Women Speak Out at PHCCCONNECT2023

Women in Industry Luncheon
December 12, 2023
By Staff Writer, PHCC-National Association


It was a busy day at PHCCCONNECT2023 in Cleveland, Ohio, when guests gathered for a luncheon that would prove as informative as the food was tasty. The Women in the Industry Luncheon – Unlocking Potential and Breaking Barriers: Fostering Success for Women in the Trades through Gender-Inclusive Practices in Recruitment, Retention and Engagement – brought together seven individuals involved in Women in Plumbing & Piping, a non-profit organization dedicated to attracting women to the plumbing industry.

The assembled panel included moderator Susan Frew, co-owner and president of Sunshine Home Services, along with Laura Beltz of Beltz Home Services Co.; Linda Hudek of LH Plumbing Services; Ashley Martin of NIBCO; Cassie Pound, host of Power Women of the Trades podcast and co-owner of Quality Heating, Cooling & Plumbing; Angie Snow of ServiceTitan; and Jacquelyn Lindsey Wynn of Lindsey Brothers Inc.

Over the course of two hours, the women on the panel shared their insights on how PHCC members can attract more women into the trades and how it would improve not just the companies but the industry as a whole.

Attracting Them Young
One of the key takeaways from the event – which was sponsored by Oatey and hosted by the PHCC—National Auxiliary and Women in Plumbing and Piping – was that plumbing and HVACR contractors need to target girls in elementary and middle school if they want to attract more of them to the industry.

“No one ever took me aside and said the trades are for women,” Beltz said. “I could have taken over my grandfather’s [plumbing] business, but I never even knew it was an option.”

Beltz mentioned that her grandfather sold his business once he retired and that the new owners “ran it into the ground,” a destruction of his legacy that could have been avoided had she known growing up that taking over the business was a possibility. Beltz and many of the others on the panel said that the trades were never presented to them as a career option when they were young, and if the industry wants to attract more women to the trades, they have to plant the seeds early.

When asked what she would tell an 8-year-old girl about working in the trades, Hudeck said that she would explain how satisfying it is to create something with your own hands and “let them see the pride that comes with that.” She recommends that to do this, companies should bring as many employees (especially women, if they have them) and tools as they can, as both will help to break down stereotypes about the trade.

Changing Company Culture
Another vital component to attract and keep women in the trades is shifting the company’s culture to make it more inviting to them. It takes everyone in the company being on the same page to integrate women into a previously all male workforce, and Pound learned that the hard way when she hired Quality Heating, Cooling & Plumbing’s first female technician.

Pound was very excited to hire this female tech, but when she did, she didn’t have a conversation with her team letting them know the boundaries and expectations they are expected to observe. Backlash from her male employees ensued, and Pound was forced to go back to square one and have that conversation with her team.

And the responsibility of the owner to create space for women in their company doesn’t stop at hiring them. Too often, women in the industry aren’t treated like the professional adults they are, which is reinforced when employers refer to them as “the girls,” and they must fight against the assumption that they know less than the men in the room, which simply isn’t true.

“You have to own your space because you bring value to the table,” Wynn advised the women in the room. “My philosophy is that if someone has a problem, that’s their problem. Make sure you are prepared, because people will doubt you.”

Owners should ensure that they keep an open ear to their female employees so that their input is heard and they feel like a valued part of the company.

All Roles Are Vital
Whether an owner is hiring women as technicians, sales reps, CSRs, or some other position in the company, it’s important to treat everyone as a vital member of the team. All the roles within a company help it to grow, and if both employees and owners maintain this mindset, it will make everyone, not just women, feel more valued, according to Pound.

It helps, Hudeck said, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each new employee to determine where they would best fit in the company. Depending on the size of the company, owners can specialize field positions to allow their female employees to thrive. Hudeck gave the example that not everyone, man or woman, can use a 90-pound jackhammer, but that doesn’t mean that they’re useless in the field. It’s all about finding the niche where they can best thrive.

When everyone is doing the job that best fits their strengths, it’s easy to make them feel important to the company. Snow recommended that, to build respect for other positions within companies, owners should have “CSRs do a ride-along with field members and have field members spend time in the office.” This helps them to see the value that the other positions bring to the company and understand how they all contribute to its success.

A Solution to the Workforce Shortage
All seven panelists agreed that by resetting the industry’s expectation of what women can do in plumbing and HVACR, companies can tap into a massive pool of workers who never may have considered a career in the trades otherwise.

“Make sure job descriptions are written to allow for everyone,” Martin said in response to a question on how to make the culture more welcoming for women. By using gender-neutral language, women will feel more inclined to apply for positions that previously may have been seen as a “man’s job.”

It’s up to companies to take those small steps in their communities to bring women into the trades, and in doing so, they will set a wave in motion that will make the plumbing and HVACR industry a better place for everyone.

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