As the PHCP-PVF industry is facing an expected 100,000 retired skilled workers over the next 10 years, attracting the next generation is more important than ever. In addition, this predominately male industry is always working to attract more women to work in various facets of the PHCP-PVF supply chain. ASA’s Women in Industry division, coupled with ongoing efforts from distributors and manufacturers within their own organizations, are working to attract and retain the next generation of talented women to ensure the industry has a lasting and diverse workforce.
Supply House Times Chief Editor Natalie Forster recently held a roundtable discussion to hear straight from the voices of involved PHCP-PVF women holding various roles how the industry can work to attract, retain, include and support women in the industry.
The participants are:
Melissa Rasico, showroom manager at Bath & Kitchen Idea Center by Winsupply in Windsor, Colorado;
Christen Allen, director of national accounts at Elkay, and member of ASA’s Women in Industry division board;
Alicia Criniti, senior vice president, marketing for New Hampshire-based distributor, The Granite Group;
Francesca Messina, director of marketing and training for Luxury Products Group; and
Chris Sellner, director of strategic sourcing at Uponor.
One important strategy for attracting more women into the industry is spreading the word about the multitude of roles available. Sellner kicks off the conversation explaining the breadth of roles Uponor is working to fulfill with more women.
“Uponor has been working over the past few years to really look at manufacturing differently,” she says. “What can we do to make it more attractive? We’ve used a couple of female industrial engineers to help re-think our work stations and flow throughout the facilities so it doesn’t seem so masculine-driven.”
Sellner continues, noting another strategy is to get to women earlier on in their career paths. “We are active locally in events at the high school or early college level where I can speak to women starting their careers about my personal experience and journey,” she explains. “I share how I got to the director level, the positive environment Uponor creates for its employees and for women, and the endless opportunities, such as global travel, that I wouldn’t have gotten if it weren’t for my role with the company.”
Allen agrees, explaining Elkay’s womens’ group meets monthly and often discusses the various roles available for women in the company. “Making it less about the industry and more about to career path is key,” she says. “If there’s a discipline that interests you, you can do it in virtually any industry and be successful.”
Allen also points out that with the high number of people retiring from our industry, there are plenty of opportunities for growth to higher level positions.
When speaking on roles and representation for women, Messina says the industry has come a long way, but there’s still work to be done. “I think often women are pigeonholed into certain roles — accounts payable, customer service, marketing or showroom sales — and it’s important for organizations to have women equitably represented at all levels, from entry-level to executive.”
Messina brings another great point, saying things as simple as images on a company’s hiring-based landing pages and in the media can help attract more women. “When people feel represented, they’re more inclined to join an industry or organization. When women look at our industry, what do they see?” she asks. “Make sure when potential hires visit your website, social media or other marketing materials that the women in your organization are represented, making it easier for potential incoming female employees to see themselves belong.”
On the distribution side, Criniti says there is plenty of opportunity for women to move into branch and logistics roles. “I’d love to see more women take on branch manager, purchasing manager or warehouse manager roles; positions that don’t seem as obvious for women,” she explains.
Although she runs the showroom, Rasico notes she is heavily involved in the warehouse side of things as well. “I’m very happy to say I have a female in a warehouse lead position and females running my showroom floor,” she says. “I believe knowledge is power, and promoting from within is important. When I hire someone for any role, they go to work for different areas of the business for a few weeks first.”
Rasico explains her employees will spend a week in the warehouse, behind the counter, on the truck and in purchasing in order to understand how all roles operate. “When people see what other roles go through and deal with, it brings an important level of appreciation.” She says, “It also creates more security; the more you know about the business the more confident you can be in your role.”
In addition to spreading awareness about opportunity within the industry, Allen adds it’s important to implement programs that support your female workforce. “Especially with the challenges this past year has brought, Elkay has noted and made changes to its resources for women,” she says. “No matter the industry, we as senior leaders in the business have a responsibility to make sure things like maternity leave and flexible work-from-home initiatives are in place to make the organization a place women want to be.”
Participants note that internships, mentoring and involvement with local schools are all great ways to recruit the next generations, but how do we fill those high-level roles?
“I think many people likely scroll right past job listings within our industry because they don't sound enticing or they have never heard of the company,” Criniti says. “Word-of-mouth is key; it’s up to women like us to actively speak out about how we enjoy our careers in this industry and why we want to stay here.”
Again, participants urge that it’s less about attracting people to plumbing, it’s about attracting them to the great opportunities for growth within an essential industry that the PHCP-PVF supply chain can offer.
Expanding the pool
Participants agree that communication, recognition and mentorship are among important ways to continue to diversify this industry.
Rasico notes that Winsupply is doing a great job of recognizing the skills women bring to the company. “I’m seeing a shift and hearing all the time that my male counterparts and leadership are realizing that women are multitaskers,” she says. “Especially with how much we’ve had to adapt over the past year as an industry, I think it’s important to recognize the hard work and ability to get things done that women bring to the table.”
Criniti put it nicely, saying leadership in our industry needs to continue to value a diverse workforce. “It’s not just about attracting more women, it’s about valuing diversity as a whole,” she says. “We need to believe and embrace the idea that different backgrounds bring new ideas and perspectives which is not only good for business, but it’s good for people.”
Several participants note that when it’s time to fill a new position, it’s important to look outside of the usual pool.
Sellner says she was recruited into the industry based on her experience and skillset. “When I first started with Uponor, I wasn’t seeking a career in the plumbing industry,” she explains. “I was recruited based on prior experience, and I think it’s important for organizations to be open-minded to hiring and recruiting from outside the industry as there are plenty of qualified and talented women out there.”
Criniti urges leadership to think, “What talented women do I know?” when looking to fill a roll.
“Who cares what industry she’s currently working in?” Criniti adds. “We have transferable skills and we can learn this industry. It’s not about choosing a women just to hire a woman; it’s about making sure that your pool off applicants includes qualified female candidates.”
Messina notes that According to an article she read recently on AmericanProgress.org, “Women’s Leadership Gap,” women make up almost half the workforce and 52% of the college educated working population.
“Since women are qualified equitably to men, they should be reflected in our industry that way,” Messina says. “I encourage our male counterparts, especially those in leadership and hiring roles, to work to ensure women are represented equally throughout all roles in the company.”
Allen brings up the importance of networking and support systems. “I’m very thankful to work at Elkay where I’ve been supported from day one,” she says. “Leadership in our industry should encourage and create employee resource support groups, networking events and mentorship. Elkay does a great job with this.”
Allen adds that often women seek female mentors, but Elkay has begun pairing women with male mentors, creating the opportunity for men to encourage and advocate for their female colleagues.
Equally as important to attracting qualified women and members of the next generation is keeping them once they’re in the industry. The women agree that the tangibility of our industry, along with its great culture, are key reasons people stay.
Messina says she stays within the industry because of the culture behind independent distribution. “There is an entire subculture that lives with independent distribution. I feel there is a spirit of camaraderie and authenticity that I am so proud to be a part of,” she says. “I am concerned about what the future of independent distribution looks like, but I’m also optimistic and committed to helping independents thrive — that’s why I love my position at Luxury Products Group.”
Messina adds that this industry is one that builds the infrastructure of our communities, and she loves knowing that she works in an industry that changes lives.
Allen agrees, saying the industry is exciting, fun and rewarding. “Knowing that I’m doing something important and having the opportunity to network and connect with people throughout the industry keeps me here,” she says. “I think we retain people by being a good employer, taking care of your people and continuing to learn from and support each other.”
Criniti emphasizes that culture within the industry and the company is key to retaining employees. “I have to acknowledge Bill Condron, president and CEO of The Granite Group, who openly said one of the strategic objectives of the company is to hire more women,” she says. “Hearing him say that is one of the reasons I know I am in the right place.”
Rasico explains that after many years in the industry, she’s excited to continue working in the plumbing world because it truly matters. “We matter and the work we do really matters,” she says. “Both customers and manufacturers listen to our experience and trust our opinions, so I do feel like we make a difference, and that’s what keeps me here.”