So far, being a woman has neither helped or hindered her floricultural pursuits, says Mindy Froning. Along with her faculty advisor Terri Starman, Mindy is "coverperson" of this month’s GPN. She merits cover exposure by virtue of earning the 1999 GPN/Nexus intern scholarship (See article on p. 18).
Emboldened by Mindy’s gender-neutral pronouncement, I would like to chime in that the appearance of two women on GPN’s first "people" cover is neither here nor there. Likewise, it’s no great shakes that the four finalists for the scholarship were women. In fact, I see no connection between the "femaleness" of this month’s millennium-launching cover and the theme of this month’s issue: "Floriculture’s Future."
After all, this is an industry where it might appear the "old boys’ network" continues to thrive. Hit the bar ‘round midnight at the sponsoring hotel of any of the industry’s trade shows, and you’ll see what I mean.
The movers and shakers bask in the glow of ESPN barside or huddle around the little tables just outside the bar (where the really important business goes down). Cigars are lit with great ceremony. Everyone loses track of whose tab they’re drinking on. Strategies and deals are casually bantered about. And the gossip! Who’s bankrupt? Who’s in trouble with the IRS? Who’s ready to tell a key supplier to shove it?
Meanwhile, where are the women? Well, take a closer look. There’s Rosey at the table next to the atrium waterfall (where it’s a bit less noisy). Devoted wife of Bud (one of the industry’s venerable old lions) Rosey’s a regular on the trade show circuit. She is holding court with hubby and his cronies, and everyone’s thrilled because she’d just been honored at the Grand Banquet for her decades of selfless dedication and tireless service to this or that association committee.
For his part, Bud shudders to even contemplate the void that will descend upon him when his wife’s health finally fails her. Yet, he and his cronies have twice exchanged the subtle glance that translates to: "God love her, but can’t the old gal turn in early so we can get down to some guy talk?"
Oh, and there’s that new sales rep. Instructed by her boss to work the bar, "where the real deals go down," she is smiling through her migraine. The booth she occupies is crammed to capacity with hale and hearty fellas, including Clem (a gentle and gracious man when not seriously juiced), who seems to be losing track of the acceptable places a lady can be squeezed or patted upon being toasted yet again for gracing the industry with her presence.
But the question still stands: What about all the other women so abundantly in attendance at the previous day’s trade show and seminars? They are ensconced in their hotel rooms –some serenely aslumber, some in that twilight zone between sleep and Jay Leno, brooding over the last-minute decision to leave the beige jacket at home.
Those still awake yearn for sleep, for they must arise in the early morn. Those expected to attend the Keynote Breakfast, scheduled by some barbarian for 7:00 a.m., must arise before dawn. Only under the direst of circumstances would a woman dare "meet and greet" with bags under her eyes, and a less-than-sparkling attitude. Better to beg off completely, claiming a sudden attack by some flu bug. Likewise, upon arriving at her first scheduled appointment, each woman must attract neither too much or too little attention. It can take an hour (assuming the hotel provides each room with an iron) to attain this deceptively simple "look."
Well aware that there are many exceptions to the rule, I’ve finally come to learn that women in every profession, including ours, deal with issues and expectations that in men would barely merit a second thought. Perhaps this is less the case in our fraternity (sorority?) of growers and other adorers of flora – in which women run some of our most visible companies, in which the target consumer by universal consent is female. But I continue hearing reports to the contrary from the handful of industry women who still believe me when I say, "Don’t worry, I won’t write about what you say."
Will things change? I predict they will, not through any sea-change in the male mindset, but because most professional women I know are taking matters into their own hands. They intend to out-hustle, out-learn and out-compete their male competitors. Should Mindy Froning flourish in a truly gender-blind floriculture industry, she can thank herself, the women currently making their mark in floriculture, and of course, old Rosey, who in her day was not only a better grower than her hubby but a better quail hunter.