Women leaders at Starnet Commercial Flooring recently came together for a panel discussion on the topic “Advancing Women in Flooring” at the group’s annual meeting in Amelia Island, Florida. The discussion covered four areas: speaking up, elevating others, recruitment and leadership. 

Planned in collaboration with Women in the Floorcovering Industry (WIFI), Tanja Kern, associate publisher and editorial director, Floor Trends & Installation, who is also a WIFI board member, moderated the panel which included: Kathleen Cloud, president, M. Frank Higgins & Co.; Kaddy Hamilton, president, W.C. Carpenter; and Erin West, commercial business development, AHF Products.

Here are highlights of the discussion. Content has been edited for length and clarity. 


Floor Trends & Installation: As a way of introduction, could you each share how you got into the flooring industry? 

Kathy Cloud: I was a high school physics teacher for 26 years, so very comfortable working in a “man’s” environment. My husband wanted me to come into the business when I was ready to help put the processes in place for growth. Often, we get too busy in the weeds to work on our businesses. You need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done well. Many days I work 10+ hours a day doing a variety of jobs. As a leader, it is good for employees to see you willing to do any job to help the team as a whole. 

My recommendation to designers I work with is to advance their career by going above and beyond their job description. If your boss is in the office, get in the office more to learn from them. Remote working has really set back the younger groups, especially women. You need to grow by collaboration with all.

Kaddy Hamilton: I was born and raised in the business. Even in my teenage years I worked labeling samples and pulling drops. I attended a local university close by and worked through my college years more as a secretary, ordering material, helping customers, doing quotes and whatever needed to be done. After I graduated, I told my dad of my plans to be a stockbroker after landing a job with a bank. I told him I wanted to go and make more money. He suggested I stay and be a sales rep and told me the more I sold the more I could make. He stressed to me about listening to what the customer wanted or needed, finding the product to meet their needs and always following through and staying in touch. Even though I was selling, I always did what I needed to do to get the job done. 

Being the first one at work and the last to leave, helping at job sites when needed, making a special delivery. If you are always going that extra mile you will be recognized.

Erin West: I spent my childhood and teenage years aspiring to be an interior designer. My grandmother designed model apartments and I spent every summer interning with her. I carried over my passion for design to college and majored in interior design. I graduated college during the housing collapse, when it was very difficult to find jobs in the construction industry. I landed at a firm that provided interior services for the government sector. I spent most of my day space planning how many people I could fit into a space without violating building code. It wasn’t the fancy throw pillow and fabric selection role I had dreamed about. I had always been told, “You’d be really good at sales.” After a few years in design, I decided to put AutoCAD on pause and become a manufacturers rep. I worked my way up with a determination for more. I quickly shifted from the “former designer with no sales experience” to rookie of the year. As the years went on, I gained larger territories and more responsibilities which resulted in more respect from management. Which is why I’m here today. 

My recommendation for career advancement is to treat your position as if it was your own business. Don’t think of yourself as an employee. Think of yourself as an owner of your position. The CEO of you. When you get in that mindset, you take personal accountability for your own results. You provide more value. 

Floor Trends & Installation: Being a lifelong learner is cited as an important trait of leaders. Could you speak to the opportunities you have found for learning in your past or current role?

Cloud: Learning should never stop. Period. I am constantly learning new strategies, best HR practices, how to use AI more effectively, flooring specific trainings, safety trainings…and the list goes on. I have found some key industry groups to be part of, after joining way too many at first, that offer trainings, best practices, networking, coaching, etc. to help me be a better leader and person overall. It is so important to join industry groups where you can bounce off ideas with others not in your company. Many women’s construction groups can help you be better in the workplace. You can gain confidence in your own abilities. Sometimes all it takes is asking a potential mentor out for a cup of coffee. They will probably be honored you asked. 

Floor Trends & Installation: On the topic of leadership, can someone describe their leadership style? 

Hamilton: I can speak on how I lead my business: My leadership truly involves listening to what my customers have to say and what I am seeing in the industry. WC Carpenter started out as a wholesale flooring distributor in 1968, but those days ended as more carpet manufacturers and more retailers opened. Being in a resort city, we quickly changed our focus to the hotel/motel market in Virginia Beach, as we knew so many of the owners and they would refer us to their friends in the hotel business. Then the private hotels were selling out to the chain hotels. We then focused more on the custom home business, when neighborhoods were popping up everywhere. That quickly got us into the wood business as the first floors were wood and the second floors were carpet. 

When that got too competitive for us, we focused more on the commercial side with end users and GC work. We were working on an 8,00-square-yard job that needed all their modular furniture lifted. We found the equipment needed and for many years we had a real specialty with lifting modular furniture. 

About eight years ago we altered our focus again and decided not to quote jobs to the GC market. That gave us much more time to focus solely on the commercial end users, education, senior living and government jobs. We have also expanded into the resinous floors, painting, and even small renovations. Also, whenever a new employee is brought on, I always want to know their thoughts and opinions on changes we can make to improve our company or make things more efficient. I like new eyes coming in as sometimes we are blinded by what we see every day. One new warehouse helper once told me we had two of the worst pallet jacks he had ever used. I went out to see my warehouse manager and he said he was used to using them but didn't realize how much work they were until we got the new ones. I feel it is a huge asset to hear what everyone has to say no matter the position they hold. 

I always tell my customers: I'm going to make you look good. If you have a problem, we're here to fix it. We're going to be here when we say, we're going to do what we're saying, we're going to give you a great job and you're not going to have problems. If there is a problem that comes up, we're going to be there to take care of it for you.

Floor Trends & Installation: How can we recruit more women to the flooring industry? 

Cloud: I've struggled finding women who want to be project managers. It's not sexy. Flooring is not very sexy, but once you get in, you don't get out. But I do find that's hard—think about project management: it's 24/7. You have to be able to stand up to the GC, some of the superintendents. That's one area where I think estimation has pulled a lot of women into that field.

We have one who works for us, a female installer. I'm telling you, she's wowed our male counterparts. They love her. She's a little thing, too, and she's strong, smart, they ask for her on the jobs. So that's been a real success story. I mean, it is hard to find. 

Floor Trends & Installation: A big part of career growth is building confidence and resiliency. Can you offer guidance on how to do that? 

Hamilton: The more knowledge you have the more confidence it gives you! Early on, I felt I learned the most by going to the manufacturing facilities and meeting with other people on those trips and in the business. Once you learn about the products and see how they are made, it is a huge asset especially dealing with claims. Once you have seen a problem, you get that experience and know what it is the next time. Also, it is great to get out on job sites and see what happens in the real world. Out on a job you see how time consuming it is to move the furniture, prep the floors, cut the carpet or LVP around difficult objects. You learn so much from the installers.

 West: I agree with Kaddy. Knowledge is power. It gives you confidence. Confidence makes you a positive contributor, more productive, more motivated, and then you will be the next mentor. Soak up everything you can. Go to jobsites and see how the crew installs a weld rod. Take products out to your garage and perform your own scratch tests. Get different types of adhesive and perform your own adhesive applications so you can feel what it’s like to trough glue. Watch your colleagues give presentations to their clients so you can learn a new style of presenting. You should take any real world, hands on opportunities you have to gain knowledge.

Floor Trends & Installation: Does anyone have any anecdotes that might be inspiring and encourage other women to speak up?

Cloud: I’m on the board for CREW Connecticut [Commercial Real Estate Women networking organization] and I chair the professional development. My co-chair is very quiet, reserved. At board meetings, I thought I had to take over because she did not jump in right away. I had to shut up. I've seen her blossom. So, for me, I need to listen more and talk less to help people. Give people an opportunity. Don’t just jump in.

Hamilton: I had quoted new flooring for a retirement facility clubhouse. I was following up and not understanding why we could not order the carpet as supposedly it was a rush job. Come to find out, they were looking for a designer as they wanted to redo the lighting, furniture, accessories, paint. They wanted an entirely new facelift, not just flooring. I felt I had the connections to give them what they needed. We partnered with some of our existing trustworthy contacts and turned a $200,000 order into a $750,000 order by doing the entire job for them. It turned out flawless. We actually won the Single Source Award for Starnet with this project and the award began because of this job! 

Floor Trends & Installation: How can sponsorship and mentorship help women elevate their careers? 

 Cloud: Upon coming into the flooring business, I felt way out of my league after teaching science for many years. Luckily, I helped the company out during summers, payroll, website development, so I was familiar with flooring. Starnet was a huge help as I was able to get us into Starnet soon after I joined the business. Cheryl Acierno was a true mentor for me. Her demeanor, style, grace and work ethic inspired me in my roll. Cheryl appeared in my path at Starnet meetings and I am forever grateful that. I hope I can help someone in the same way.

 West: I recently had the opportunity to be a mentor to someone that is up and coming in the industry. As a current speech and language pathologist for seven years, she was looking for a new career path in sales. She admired the success I have had and has watched me blossom in the industry. I knew she had what it took to be successful in the flooring industry, and her passion for success was contagious. I took a chance on my reputation in advocating for her to be hired as a commercial flooring rep, and I am so thankful I did. She has accomplished so much in a short time and was instrumental in us getting specified on the biggest project currently under construction in Texas.

 Floor Trends & Installation: What advice do you give women about advocating for themselves and others in the workplace? 

West: Start with looking inward. What is your desired goal? If you’re not clear on what you want, it’s harder to advocate for yourself and to have others advocate for you. I would also try to remove the emotional expressions when you go to leadership to advocate. Women are perceived in society as being more emotional than men. There is no scientific research proving this. However, there is research proving that we are just more emotionally expressive. Be firm on stating your cause without emotional dysregulation, and I think you will be taken more seriously.

Cloud: To advocate for yourself, seek help from a more senior person, either in your business or outside of it. Ask them to join you for coffee. Practice what you want to say to your boss with them. Also, join networking groups that can help you. CREW or WIFI and others can be great places for you to be comfortable advocating for yourself, speaking with others, seeking best practices. Join boards, if possible, to gain experience in that realm, too.