The American Supply Association’s Women in Industry Spring Conference made a big splash with its 2014 debut in Chicago.

The second annual presentation held in mid-April at the Embassy Row Hotel in Washington, D.C., was an even greater smash hit. Some 80 ASA women members came together for parts of three days to network, share best practices and listen to an A-list of guest speakers.

“What has been exciting is we’ve seen some new faces this year but also people who were here last year who find value in the programming and networking,” said Katie Poehling, of La Crosse, Wis.-based First Supply and the chair of the Women in Industry Division. “It’s exciting to hear Katty Kay (the conference’s keynote speaker from ‘BBC World News America’) share her experience with groups like this. She feels we will double in a short amount of time. We have something valuable and relevant to give back to the industry.”

Kay delivered an outstanding keynote address loaded with usable information that centered on “The Confidence Code,” the book she co-authored. “We heard a lot about confidence the last two days,” Poehling said. “Two big pieces with confidence are being authentic to yourself and finding a mentor — someone you can look to as a role model as you move throughout your career.”

Women in Industry Executive Council member Rebecca Falish (InSinkErator) delivered one of the conference’s key takeaways during the opening dinner session concerning Poehling’s point about being authentic in what is a male-dominated industry.

“It’s very important for women to be themselves and to be authentic,” Falish said. “I know they want to fit in with the boys. It’s good to be one of the guys, but you don’t truly have to be one of the guys. Remember you are on stage a little more because you are a woman. Just because you are a woman, you don’t have to over-prove yourself.”

During the opening session attendees heard from a male panel of high-ranking industry executives that included current ASA President Rick Fantham (Hajoca Corp.), First Supply’s Joe Poehling and NIBCO’s Steve Malm. The trio talked about the topic of getting ahead in a male-dominated industry.

Each presented their thoughts on the subject with Fantham going through his list of Top 10 things to do to succeed in a male-dominated industry that was generated from his talks with women employees at Hajoca. For that list, visit

Malm’s advice involved the words commitment, competence and the previously mentioned confidence. “The first one you bring to the party already. Nobody can put that into you,” he said. “The second one you already have and companies are ready to give you additional experience. If you have the first two, the third one takes care of itself.”

Next year’s conference is tentatively scheduled to return to Chicago.

“The most impressive part about this is the support we’ve received from our companies and from our male bosses,” Falish said. “They tell us to go for it and this is what we should be doing. They support us.”

For more on the Women in Industry event, including an interview with Katie Poehling, visit


This article was originally titled “Strength in numbers” in the May 2015 print edition of Supply House Times.