The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) Expo 2022 focused on the women who keep the hardwood industry's wheels turning with its first-ever Women's Industry Network Breakfast. The power-packed speaker lineup included Barbara Titus who has over 30 years' experience in the hardwood industry; Julie Russell who brings 28 years to the table; and Kayleen McCabe who has been advocating for the trades for over 13 years. In addition to sharing their journeys in the flooring industry, the speakers and the attendees discussed how to recruit more women and how to retain those currently working in the hardwood industry.
Upon entering the dining area in the Marriott Water Street, attendees were greeted by a women-specific welcome gift in addition to a full-service breakfast. The event was attended by approximately 100 women.
Formerly, the Vice President-Operations and International Sales with Sheoga Hardwoods, Barbara Titus has over 30 years' experience in the hardwood industry. Currently, she acts as a consultant to the hardwood industry, specializing in international sales. She is also the liaison between the Gary Sinise Foundation and the NWFA where she holds seats on both Boards of Directors. She opened the event by telling her story and sharing the overall vision for women in the hardwood industry.
"Today, our goals and objectives are basically to try to unite women throughout the supply chain and to encourage one another to further women's roles within our industry," said Titus. "One of the biggest hardships we face is the recruitment of women."
Julie Russell, marketing and communications director, Rudd Company, and chair of the NWFA Board of Directors, has 28 years in the hardwood flooring industry. She spoke on the obstacles that women face in their careers such as the pay gap, advancement discrimination and the portrayal of women— and how to navigate those. "The key is being prepared, standing up and speaking up," she said.
Licensed contractor Kayleen McCabe's comical delivery of her flooring industry experience and message to other women was well received. She bestowed some great recruitment advice on the audience. "Go talk to your counselors at your local schools and say 'I work in this industry. Is there curriculum being taught in this arena? How are you encouraging people to get into this, especially young women?'"
Additionally, she advised everyone to spread the word in their own communities. "Make sure you talk to your peers," McCabe said. "Have you talked to your neighbors about what you do in the industry you work in? Start to spread the message in the community that you have and really embrace and celebrate that because what we need now is more women in the industry. We need more people in general. Honestly, are you breathing? Come join us."
Titus encouraged audience members to speak up, offering ideas on how to recruit young women to the field. Elizabeth Baldwin, environmental compliance officer, Metropolitan Hardwood Floors, advised to look for recruitment opportunities in atypical spaces. She told a story about attempting to hire a waitress in an airport due to her ability to juggle an enormous workload while dealing with people.
"You look for people who have that capacity and you help them," said Baldwin. "Hand them your business card. I do that all the time with hotel staff, taxi drivers, people in the service industry; you find waitresses, Uber drivers, cashiers, house cleaners—they're workers."
Industry veteran Emily Morrow-Finkell, owner, EF Floors & Design, and founder, Emily Morrow Home, offered a bit of helpful advice and encouragement. "Each person here has a story. I think as women we tend to minimize what we know and what we contribute. So, quit doing that. We have the next generation that we hope will be coming into this industry whether it's through our own children or our friends' children, and we're the ambassadors, right? If we don't talk about how great this industry is and what your contribution is and all the great things you are doing, how are they ever going to learn what great opportunity they have by knowing you?"