By Staff Writer, PHCC Educational Foundation
What works to bring women into the industry? These powerful female business leaders share their best ideas!
As a woman in the p-h-c trades, that is Brenda Dant’s biggest piece of advice to females looking to find success – and seeking to recruit and retain other women – in a male-dominated industry. Dant, who is the executive director of PHCC of Indiana, facilitated a “Women, Workforce and Wisdom” panel discussion last fall at PHCC CONNECT in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was joined by three other female business leaders from Indiana: Laura Ciriello-Benedict, president of Ciriello Plumbing; Beth Rovazzini, president of B & W Plumbing and Heating; and Cathy Stegemoller, president of Steg Plumbing.
They are a testament to their “be visible” advice – getting and staying involved not only within their industry but in their communities. “They are active on boards; they run fundraisers; they are viewed as smart business women making it in a traditional male environment,” says Dant. “They are great role models.”
She adds that these women are not just bound by their gender but by their passion for the industry. “They support each other by listening intently and then brainstorming to find a solution,” she says. “They kill it with competence, and PHCC and the industry are stronger when we harness that energy.”
Feeding off that energy, these role models are now offering additional insights into their success:
- Be curious. “I am social and I love to talk to people,” says Ciriello-Benedict. “I’m also curious as to how other businesses are run.” She offers that often the best time to discover these proven practices is during the breaks at PHCC conventions and other business events. “Get out there and make connections,” she says. “People do business with people.”
- Think outside the industry. Ciriello-Benedict adds that many of her best connections are with people outside the p-h-c industry. As a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), she’s leveraged tons of great advice from those in this network.
- Be that “someone.” When Ciriello-Benedict sits in meetings – particularly on workforce development – “I always hear ‘someone needs to do this.’ … I’m that someone. I’ll do it. I don’t need to wait for someone else to help me.” Heeding her own advice to “become part of the workforce solution,” she says that she personally participates in lots of career fairs and speaks about the trades at her local schools.
In fact, she recently hosted a dozen high school students at her business for a half-day session – with both a “classroom” lesson and some hands-on activities. “Plumbing is one of those industries that people think they know, but they really have no idea,” she says. Make time and work with young people, she stresses. “Put your money where your mouth is.” Ciriello-Benedict also serves as chairman of an apprenticeship school in her area.
More Trade Secrets
On attracting and keeping skilled workers, this powerful panel admits their advice doesn’t apply to just women!
- Always stay relevant. Whether it’s chatting it up with the waiter or waitress when she goes out to eat, or talking to the service person who cleans her carpets at home, Ciriello-Benedict is constantly seeking new talent. “If you have the idea that you have to grow a plumber anyway, then really you can get them from anywhere.”
“I may see something in that person, and I’ll talk to them,” she says. “Is this your end game? Is this what you want to do? Have you considered a career in plumbing?” she often asks. “I once hired a person who made a pizza for me.” – Laura Ciriello-Benedict
- Share your own story. Stegemoller tells her story via a video on her company website (stegplumbing.com), sharing how she got into plumbing and some of the challenges she has faced. “I find that a lot of our applicants, both male and female, are encouraged by that video and feel a connection to our company before they are even hired.”
- Show them you’re invested. “I personally welcome every new employee and participate in their orientation,” says Stegemoller. “It promotes a more ‘personal’ approach to our company and leadership.”
- Don’t second-guess the power of a woman! Stegemoller reinforces that women can hold any position they choose, whether it is a service technician, a new construction plumber, a warehouse worker or office staff. “We encourage women to get into the plumbing industry and find success,” she says. “I have found that the few females that I have met in the mechanical trades are highly respected and appreciated for their work ethic and attention to detail by their peers.”
- Remove barriers. To achieve your goal, says Rovazzini, you need to remove barriers and create an environment that makes everyone successful. “There may be some women who would be comfortable being an apprentice to a middle-aged plumber. There may be some plumbers who would have no problem training a female apprentice plumber,” she adds. “Maybe the female apprentice needs to work in the warehouse for a time. She could learn materials and processes. Or, maybe she should work dispatch for a while.” Rovazzini – who explains that she uses these same processes for males, too – says the goal is for everyone to be familiar with each other and become a team.
- Get an assist from within. “I engage our key seasoned employees to assist in determining training plans, assessments and hiring,” says Rovazzini. “Before any apprentice is officially hired, they job shadow a key employee for a couple of hours. This has eliminated the potential hire that will not ever get on a ladder … and the key employee is now invested in the apprentice’s success if they recommend hiring.”
- Maintain diversity (and it’s not what you think!). “Diversity is a buzz word these days,” says Rovazzini, “but diversity does not necessarily mean people representing different [ethnic] groups. Companies need diversity in thought” She adds that leaders must make a conscious effort to avoid “group think.” The biggest deterrent to hiring a female, says Rovazzini, is that she is “your token.” Females and males need to be hired because they can contribute in a positive way to a company or organization. Addressing concerns she’s heard from men that “women cannot lift as much as men,” Rovazzini says “that is not true in all cases. Lifting in plumbing is not just strength; leverage and gravity are useful tools!”
“Don’t predetermine your employees’ limits (male or female). You are hiring adults, and adults should be able to make their decisions.” – Beth Rovazzini
Staff Writer , PHCC Educational Foundation