On a typical business day at a water heater manufacturing facility in Johnson City, Tenn., a diverse group of A. O. Smith employees assembled for one of the first meetings of the Women’s Resource Network.
Teams of employees, men and women, representing a variety of functions, from customer service, design, manufacturing, distribution and product support, huddled around poster-size white tag board in groups. The objective for the day’s meeting hosted by Lisa Snapp and me, leaders of the Eastern Tennessee Regional Women’s Resource Network: Develop a storyboard that explains what your team does and how it will impact the business over the next year.
The results were anything but typical. People were energized. With only tag board and imagination, each department’s team quickly developed engaging presentations that described their day-to-day operations, obstacles to success and long-term goals. The accountants threw candy at participants who answered their questions.
You know your coworkers, but you do not walk in their shoes and rarely have a perfect understanding of how their challenges and wins affect business objectives.
And that is the point: A. O. Smith’s Women’s Resource Network includes men, but is driven by women and seeks to consider perspectives from all corners of the business.
A new initiative from A. O. Smith, chairman and CEO Ajita Rajendra championed the Women’s Resource Network concept. His philosophy is simple: research shows that gender-balanced teams and teams with a diversity of thought produce the best results.
In announcing the program in 2015, Rajendra said, “What I see this program doing is creating an environment that makes sure everyone can succeed and everyone can grow to their fullest potential.”
The goal is to develop women’s talents and leadership qualities in a community of support as a means to generate profitable growth. A collaborative marketplace of ideas from a diverse team produces better results for the company.
The program, led by women regionally, puts men and women together with a focus on networking, community involvement and career development.
Additionally, businesses that prepare more women for leadership roles tend to attract more top talent — regardless of gender. That is why it is important for companies to invest in meaningful programs that build diverse leadership teams.
The plumbing, hydronics and HVACR industries need women to succeed in the 21st century. Yet, many women within and outside of the industry may not see opportunities for themselves in what they may assume is a male-dominated field.
The A. O. Smith Women’s Resource Network shows how a leading manufacturer is investing in its future and offers a glimpse at what other businesses can do to unlock workforce potential. Your company doesn’t have to be an international manufacturer to lay a foundation for recruiting talented female workers.
Here are some tips contracting firms can use to attract women to the industry:
Create a respectful, rewarding culture: The Women’s Resource Network is one way A. O. Smith is developing more leaders, but the more important point is to make sure your company, no matter the size, is a great place to work for all your employees, including women. Cultivating a culture where team members feel empowered to learn and grow creates ambassadors for your company.
Tell partners you’re looking to hire more women: Make it clear in your job ads that your company welcomes women to apply. Also, talk to the training organizations where you hunt for talent about women who will soon be qualified and let them know you want women on your team.
Invest in your future workforce: Education is key. Women educated in subjects like engineering, programming and project management can find great success in a variety of careers. Encourage your company’s tradeswomen to speak at careers events and local schools.
Support local training organizations where it makes sense for your company, specifically initiatives that promote women in the industry.
Sell the benefits that appeal to women: If you enjoy critical thinking and do not like routine, it is a great work environment. On a daily basis, you are exposed to a variety of challenges and opportunities to put your problem-solving skills to use.
Jobs in the trades also offer women the chance for meaningful work with good wages. And the urgent need for skilled workers creates opportunity for women to enter and advance, sometimes quickly.
Encourage mentorship: This to me is the most fun and rewarding part of my career. Make yourself available and be approachable to anyone seeking guidance, and do not be afraid to provide direct, honest feedback. Also encourage those on your team to engage and challenge workers to keep growing. A great mentor can help identify your strengths to help you grow in ways that are beneficial to your career and produce value for your company.
Right now a tremendous opportunity exists with businesses in the industry at every level from small, family-owned companies and mid-level distributors to privately held companies and multinational corporations.
There is already a shortage of trade workers, and the demand for mechanical contractors will only continue to grow as the retirement of skilled workers accelerates.
As opportunities in the mechanical contracting industry grow for women, it’s important for all companies to share this message with prospective workers. Women are helping build the mechanical contracting industry of the future, and that’s something to be proud of.
Carol Peters serves as the director of operations for A. O. Smith Johnson City, Tennessee. The business unit manufactures and distributes 6,400 residential water heaters a day with a customer-focused team of approximately 950 people. Prior to joining A. O. Smith she held leadership roles in the aerospace, automotive and semiconductor industries. In 2013 she was recognized by the Manufacturing Institute as one of 122 recipients of the STEP Award (Science, Technology, Engineering & Production) designed to honor women for excellence and leadership in their careers in manufacturing.