Keep Climbing that Ladder and Never Look Down
Thirty years ago, hearing “CEO” would likely call to mind an image of an untouchable and salt and pepper haired gentleman on the phone in a glass fortress who would strike fear with the mere mention of a face-to-face meeting. But that mold is forever changed. Gender, age and social status no longer guide a person’s next move in business. That 20-something with tattoos might be revolutionizing an industry; and that quiet woman on the bus might be running her own business.
There is no room for the gender gap in setting goals and driving to reach them. Success isn’t defined by being a man or woman. Ambition and determination come from within. Whether you’re male or female, if you want to achieve your pinnacle of business success (however you define it to be), set your sights on the high rungs of that ladder and let nothing bog you down.
Sure there are companies slow to embrace gender diversity, and there may be added complexities in industries that have historically been male dominated. But examples of gender bias in the workplace are far less common than in previous decades and this will continue as women keep proving time and again that they can do an equally exceptional job. So if auto parts or plumbing fixtures or professional hockey are your passion, how exciting a time it is to be on a career journey where truly nothing should hold you back.
Hajoca Corporation is one of the largest providers of plumbing, heating and industrial supplies in the U.S. From the outside, plumbing may be perceived as a “man’s world” and the old school way of thinking still exists to a certain degree. But a company like Hajoca is quietly turning that on its head. One-third of its employees are female, working at all levels including nearly 50 women in management positions. These talented women have deservedly earned the respect of their colleagues and they offer the following suggestions to help others to do the same:
- Learn the business: do the hard work and you will earn the credibility. Linda Bice, Manager of Gorman Company in Clearwater, FL has more than 25 years of experience in the plumbing industry. She started as a contractor at a time when men were much more predominant and steadily worked her way into management. She offers a simple and precise piece of advice, “Make it on merit. As long as you consistently walk the walk and talk the talk, you’ll gain people’s respect.”
- Learn the product; don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s a counterpoint to asking questions that’s equally important. Listen, listen, listen. Open your ears and be a sponge. Absorb everything that comes at you and always continue learning. Embrace all education and training opportunities throughout your career.
- Be customer service driven: make sure they know you care about meeting their needs and always follow through. “The customer is king. Respect them, as well as employees and vendors, on an equal level and you’ll gain their trust and loyalty in return,” Linda says.
- Be confident in your knowledge and abilities. Lisa Hesson, Manager of Treaty Supply in Greenville, OH started as an administrative assistant in the late 1990s and constantly challenged herself to tackle tasks outside the “typical” scope of her job. Her supervisors quickly took note and gave her the support to keep propelling herself forward. She admits that early on she lacked some confidence. “At first, I put pressure on myself to know everything. But I’ve learned that one key part of managing is recognizing the unique strengths of the people around me and letting them teach me. You don’t have to be the best at everything. Have confidence in your strengths and the humility to learn from others.”
- Be competitive, set goals and keep referring to them until they are achieved. Setting goals is vital to succeeding. So is having the assurance that your company supports you in working to achieve them. “Hajoca has allowed me to grow by helping me to feel comfortable taking risks. I know I’m in a safe environment. I can stretch to reach a lofty goal,” Lisa says.
- Know how to talk to people and get them on your side, empower them. “I love learning from people and I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by an experienced group who are generous with their teaching and help me every day”, shares Lisa.
- Be humble but not a pushover, stand firm on what is right (be sure the folks around you can count on you). Lisa says, “Women can be our own worst enemy. By nature, being female offers us so many wonderful attributes to help with our success. Things like being nurturing, having a fierce attention to detail, the ability to multitask and our analytical way of thinking. Instead of making excuses, hone in on your natural ability to do these things well and let that help you gain people’s respect.”
- Treat people fairly. “I follow the golden rule every day,” says Linda.
- Lead by example. Linda offers, “It’s important you don’t separate yourself from a gender perspective…come dressed prepared for the type of work you do. If you work in a warehouse setting, don’t wear heels or nail polish. If your job requires physical work, you should do everything you reasonably can to pitch in.”
- Be patient, don’t be offended when customers ask to speak to “one of the guys”, have a sense of humor. “We will all encounter adversity and negativity in life,” says Lisa. “The key is not getting in your own way. Don’t separate yourself based on a perceived lack of ability on your part. You have the chops…own it!”
Thanks to Helen Reddy and Katy Perry, roaring is very empowering in songs…but it may get a few looks in business. So while roaring may not be appropriate at work, find your own subtle ways to tap your inner lioness. Your ladder is waiting.