The American Supply Association’s Women in Industry division has been the fastest growing division within the association since its inception. Throughout the year, the group provides a place for PHCP-PVF women to come and advance their career, find mentors and network with both new and familiar female peers.  

A highlight of the group is its annual ELEVATE conference, which has become a crowd favorite, full of top-notch speakers, networking happy hours and fun evening events for the women. The last time ELEVATE was able to happen in person was in 2019 in San Diego, where turnout was at an all-time high and included 91 new attendees. ELEVATE was slated to take place in Charleston, South Carolina in April of 2020, but had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ASA and the Women in Industry executive council provided a virtual meeting in April of 2021, where attendees still gained access to great speakers, educational sessions and virtual networking. But after three years since an in-person ELEVATE conference, the Women in Industry division is itching to get back together.

ASA’s Women in Industry

As of late February, ELEVATE2022 — taking place April 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency in Louisville — has pulled more than 200 registrants from more than 80 different PHCP-PVF companies. Find more details and registration information here.  

Vice Chair of the Women in Industry division executive council, Suzanne Chreene, senior director of national trade sales at Delta Faucet, has been involved with Women in Industry since the beginning and uses it as a place to give back to the industry.  

“I attended the very first conference in Chicago and have been committed to attending each year since,” Chreene says. “I didn’t look at it as advancing my career, but more of a place where I could help other women advance theirs. I saw Alice Martin, Dottie Ramsey and other sharp women on a panel that first year and was inspired by what they said and what they’ve been able to do in this industry. I walked away from that meeting knowing I need to get involved in this group so I could do more, have more outreach to other women, and model strong leadership for females in this Industry.”

Another Women in Industry division executive council member, Myra Story, national sales coordinator manager for A. O. Smith, started with the group five years ago, and says it’s helped her advance in her sales role at A. O. Smith. “The networking this group offers is incredible, but in addition to that, being involved has helped advance my position by gaining more industry knowledge and insight.”

Florida-based Lion Plumbing Supply’s Vice President Sheri Newman is also on the Women in Industry executive council, and has been involved since 2016. “This group has provided invaluable networking opportunities for me,” she says. “Through the relationships I’ve built with the women, I always have someone to call or go to when challenges arise and I need additional insight or advice.”

Action items

Over the past three years since the last in person conference, the Women in Industry council has been hard at work. More members have been added to the council, a book club has been started and plans are already cooking for the division’s 10-year celebration, which will take place in 2024.

Chreene points out that the group has done a great job staying connected, even without an in person meeting. “We adapted quickly and were able to move our 2021 agenda to an online platform, which was well received and achieved record attendance even as an all virtual event,” she says. “We keep driving forward to offer programs that the membership really wants to participate in, such as webinars on financial business acumen and a book club group.”

Newman adds the group has been highly focused on attracting more members throughout the year. “We’re always looking to have more women join the group, and we work to offer benefits throughout the year outside of the annual conference.”

When it comes to ELEVATE2022, action item number one, which all council members are elated about, is getting to see the group of PHCP-PVF women gather in person.

The lineup of speakers is one to be excited about as well. “Our keynote speaker, Michelle Vilalobos, will speak about ‘Selling as Service,’” Chreene explains. “I’m also really excited about hearing from Janine Drive, on ‘You say more than you think’ and how to read non-verbal cues. In addition, we have two learning tracts to choose from: Professional Growth and Development or Leading and influencing others. Those sessions will be led by successful women from within our industry.“

A rare value

There are advancements being made within PHCP-PVF companies, associations and buying groups, but ELEVATE is currently the only place this many women in our supply chain gather in one place.

“It’s rare to have this many women in our industry in the same place,” Newman says. “It’s something companies should be investing in and taking advantage of. I wish ELEVATE and the Women in Industry division were around when I was earlier on in my career; I believe I would have advanced faster.”

Another unique edge women can find in the group is the diverse range of roles among attendees.

“Women naturally want to have more outlets for networking. The women that attend this event span from CEO’s, senior leaders, managers and individual contributors across many cross functional areas such as sales, marketing, operations and human resources,” Chreene says. “The vast mix of roles and experience allows everyone to feel comfortable and learn from each other. This platform and event gives women the ability to learn, grow and make connections in our industry that you just cannot put a price tag on or underestimate its value.”

Studies show that companies with women in executive roles are more profitable than those without women in leadership. Newman says it’s just as important for industry veterans to be involved with women in industry as it is to bring in new women.

“It’s important for women who have been in the industry for a while to participate, providing mentorship and leadership for the women just starting out,” Newman says. “We need to educate, empower and encourage women to reach their full potential.”

Story adds that the true value of what the Women in Industry division comes from what members take back to their organizations. “It’s up to us — council members and attendees — to go back to our organizations with what we learn during ELEVATE and apply it internally,” she says. “It’s also key that we commit to mentoring and encouraging women within our organizations, and in turn, introduce them to the Women in Industry group so they can benefit from it just like we have.”

One simple way for organizations to support the women in their organizations is to reevaluate the events and networking outings it has in place. “Consider how you include your females in your casual male get togethers,” Chreene says. “Poker night, golf and fishing may not always be the social things that women want to participate in with customers or work peers. Excluding them in the outings and conversations sets them back and puts them at a disadvantage.”

The Women in Industry division emphasizes the importance of having male leadership allies throughout the industry. Chreene encourages companies to think about the roles that females are in within your organization. “Are they equitably represented at all levels of leadership?  If not, how do you make those changes in your organization to have more diversity and inclusion?” She asks.

“I cannot think of a better way to reward, retain and invest in your talent than to participate in Women in Industry where women within your organization can see success and gain mentoring opportunities first-hand.”  - Suzanne Chreene

Newman says attracting more women is always a topic of conversation at council meetings. “We’ve talked about attending job fairs, going to the Girl Scouts and things like that,” she says. “But within organizations, I’d encourage you to use marketing campaigns and social media to display women within your company, so future women see they can be represented in our industry.”

Chreene points out it’s not only about attracting more women, it’s about working towards a more diverse workforce overall. “My belief is that the industry overall needs to find a way to be a more diverse workplace. Tracie Sponenberg of The Granite Group and member of the board for Women in Industry is helping us to build awareness on the real business benefits of diversity in your organization. Be looking for more workshop/webinar opportunities on this topic in 2022.”

Goals for the future

Continuing its aggressive growth is one of the division’s top goals moving forward. Chreene points out that women with roles at all levels should participate in Women in Industry.

“We want to continue to bring in new members each year. We would like to see more distributor members invest in and encourage their female employees to be members and attend the ELEVATE conferences,” Chreene says. “These women do not need to be in the senior roles in the organization, in fact we encourage them to send their employees that are new to the business or in earlier stages of their career.”

Boosting membership in the group means boosting the number of women who enter the PHCP-PVF industry altogether. “We want to continue to grow in membership, and in turn, attract and retain more women and new talent into the industry,” Newman says.

Since the group has gained such successful traction in the industry, Story points out she hopes to use the group’s platform to develop the next generation of women leaders. “We hope to attract more women into the group, where they will find mentors and tools to set them up for successful and developing careers in our industry.”

Chreene agrees, pointing out that companies who want to invest in their people should invest in Women in Industry. “What better way to retain their talent than to see all the success and mentoring opportunities that could take place?” she says. “I cannot think of a better way to reward, retain and invest in your talent.”