In our fascinating conversation with Sara Cromwell, Director of People Excellence at Abell Pest Control, we discussed her responsibilities in her current role and the importance of promoting equity and economic opportunities for women, particularly in male-dominated fields. Sara shared numerous strategies to influence and educate the public, aiming to reshape the perception of the pest control sector. As a member of the Professional Women in Pest Management (PWIPM) Council and the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Task Force, she elaborated on her commitments and the challenges she has faced in her pursuit of equality. Sara concluded with insightful recommendations for women seeking opportunities in this male-dominated industry, empowering them to break barriers and excel in their careers.
Sara Cromwell is a recognized leader in Human Resources with over 20 years of experience holding her Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL) designation. In 2013 Sara joined Abell Pest Control where she currently serves as the Director of People Excellence focusing on building programs and systems that advance people and support equal opportunities.
Thanks to Sara’s people first strategies, Abell Pest Control has cemented itself as an employer of choice inside and outside the Pest Management Industry. Sara is known for her ability to lead and motivate teams, and for her focus on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.
In addition to her work at Abell Pest Control, Sara is an active member within the National Pest Management Association. She has served as the Past Chair and current member of the Recruitment and Retention Committee, she is a Member of the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Task Force, and a Member of the Professional Women in Pest Management Council. Her contributions to these organizations have been instrumental in advancing the industry and promoting workplace equality. Sara won Chair of the Year for her work with the Recruitment and Retention Committee is 2022.
Sara is a noted speaker at industry events across North America, where she shares her expertise on topics such as recruitment, diversity and inclusion, and employee engagement. She has also been featured in print, radio, and television, where she shares her insights and experiences with a wider audience.
Outside of work, Sara is an active volunteer with Bladder Cancer Canada. She previously hosted the Hamilton Fundraising Walk and now coordinates volunteers across the country to raise awareness for the cause. Bladder Cancer Canada is important to Sara because of her Grandfather’s experiences with the disease, and she is committed to making a difference in the lives of others.
When did you begin your professional career? And what duties do you have at Abell Pest Control as the Director of People Excellence?
My career began in 2001 when I took a role with an automotive supplier in their payroll and human resources department after leaving university. From there, I have worked in Human Resources departments for retail, banking, manufacturing, technology, and the service industry. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful career filled with great mentors that shaped the professional I am today. I joined Abell in 2013, where I found my passion for the Pest Management Industry and all professionals within it.
As the Director of People Excellence my role is to ensure Abell Pest Control (Abell) is an environment that allows team members to reach their full potential. Engaged team members can support our clients and our business goals, so Human Resources partners with all stakeholders to remove the barriers to full participation and potential of our team members. This means building systems and strategies that support professional development, performance management, health and wellness, and succession planning. I work alongside a team of dedicated Human Resources and Talent Acquisition Professionals who share the same passion and dedication. In 2023, Abell was proud to be acknowledged as Best Workplace in Canada for Women by the Great Place to Work Institute.
Why do you believe it is critical to promote equity where there are economic opportunities for women—especially in fields dominated by men?
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that historically women were excluded from certain industries or positions intentionally. That historical, purposeful exclusion has created the gender stereotypes and gender bias which we’re working against today. By leaders promoting equity and encouraging the participation of females in male-dominated fields, we’re challenging those gender stereotypes and biases. Today’s little girl is tomorrow’s adult woman worker. She should imagine herself in all the opportunities before her without thinking she’s less capable or ill-suited for the role. Promoting equity in economic opportunities for women is critical because it not only creates a fairer and more just society but also benefits the economy.
For a company, the business case is strong. Studies have found not only are gender-diverse companies more profitable, but they have increased innovation and improved employee engagement and retention.
As more male-dominated industries and companies understand the benefits of providing equal opportunities and equitable representation to women, many are taking intentional steps to support them. For women entering these typically male-dominated roles and industries, this means increased access to training and mentorship programs and a strong network of peers. This allows for increased job satisfaction, higher earnings potential, and improved career advancement opportunities.
What are the numerous strategies for influencing and educating the public to change the perception of the pest control sector, which is predominantly a male-dominated one?
The most important strategy we employ to the public to change the perception of the pest management industry is how our Pest Management Professionals present themselves in the field while solving our client’s issues. The Pest Management industry is essential for protecting food, property, and public health. Our technicians are the utmost professionals who recognize that and rise to the responsibility.
Harnessing the power of social media, company/industry websites, and news media, the essential purpose of Pest Management professionals and Industry has never been so accessible to the public. Using these channels, we highlight science-based prevention tips, educational opportunities, and public outreach regarding pest-related illness and disease. Unfortunately, with global warming, the threats due to pest-related illness and disease are only rising.
What are your specific duties as a member of the Professional Women in Pest Management (PWIPM) Council and the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Task Force?
As a member of the Professional Women in Pest Management (PWIPM) Council we are responsible for assisting in the development of educational programs, resources, and peer networking to attract, develop and support women in the pest management industry. Each year, PWIPM hosts professional development sessions and networking events throughout North America, awards professional empowerment grants; recognizes an industry leader through the Women of Excellence Award, raises money for a charity at the PestWorld 5k; and publishes quarterly newsletters.
While as a member of the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Task Force we are responsible for assessing the structural pest control industry’s IDE needs and working toward implementing solutions that improve the inclusivity of the industry to reflect the diverse communities in which we serve. The Task Force provides guidance to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) Board of Directors on the work of inclusion, diversity, and equity at NPMA through assessing the pest control industry’s IDE needs and developing solutions that would culminate into an IDE Action Plan.
What were the difficulties you encountered on your path toward equality? How did you overcome them?
The difficulty has generally been dealing with the misconceptions many feel regarding the purpose and effectiveness of equity programs. Many are concerned that someone must lose for someone else to win. A concern is that if we focus on supporting opportunities for those disadvantaged through unconscious bias, gender norms, etc., others may get left behind. However, this misconception overlooks the fact that equity programs aim to remove barriers and provide equal opportunities for all individuals to succeed.
For example, women are less likely to apply for a leadership role as women tend to doubt their abilities and confidence in their success as a leader. So, while women are more risk-averse, men are encouraged from a young age to take risks. This does not mean that a female candidate is less qualified than a male candidate. However, through self-selection, she has already taken herself out of the running. Understanding this, leaders must discuss career goals, empower their female staff to take the chance on leadership positions and advocate for the individual during the recruitment process.
What specific recommendations do you have for all the ladies out there to help them grab opportunities in this male-dominated field?
The opportunities are endless. I encourage women to lean into the programs available within their company and their industry to build a strong network of their peers. For those in positions of power, we must ensure we are fostering an environment that allows the next generation of female leaders to thrive.