Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Woman's Place is...

Women in Industry- the New Trailblazers

I squint my eyes and let my mind wander back to those days spent inside the ivy covered walls of the Illinois Engineering campus.  Drab colors, institutional sanitizer and well-worn army surplus furniture stood against the backdrop of overly caffeinated students hustling, bustling and shuffling off to the next class.  And, those students came from every continent, every culture; literally every walk of life.  Except one thing was missing: women. 

Actually, my own graduating class was small, around 50 students.  And, only two of them were female.  That’s a whopping 4 percent.  Now fast forward to interviews, job offers and graduation.  Based on my college experience, it didn’t shock me when I discovered zero female presence in the sales training program of my new employer.  Thinking about the whole thing in today’s terms is mind boggling.

A common misconception in the past of
women in male dominated fields.
Along the way, some of my contemporaries explained away the issue with, “Female students don’t want to waste their Engineering degree with a sales role.”  At least a couple of my bosses (great guys but from another generation) dismissed the whole idea of women in “our business” by saying, “Even if qualified women could be hired, our customers just aren’t ready for the women sellers, or managers or... anything else.”

A few years later, I was blessed with a wife who was breaking ground as a sales woman in a different male dominated industry.  I saw the issues she faced and admired the way she broke down barriers.  I noticed how her approach differed from my own.  I also couldn’t help but notice how she was forced to jump through higher hoops to meet her goals.  Yet she still managed to make it look easy.

Over the course of the past couple of decades, I have seen women break in to all levels of Distribution.  The best of these fine people demonstrated valuable traits like organization and ability to listen.  There also seemed to be bonus characteristics not shared by my male contemporaries: a gift for checking their egos at the door and working well with teams.

I am happy to say, I see breakthroughs across all areas of distribution (and supply-partners.)  Part of this could be tied to the ongoing difficulty companies in our industry face in finding qualified people of any kind.  Basically, it makes business sense to expand the field of candidates.  Secondly, a good many companies are seeing the results of women in adjoining fields of business.  Additionally, women are coming out of school with the technical backgrounds our organizations need.  For instance, Women graduating in science related fields has risen to nearly 50% in math and science areas, even stogie old Engineering degrees like mine now see women with about 20% of the jobs.

On an anecdotal note, I spoke at a distribution group where the ratio of males to females was about equal.  I couldn’t help but observe some of the new types of questions coming from the group.  Even though the topic under discussion was sales process, questions covering the interaction of sales, customer service and group interaction were deeper and more pronounced. 

One participant was keenly interested in how to best win over workers and managers who didn’t understand the importance of the process.  In most male dominated meetings, this topic is generally overlooked and an assumption made that change can be driven by sheer force of will at the leadership level.

The main point of all this is simple.  Women think and drive change differently than men.  Women do business differently than men.  And, women sell differently than men. 
Pulling from a recent opinion piece in Forbes Magazine
Credit: David Cutler
If you and the people around you see the world in exactly the same way, then the ideas you are going to come up with are going to be remarkably similar.

And that isn’t good.

What we need today is as many good DIFFERENT ideas as possible so we can pick the absolute best one. And that means coming up with different perspectives and different ways of approaching and solving market needs.

I believe it’s high time for our world to take advantage of a great source of diversity in approaching and solving market needs.  And with this in mind, I want to call attention to the work being done by the National Association of ElectricalDistributors and specifically the NAED Women in Industry Forum.

This group regularly honors a woman who has blazed the trail for others.  The award given is called the Industry Trailblazer Award.

This year’s honor went to Tammy Livers, Vice President of Sales with Eaton’s Residential and Wiring Device Division.  Tammy joins a host of women who are changing the face of our industry for the better.  Congratulations and our regards to Tammy.

For the rest of us, perhaps it’s time for some soul searching…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good morning Mr.Hurtte,

I really enjoyed your article, thank you for sharing. I am an outside sales representative for a lighting manufacturer and this is a male dominate field. Needless to say I have overcome the macho minds out there and have earned their respect after 6 years. Your article I am certain will inspire many new comers and veterans as myself.

Thank you