The Women in NAHAD initiative is in its second year, and thus far the woman responsible for getting it started is happy with the progress, though she knows there is much work to do.
"I'm really pleased because the goal is to get that conversation going," said Karen Brandvold, vice president and chief financial officer for Omni Services Inc., a distributor of hose, accessories and other rubber products. "How do we attract and maintain and mentor and make our industry desirable for women? Women make up half of the work force. If you're ignoring that, you're not attracting the most talented work force that you can."
Brandvold worked with NAHAD Executive Director Molly Mullins to start WIN in 2017, as Brandvold has been moving up the leadership chain of the association for hose and accessories distributors and manufacturers. That culminated with Brandvold beginning her term this past spring as the first-ever female NAHAD president.
A session at the NAHAD convention featured author and inspirational speaker Judy Hoberman, and a good percentage of the attendees were males, which Brandvold said was encouraging.
Author of "Walking on the Glass Ceiling," Hoberman titled her talk "Equal Not Identical." She said what's important to men in the workplace isn't necessarily the same for women.
Hoberman cited a study where women ranked money only fifth in what was important to them at work, following work/life balance, a good relationship with their boss, meaningful work and good relationships with colleagues.
"You don't want them to just be interested in you, you want them to commit, and that's a big difference," Hoberman said. "Women are looking for someplace they can call home. They want to find a place where they feel that this is complementary to the other parts of their life. Someplace they feel safe. Someplace where they feel wanted. There are lots of times women are brought in and they are certainly not wanted."
The idea of equal but not identical resonated with Jackie Sherman, regional sales specialist with Eaton P.L.C. "Sometimes I feel like within our industry, with more women getting involved, they're not really sure what to do with us," she said. "Do we treat them exactly the same, or do we put them in their own little category over here?"
Brandvold said a main part of the message is that recruiting and retaining women into the work force isn't merely about checking a box to show that your firm's work force is diversified. "No woman wants that," she said. "One of the first things women want is to be doing work they feel is relevant and helpful. Don't even have me come in if I can't do that."
The first female NAHAD president also knows there is much work to do going forward. For example, in studying the NAHAD convention attendee list, she could only identify 16 females out of 260 distributor attendees, and only about 40 of more than 400 manufacturer attendees.
"It doesn't really boggle my mind, because I felt that," Brandvold said. "I'm in this industry. There are women in this industry, but they're in the back office. They're in HR. They're in accounting, and some in inside sales. There are a few in outside sales, but not a lot."
She hopes to get more women involved, along with one of her goals as NAHAD president to have a more engaged membership overall, including more men and women taking active roles. With WIN, she envisions having a group of women and men forming a committee to map out what kind of events should be staged and how to take the initiative to the next step.
Amanda Shurte, customer service manager of UIP International Inc. said she is encouraged by the progress made by WIN in its first year. "It seems like although the women who are here are very excited to be here, there may still be some women who are intimidated or nervous, or the companies aren't meeting their needs as a woman in order to encourage them to come into this industry," she said.
One takeaway for Shurte was to simply ask employees what drives and motivates them. "You may think money will make it for them, but sometimes for different people, different things drive them."
She has noticed some new female faces in NAHAD, and thinks as the WIN initiative becomes more popular, more companies will realize that women can bring things to the table that maybe a man can't. "I'm real fortunate that with our company (owners Howard and Ted White) have always been a big advocate for me, so I've never felt like I'm a female versus a male," she said. "That's something that's very unique in a lot of work forces here in America."
Shurte also is excited to be in the hose industry at a time where more women are coming into the business and NAHAD has its first female president, giving her something to look forward to as her career develops.
"It's awesome to know that there are women who have been in this industry for many years who I can get advice from and be mentored by," Shurte said. "I am just excited to see how this program develops in years to come. I think we'll start seeing more and more women as long as we encourage them to get in here and not be intimidated by it."