She was pretty, I was brave

June 19, 2018
So, how do we recruit more women into the trades? Through two simple actions. Just ask them. Have a job suitable for them.

It can seem like everyone is talking about diversity these days. How do we find and hire more women for our industry? We could point to this or that academic study for evidence or guidance, I imagine, but don’t we all learn best from our own stories?

We were 12. Almost teenagers but not quite. It was summertime in Georgia which meant no school and a heat wave. As my best friend and I walked the neighborhood around her house, our boredom got us thinking. Her elderly neighbors had a swimming pool! But wait, not only did they have a pool, they were outside in the driveway washing their cars!

We paced up and down the street in front of her house and in front of her neighbor’s house. We wanted to swim, but someone had to ask permission. I begged her to ask -- she was the pretty one. Things in life seemed to come much easier for her, but she was too scared.

The reality of the situation got the best of me as I saw the vision of what could happen if I crossed the threshold past fear and went for what I wanted. I was done pacing. I began beelining it to her neighbor’s driveway. “Danielle! What are you doing?” Mandy’s voice trailed behind me, but it was too late.

“Excuse me, my name is Danielle, and this is my friend Mandy. She lives next door to you. We were just wondering if you ever let people use your swimming pool?” I held my breath, terrified, waiting for the neighborly response, expecting them to tell us to “Get lost kids!” Their humored response was simple, “Sure, sometimes people swim in our pool,” they said with friendly and wise smiles. “Oh, well do you think we could swim in your pool sometime?”

“Sure, that would be fine.”

“Oh, okay great, well how about today? Can we swim in your pool right now?”

“Sure, that would be fine.” My jaw dropped as I quickly thanked them and ran as fast as I could with Mandy down their driveway and off to find our swimsuits, because we had won the jackpot!

But not really, we didn’t really win anything. We saw an opportunity and stepped out of our comfort zone.

Fast forward 25 years. I was sitting in a boardroom to decide the fate of a nonprofit organization that I hold near and dear to my heart. There were 10 of us present out of the 22 that had been invited. Silence was thick in the room. Then someone boldly spoke up.

“I will not go down with the ship! If the data proves the product is working, but there’s no money in the bank to support our efforts, then we restructure.” I knew that voice. Wait a minute, am I talking? Was that really me? The surprise of my own action still lingered as I sat down. If we want change, we must be bold.

Taking Action

Service industry evangelists who are smarter, more connected, and more influential than I am proclaim the future: The skilled labor force is shrinking. Not enough people are entering trades. The labor pool isn’t diverse enough, women aren’t fairly represented. What can we do?

We can start by acting. So, how do we recruit more women into the trades? Through two simple actions. Just ask them. Have a job suitable for them.

Don’t limit it yourself to just thinking about how to recruit more women as service techs. If women are already applying with your company to be service techs, fantastic! But if they aren’t, there are other key positions that are equally as important to fill:

·       Service managers

·       Install managers

·       Sales

Our research shows that for an owner of an HVAC service company to move out of the service truck to working full time in the office, it’s a $250,000 shift. That’s right — moving an owner out of the field into the office can cost a company a quarter of a million dollars in revenue. So why don’t we think of that when we’re promoting our high-performing technicians to service managers and taking them out of the field?

If we take the emotions out of the business and run our businesses positioned for stability and growth, then let’s keep the money-makers where they’re making the most money for the business.

Tailoring the Message

When you identify suitable roles for women, a simple invitation to look at your opportunities goes a long way. But if you want more bullet points, well, here are 6 steps:

1) Don’t look for Batman.

Language such as “rockstar,” “superstar” or even “super tech” will result in fewer female applicants. In your recruiting materials, choose words women use to describe themselves. Don’t ask someone to send you “an example of technical skills,” but instead “an example of quality service.”

2) Make your workplace one that women will enjoy being in.

Don’t be surprised when a woman visits your dirty office in a warehouse with chewing tobacco spit cups on all of the desks and ends up turning down your job offer. I say this because I’ve worked there, I’ve been there. No offense meant for any of us, but at some point, we have to put our feet down, stand up and decide to change, decide to get organized and clean up.

3) Care about culture beyond free beer and chips.

Women aren’t going to join your company because there’s a beer fridge in the shop that’s stocked on Friday afternoons for the team. They’re looking for values before freebies.

4) Have women interview women.

It can be quite daunting for a woman to do back-to-back interviews all with men. If your company is able, have every candidate, regardless of gender, interviewed by a woman on your team – it will help guard against bad hires. 

5) Be conscious of gender differences.

We know men and women are different, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find subtle differences in how men and women write and speak about their work. Wouldn’t you agree men tend to write about the results of their accomplishments and women tend to speak about the process? A man talking about his work might say, “Initiated a new policy that resulted in $X cost savings” whereas a woman might say, “Researched, wrote and prepared new policy to bring more efficiency.”

6) Go find them.

So, you’re doing all of the above, but you still don’t have any women applying to work at your service business? Well go out and find them! Most of the candidates you want aren’t out there looking for a job.

If we can’t find candidates, we may need to take a hard look internally. Are we just being lazy? Or is our messaging wrong? If you needed a plumbing or HVAC tech to fix something in your home tonight, you could find one. So, they are out there. They just don’t work for you yet. Create a team that they would want to be a part of. Create a team with processes in place that empower your employees to do work that meets the cry of their core DNA and makes them feel good about their accomplishments at the end of the day.

Building your company with diversity and inclusion

Most humans tend to build the closest relationships with the people who are most like them. And we are most often influenced by people similar to ourselves. There is nothing wrong with doing this! However, it’s a predictable human dynamic and it has negative implications for inclusion, because sameness begets sameness. Leaders must create a culture of inclusion.

True leaders are inclusive. Leaders include people in team building, group activities, and jobs. How do we find a diverse talent pool to hire from? Be a role model. Talk to the young people around you. If your social sphere is not diverse, how will you grow a diverse workplace? Do it consciously.

Invite, invite, invite. Then put systems in place so they can work within the boundaries of their core DNA. It’s not about man vs. women or white vs. black -- it’s about the core talents and skillsets, the DNA that is brought to the table. Where does it best fit in in your company, in your culture? Change happens over time, not overnight, but if you start today, won’t your world be a better place in 30 or 60 days? In a year?

Diversity is not just a short-term, one-act solution. What you're really doing is influencing and changing behavior in the talent pool. Building a culture of diversity and inclusion is a business advantage. To succeed you must be bold.

Jump in. The water’s fine. All you have to do is ask.

Danielle Putnam is President, The New Flat Rate, and Vice President of Women in HVACR. She is a specialist in business development and marketing operations with a passion for building thriving companies.

About the Author

Danielle Putnam | President

Having experience in everything from business development and management, to operations and technology, Danielle handles the day to day operations, marketing, advertising and quality control for The New Flat Rate. Danielle and her team will take the pressure off of you and will build your menu pricing system, ensuring you’re equipped for success from the start. Danielle loves to help companies grow, turn ideas into action plans, snowboard and soak up sunshine.

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