currently in all positions, we can share the story of how great the industry is and attract more people into their first job in pest management.”
Marillian Missiti, second-generation president of Buono Pest Control in Massachusetts and secretary of the NPMA, worked her way up in both her company and the industry over the past 30 years. She started her career answering phones in the office, and then received technician training from her uncles and her father, who encouraged her to become licensed.
She is a past president of the New England Pest Management Association (NEPMA), two-time chair of the PWIPM and current chair of PWIPM of New England. She got involved with PWIPM 10 years ago, the first time she attended PestWorld.
Missiti recalls she didn’t know what to expect when she entered the meeting room. She just knew it was a professional committee for women, something not offered in New England at that time. Back then, attendees didn’t even fill all the seats around the conference table. But she felt extremely comfortable right from the beginning.
“I knew this was a good fit,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be involved, and give my time and then just learn — just sit there and learn from the others who were there.”
The NPMA helped the New England network of the PWIPM take off, Missiti says. Meetings for members — who include office administrators, branch managers and technicians — have focused on time management, work/life balance, leadership and customer service.
“We rely on company owners to really embrace participation and empower their employees,” Missiti says. “Not only are they helping themselves, they’re going to be helping their businesses.”
Women in the pest control industry have embraced the opportunity to learn from one another at PWIPM meetings.
“They want to be the best they can be, and this is one avenue that has never been offered before,” Missiti says. “It gives them opportunities to empower themselves with education, tools and resources.”
For both groups, social media is an effective tool to reach women in the industry. It is used to spread the word about meetings and offer resources.
“I can’t knock on everybody’s door. I don’t know the females who work in these companies,” Missiti says. “So, social media definitely has helped increase awareness in such a positive way.”
Shay Runion, chief human resources officer and senior vice president of professional development, Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta, Ga., is chair of PWIPM. She has worked in the pest control industry 19 years and been involved with PWIPM 13 years. She became more active as her role with the company evolved and was able to attend more NPMA conferences and meetings.
Because the pressure women put on themselves to do it all at home and at work can be overwhelming, she says, it’s important to seek out other professional women as mentors.
“We should be encouraging and cheering each other on,” Runion says. “Yes, we are competitors in business, but at the end of the day, we are all just trying to do our best. The friendships I’ve created are some of my most treasured.”
Brenda Robinson, operator/qualifying manager for IPM Tech Pest Management in Ontario, Calif., says being part of WIPC has been invaluable.
“I found a place where we can freely discuss all aspects of the industry and questions can be asked — even the most basic ones — and nobody gives a negative or argumentative response,” she says. She encourages women to do the best job they can.
“Hold your own, accept challenges and always rise to the occasion,” she says. “That’s how you can make a difference.”
Luna says she values the support that comes with being a member of WIPC.
“We constantly communicate any issues or questions that arise, even if we just want to vent about a situation with a client,” she says. “There is always someone there to guide you and share their experiences. I feel free to speak because no one will judge you.”
Joining PWIPM at the national and/or local level will have an immediate impact on a woman’s career because the networking and support it offers are designed to help women grow in their careers.
“You will gain new friends in the industry with which you can collaborate, share ideas and offer feedback,” Runion says. “Having another female professional as a mentor will be positive for you and your career.”
Every woman’s experience is different, of course. But Runion says she has gained a wealth of knowledge from her involvement with the members of PWIPM.
“If I have a question, there is always someone I can reach out to and discuss ideas,” she says. “This group is filled with other women who are ready, able and willing to help you succeed in your career.”
For women, opportunities in the pest management industry are endless. Women work as administrators, marketers, sales representatives, owners, managers, technicians, product developers, entomologists and researchers. These roles help change lives by protecting public health and safety.
PWIPM and WIPC serve to empower the who women work in the pest control industry. Members gain confidence by sharing their experiences and obtain knowledge by asking questions.
“I am excited to see more females getting involved with our industry and serving in all facets of the business,” Runion concludes. “These groups allow us to collaborate, learn from one another and offer support.”