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John Reitman

By John Reitman

For Schwab, facilitating change in the workplace begins at home

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Superintendent Leasha Schwab (in red) has developed a culture at Pheasant Run Golf Club in Ontario where all men and women on her staff are equal, including Gemma Rawson, Nick Klipina and Julia Cuccia (left to right). Photo courtesy of Leasha Schwab

Creating a more diverse workplace in the golf industry is not part of a plan developed by a multi-association ad-hoc committee, nor is it a result of a bullet point plan on an academic's PowerPoint presentation. At least not at Pheasant Run Golf Club in Sharon, Ontario.

In the case of Pheasant Run, superintendent Leasha Schwab has created an inclusive workplace where everyone is held to account by how they perform their job rather than how they look while doing it.

By now, many in this business know Schwab and what she is about. She created the Ladies Leading Turf movement that launched at the 2018 Golf Industry Show in San Antonio as a networking and professional development group focused on increasing career opportunities for women in the field of golf turf management. It has become one of those grassroots movements that everyone wants to be part of when it convenes annually at GIS.

What people might not yet know about Schwab is how she runs her own shop at Pheasant Run.

Schwab does not just talk a good game every winter at GIS. She knows talking about creating opportunities for others and actually doing so requires putting your money where your mouth is, and Schwab is all about that. Promoting a welcoming workplace for people of diverse backgrounds is the overriding philosophy in the shop at Pheasant Run.

Leasha is an amazing leader. I wouldn't want to work for anyone else.

Schwab readily admits her line of work can be a tough place for women. Throughout her career in golf, which has spanned more than a decade, she has endured inappropriate comments from men in person, on the golf course and online, and she created Ladies Leading Turf three years ago in the wake of a case of online sexual harassment. She was at a stable place in her career, but couldn't help but wonder how she might have reacted to such advances when she was younger, so she wanted to be a voice for other young women who might face a similar situation.

"I wanted to create a space for young women because I felt like if I was a young woman of 18 I might have just left the industry," Schwab said. "Men who I am close with, and who are mentors, convinced me that because there is one bad apple you shouldn't give up."

Although LLT gives Schwab a platform to help women around the world, she knows that change happens at the grassroots level.

"The message (with LLT) is changing in a way that I don't necessarily agree with," she said. "I think a lot of people are trying, but I think the rah, rah, rah women movement just makes a lot of men roll their eyes."

She might have a point. The Ladies Leading Turf movement, which is held in partnership with Syngenta, will require buy-in from men - and a lot of them - for women to be viewed as equal off and on the golf course. So far, that is not happening on a grand scale. At least not at GIS. That message might sting, but it's true.

When a panel of speakers took to the dais at the most recent LLT event at this year's Golf Industry Show in Orlando to discuss career development for women, the number of men in the room could be counted on two hands, yet one needed a calculator to tally the number of men who found their way to free food and alcohol at the subsequent networking event just a few doors away.

I wanted to create a space for young women because I felt like if I was a young woman of 18 I might have just left the industry. Men who I am close with, and who are mentors, convinced me that because there is one bad apple you shouldn't give up.

"We have to be careful what kind of message we are putting out there," Schwab said. "I started to take a bit of a step back, and in turn that created a bit more space for me to think about how I wanted to elevate the young women who I have directly with me every day. So, I've been trying to consider that maybe the best way to start a movement is just by doing it right at your front door. Yes, it's great to do stuff for other people, and I try to mentor people when they call me, but I think that it's important to give each woman who needs it a bit of confidence to go where she wants."

To that end, the women who work on Schwab's crew are trained to do everything men do, from the smallest task to operating the largest piece of equipment in the shop.

Gemma Rawson, 20, is in her second season at Pheasant Run. Her family lives on a farm near the golf course, so physical labor is nothing new for her. In fact, the physical demands of the job, along with a boss with whom she could identify, are what drew her to the golf course for summer employment while she goes to college.

"We live on a farm near the golf course, so I am into manual labor," Rawson said. "I liked the idea of having a female boss."

She believes it is easier and more genuine for a female superintendent to establish a welcoming culture like the one in place at Pheasant Run.

"I think that is really important. If I had gone through the things she went through, I probably would have given up and walked away," Rawson said. "I never thought I'd work on a golf course, but she encourages us to do more."

Although a career in golf is not in her plans now, Rawson, who is studying at the University of Guelph to be a researcher in the field of neuroscience, said she loves working outdoors for a boss who goes out of her way to establish a positive workplace culture, so you never know what the future might hold.

"The other girls I work with and I talk about that all the time," she said laughing. "Leasha has ruined us for the future, because we love working here so much."

It's not as if Schwab has to recruit women to fill out her staff. Girls hear about Pheasant Run by word of mouth, including 19-year-old Bronwen Belbeck, who is in her second year at the club. 

Belbeck said she never envisioned working on a golf course, until a friend who works there told her how much she liked it.

"Leasha teaches us, and empowers us," Belbeck said. "I'm fully for that.

"I never thought I could do this. I didn't think I could drive a tractor, and I come from a family of farmers. . . . She's taught me that I can do this, and it feels awesome."

While Schwab and assistants Chris Mitchell and Michael Smyth and assistant/mechanic Nick Klipina train everyone at Pheasant Run on every job on every piece of equipment, there are other things that women at the club need to know.

I never thought I could do this. I didn't think I could drive a tractor, and I come from a family of farmers. . . . She's taught me that I can do this, and it feels awesome.

"What I try to teach young women, a lot of women when they are in this atmosphere where men can be a bit off-putting, possibly a bit aggressive, the way these young girls think they need to show their strength and leadership is through aggression," Schwab said. "I always try and caution young girls on that because, first, you can't do all the same things men can do. You just can't, and you will be put into a box and called a bitch and that's it. Second, you just lose all your leadership ability when you try and meet someone with aggression. It adds to what they are doing, and they win right away. I think a lot of women get stuck in that, where they feel like they have to fight so hard, and you really don't have to, Just keep your head high, do your job and be kind. That's not to say I put up with much; I don't. I have pretty clear boundaries, which I think are important as well."

The crew at Pheasant Run is an eclectic mix, with girls no older than 22 and some of the men on staff for many years. Yet somehow, everyone gets along, said Klipina, 22.

"Everyone keeps an open mind, and nobody ever puts anybody else down," he said. 

"Leasha is an amazing leader. I wouldn't want to work for anyone else."

Although her efforts are noble, Schwab knows her work is only beginning.

"Being a woman in golf, it's almost like a right of passage to put up with a bunch of bullshit," she said. "The world is changing and the only people who are going to be successful are those who change with it. More women want to be in this business, and it is happening organically. Women typically wanted nothing to do with this business, because of how they are treated by men. It's going to take time to make changes across an industry. But here, I try to facilitate a culture that has none of that, a culture where people don't feel uncomfortable."

Edited by John Reitman





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