Being a woman in the plumbing/PVF world can be both exciting and challenging. Although we continue to witness more and more women in senior leadership roles including Presidents, CEOs, Vice Presidents, and CFOs of wholesalers, manufacturers and rep agencies than ever before, we are still in a predominantly male industry.Women continue to face obstacles, which are not always because of a societal bias but a conditional learned behavior that we need to acknowledge and overcome. Men and women are different, and that is very important. As women we need to own the advantages that are seemingly innate and question the behaviors that have been societally learned, but have ultimately held us back from leading efficiently. It is time for more women to demonstrate our ability to lead alongside our male counterparts. 

Starting with the “seemingly innate,” research has shown that many of the characteristics that make women strong leaders are empathy, encouragement and shared vision. 

Empathy is an advantage

Women in power positions possess the ability to lead with empathy and express that openly to their employees. Women are socially conditioned to be more empathetic. We naturally assume the caretaker and peacekeeper role. The upcoming generations value reserving time for their mental health & family life more than previous generations and are looking for employers who are understanding of each of their unique situations. Establishing an emotional connection can create loyal employees. Additionally, women can often see each position in a disagreement when assuming the peacekeeper role and facilitate an agreeable outcome.

Nurturing comes naturally 

A trait of a great leader is to lift up those around you. Women have been proven to become more of a coach and mentor than their male counterparts. We are fostering the next generation of leaders and making companies more inclusive and flexible. This helps employees to feel both valued and heard which in turn leads to retention and respect. 

Shared Vision 

Have you ever been in a company where the President or CEO’s door was always closed? When the leaders of your company do not share their vision their employees cannot have trust and excitement for the future. Women tend to bring others along and invite and encourage feedback. This type of leadership helps people to become actively engaged in planning the future of a company and improve in the day-to-day operations.
With the great resignation seeping into every industry all of these qualities show how important it is to bring a woman to the table. Research shows that employees want to feel connected, that they are serving a purpose, and they want to know where the company is headed and how it will benefit themselves and future generations. Women leaders tend to have all those qualities in mind which helps to secure success for the future.

Studies have shown that there are three behaviors that are more prevalent in women than men which undermine a woman’s effectiveness to lead. The good news is that these behaviors can be unlearned. 

Staying small serves no one

Many women are taught at a young age to be nice, be polite and don’t be too loud; which later translates into being bold, direct and aggressive, which are all traits that have defined strong leaders in the past. Truth be told there is nothing of value to shrinking oneself to make another feel less insecure around you; by showing up and letting people know you are there you are unconsciously giving other people the permission to do the same thing. This action alone helps other women rise up and ask for what they need.

Unnecessary apologies can undermine your authority and your career 

Studies have shown that many women apologize frequently because we have a lower threshold than men of what we consider offensive. This is something to look at more closely. Pay attention to how often you say sorry in a short time period. You may be amazed at what you find.  When you over apologize you are minimizing your presence and your contribution. Practice self awareness and only say you’re sorry when you truly have made a mistake that has impacted someone or your team.  Do not apologize when you are challenging an idea, injecting your thoughts or requesting something from your team. An unwarranted apology can diminish your impact and your people's trust and those traits are hard to recover. 

Lead with confidence 

As women we are often promoted on performance while men are promoted on their potential. According to a Hewlett Packard report when applying for a position women will not apply unless they have 100% of the requirements where a man will apply when they have only 60%. Why is this? Because a good deal of women have a hard time with self-confidence. To change this statistic we need to own what we do and how we do it well. Self-promotion sounds scary but telling your story sounds necessary. We have done the work, educated ourselves with the solutions and have results to show both successes and failures - owning our story is how people learn and grow.
The moral of the story here is we are making strong strides. With 100,000 jobs opening up in the next decade we have the opportunity to even the playing field or perhaps change it all together. Own your story, know your worth, and keep learning and the future has endless possibilities. 

Kala McDonald is the vice president of HR and finance at ASA distributor member The Collins Company and chair of ASA’s Women in Industry division. Kelsey Richter is a showroom specialist for ASA Sustaining Supplier partner Battersby Danielson Azbell (BDA) and is on the Women in Industry division executive council.