When Katie Poehling of First Supply and Ashley Martin of NIBCO decided to start a group just for women in the plumbing industry through ASA, they were hopeful in their expectations. “We thought maybe 50 women would join, but we have more than 80 women attendees who have signed up for this event! It’s amazing,” Poehling said.
On April 23, 2014, the ASA Women In Industry group kicked off its inaugural meeting with dinner at Devon Seafood Grill in downtown Chicago. Laura Kohler from Kohler Co. was the guest speaker of the evening, presenting facts and figures from her own family business to note how it follows what’s currently going on in the industry.
“Kohler’s ‘Family of Business’ breakdown is 70% male and 30% female,” she told the audience. “This also reflects the national average. But eventually women leaders will comprise half the workforce. We need to think of this as an opportunity for your company.”
Kohler also stressed the importance of mentorship, retaining women leaders and fostering education. Speaking to all the women in the room, Kohler encouraged, “You have an energy that’s never been seen in this industry before. Take control. Take charge!”
The evening ended with a presentation of commemorative plaques from ASA Executive Vice President Mike Adelizzi. Both Poehling and Martin received specially framed Supply House Times March covers, which featured the two women outside during one of the coldest days of a record-breaking Chicago winter. Adelizzi recalled the day of the cover shoot, telling Poehling and Martin they would be taking photos around the city in six inches of snow and how the end result was a fantastic cover.
A strong start
On April 24, the conference continued at The Sheraton hotel in Chicago. After a networking breakfast sponsored by First Supply, Debbie Lessin, the “Balance Act Lady”, gave an interactive presentation regarding the importance of work-life balance and flexibility. A few tests were given to evaluate each person’s wants and needs pertaining to their work and respective personal life. Many women put others before themselves.
“Give up the myth of perfect balance. You have to take care of yourself first before you are able to take care of others,” Lessin said. When it comes to work-life balance, Lessin recommended setting limits and stressed not everything is an emergency. “Work less, play more, work smarter.”
Lessin asked attendees what was important to them for this conference. Suzanne Chreene from Delta Faucet Co. responded: “Creating female relationships in a male-dominated industry. Depth in relationships with other women leaders is really important right now and having this opportunity to network with them is great. This is exactly what our industry needs.”
Panel of pioneers
A panel discussion, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling,” included female industry trailblazers Alice Martin from NIBCO (plumbing manufacturer), Jill Hurd from All-Tex Supply (PVF wholesale distributor) and Supply House Times’ own safety columnist Mary Prahler from First Supply (plumbing and HVACR wholesaler). Watts Water Technologies’ Stephanie Ewing was the session moderator.
Ewing asked the panel questions about advice to younger generations, about their own business culture and advice for women in a “man’s industry.” But the most interesting answers came from the question: “What advice would you give to women trying to break into this industry?”
Martin: “Find a career you’re passionate about. Make friends with the women in your company. In this male-dominated industry you need to push back, show them you’re not going to take it.”
Hurd: “Be yourself. Be confident. Define yourself.”
Prahler: “What is your vision of success? And then when you accept a job, ask yourself how am I going to make it fit into my vision? As a woman, you have to prove it over and over again. Establish your credibility.”
The day ended with a luncheon sponsored by the ASA Education Foundation and keynote speaker Alexandra Levit presenting “Women and 21st Century Leadership.” Levit provided examples of strong women leaders who overcame obstacles and what women are facing in the workforce today.
“47% of the workforce is made up of women, but only 17% are in executive leadership positions,” Levit stated. “How do you change the culture?” she asked.
It is a fact, Levit stated, that women don’t self-promote, nor self-advocate. Women don’t have the self-confidence. And it is a stereotype that they’re too emotional or over emotional. The key, she added, is finding your vision and being passionate about it. Levit believes in increasing one’s own leadership potential by knowing your own definition of success, having a 12-month plan, taking risks, mentoring and having sponsors, as well as training and retaining.
The conference’s theme “Stronger Together” was defined by the day’s networking, relationship-building and mentoring opportunities that developed during the event. It is truly the retention of women in this industry that will make a lasting impact on the success of the industry as a whole.
Current ASA President John Strong summed it up perfectly, “This industry doesn’t just welcome women, it needs women!”