For the next in our series of women in field service, I sat down with Deni Naumann, President of Copesan Services and Interim President of Terminix Commercial and Elizabeth Johnson, Director of Marketing for Copesan Services and Director of Marketing, National Accounts, at Terminix Commercial. Both Deni and Elizabeth have some history in the pest industry, and manufacturing before that – Deni has been with Copesan for over 12 years and was in manufacturing for 28 years before that, including 16 years at S.C. Johnson. Elizabeth has been at Copesan for nine years and was in the food manufacturing industry prior.
Both Deni and Elizabeth were quick to point out that being a woman in field service has its advantages. “I think being a female in the pest management industry has been an advantage, because you stand out,” says Deni. “So whether it was at S.C. Johnson where I was one of their first female salespeople being in a male-dominated industry manufacturing cleaners, finishes and polymers; or, in the (pest management) industry which is still predominantly male-oriented, you, of course, need to communicate well and have strong business skills; and, ultimately, I think that you stand out.” While Elizabeth adds that you may have to work a bit harder as a woman in a male-dominated industry, it brings about experiences that are valuable. “Coming from food and food processing, it is also very male-dominated. You have to ask more questions and work a little harder, but – you’re unexpected, and to Deni’s point, that’s an advantage because it puts you in the perfect position to learn, to push for more answers, and to make sure that you’re engaged and involved at a different level.”
While both Deni and Elizabeth’s experiences have been largely positive, there’s no denying that there is still work to be done for women and men to be on level playing ground in field service. “Particularly in the pest industry, you face stereotypes like ‘girls are afraid of bugs’ or ‘girls are creeped out by rats,’” explains Deni. “We have an opportunity to help this industry break down some of those barriers and stereotypes by having competent women in operational roles.”
An Evolution Is Underway
As Deni reflects on her time in the industry, it is clear that change has begun. “If I look at when I joined the industry 12 plus years ago versus now, there are many, many more women at industry events who are in leadership roles at companies, serving on committees and involved in the National Pest Management Association. Many of these association committees are being led by women. In fact, the CEO of the National Pest Management Association is a female. There are more women in leadership roles that you will see not only at national or international companies, but local companies as well. Succession in a number of these independent privately-held companies is by daughters that are taking over the business for the family, which is awesome. This all shows progress,” she says.
To take this progress further, however, persistence is necessary. Deni and Elizabeth agree that one crucial step is for companies to take their blinders off. “I would say to any organization, you have to take your blinders off and look at your client base. If you are servicing the residential marketplace for pest management, as an example, over 85 percent of the decisions in a residential household for a pest management company are made by females. Mirror that! Look at your customers and see how you can reflect who your customers are,” Deni says. “Recognize the stereotypes that exist and open up your interviewing process to bring in candidates of all types. Not just females and males. Older candidates, younger candidates. People of color. Just think, ‘how can I make my organization better by bringing in smarter people, people that have diverse thought processes,who are of different ages?’ Let’s face it, when you see a company that’s all the same, it’s typically because a person or the handful of people making those hiring decisions had blinders on.”
It’s important to consider how to start this evolution internally. “I think this process is a little bit contagious in a way,” says Elizabeth. “I think to attract top-performing women, you need to empower the ones you have. When I think back to 2010 when I interviewed at Copesan, one of the reasons I chose to come to work here was because half the people I met in leadership roles during the process were women.”
Organizations looking to embrace greater diversity have to understand that it takes action – it isn’t something you can passively achieve. “I recall from research I did a few years ago that while there’s a lot of lip service being paid to wanting to engage more women in the pest management industry, there isn’t much focused effort,” says Elizabeth. “You can’t just say it or wish for it and expect it to happen. You have to actually do something and put in place a strategic effort designed to attract women to your company.”
If you’re a woman reading this who is beginning a career in field service, or really any industry, Deni and Elizabeth have some great advice for you. “Immerse yourself,” says Deni. “Absorb, absorb, absorb. Ask questions. Take every opportunity to learn what anyone offers you, even if it sounds a bit uncomfortable.” In fact, if it makes you uncomfortable, that may be a good sign. “We have all grown through experiences that first make us uncomfortable,” explains Elizabeth. “Don’t shy away from those experiences.”
Deni reflects on her own openness to experiences that led her to where she is today. “In my own career, being out in the field in Indiana as a salesperson, my gosh, what doors that has opened. Because of that experience, I feel like my appreciation for the client is of high sensitivity. I’m kind of client-obsessed, actually. Without that experience, I would never have had the opportunity to understand the initial stages of pest management or to get my Pesticide Applicator’s license, without which I might have never had the opportunity to lead a fantastic organization like Copesan or to sell the company to a great company like ServiceMaster,” she says. And while it’s one thing to reflect back on successes and be glad you took opportunities, it’s the openness to new and different experiences that will help you attain that success. “You have to be open without knowing where you’re going to land,” says Elizabeth, “because when the opportunities are presented to you, there’s no way to guess the direction in which they’ll take you.” You also have to realize that you’ll have to make sacrifices. “Young career starters have to realize there will be sacrifices. You have to make choices – you can’t do everything. You might not have a perfect work/life balance,” says Deni. “You will face trade-offs at certain parts of your career, and that’s okay. Work/life integration is a more attainable goal than balance.”