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Women in Plumbing & Piping: A Community of Support

Sept. 28, 2023
The new group empowers women through mentorship, networking, education and recognition.

Before Women in Plumbing & Piping launched in November 2022, Executive Director Kim Gill and founding member Susan Frew (co-owner and president, Sunshine Home Services, Denver) began a campaign to bring together women working in the plumbing and piping industries.

The idea began in 2020, where, through her work at association management firm Civica Management, Gill helped manage the National Women in Roofing group.

"The group started with two women in the roofing industry who said, 'Hey, we need a women's group for this,'" she explains. "And they started creating the buzz, the excitement, getting people involved, bringing on sponsors, forming the actual organization. It didn't exist prior to 2017; since then, it has more than 2000 members and many sponsors."

Watching the roofing group continue to grow inspired Gill to see what other women's groups she could find in the construction industry: National Women in Construction, Women in HVACR, Women in Energy, Women in the Mechanical Industry. However, she found no group focusing on women in the plumbing/piping industry.

Why do women need their own groups when so many other associations exist in construction? As men and women are different, they have different experiences and challenges in the workplace. The construction industry and its various sub-industries, with primarily male workers and leaders, are no different.

Gill contacted Frew, and they agreed that a plumbing group for women was needed. Working together, they reached out to women they believed could help motivate other industry women to join the Women in Plumbing and Piping (WiPP) group, focusing on assembling the founding members/advisors through email, LinkedIn and other social media.

Founding members/advisors are Lara Beltz, co-owner of Beltz Home Service Co., Findlay, OH; Frew, who also is a professional speaker; Carol Longacre, director of association management, Service Nation; Tonya Reed, owner of Henry Plumbing Co., Savannah, GA; Lori Tschohl, owner of Eagle Pipe Heating & Air, Port Ludlow, WA; Angie Snow, principal industry advisor at ServiceTitan; and Lynn Wise, founder and partner of Contractor in Charge, Tampa, FL.

"We were met with such excitement, not only from women who wanted to join the organization or be part of the leadership and see it grow, but also from women in other industries, such as Women in HVACR," Gill recalls. "Our founding advisors were very excited to be a part of the effort, to share the information with other women, and help to bring sponsors on board—which is crucial, especially in this first year."

Four Pillars

WiPP's mission is to "provid[e] a community of connection and empowerment for women in the plumbing and piping industries to thrive personally and professionally." Included in the mission is to "promot[e] the contributions of women as an essential component to the future of these trades."

To help accomplish this, Gill notes the trade organization is built around four pillars to support workforce development. "Our members are anywhere from owners of businesses to the apprentices themselves, to anyone in between working in the companies or suppliers and manufacturers or related industries," she says. "So, we are completely focused on the support and empowerment of women, and we do it through the pillars."

Pillar 1: Mentoring. WiPP is building its mentorship network of mentors and mentees, with mentors trained by the end of this year.

"Going into 2024, it's a cohort," Gill explains. "For the mentors and mentees for this particular starting point, it's all group mentorship. Next year, they will meet quarterly on specific topics. Mentors will talk about the topic, then break out into groups of three or more—smaller, more intimate groups to dig deeper into the topic and maybe add some personal examples."

She notes that mentoring may evolve into a one-to-one mentorship program, but WiPP's goal is to launch the group mentoring program next year and see where it goes.

Pillar 2: Networking. Gill notes that WiPP is launching state chapters to "have that networking in-person connection at the local level." Eight chapters with leaders have been established so far.

WiPP's online community is very similar to a "Facebook-type app where you go on this landing page, there's a feed, but also a directory, a way to connect with different people," she says. "We're trying to focus on getting people into the community and into different groups with specific topics or geographical locations where they can connect based on those commonalities."

Pillar 3. Education. "Our education pillar is all about personal development," Gill explains. "It's recognizing that we work in a unique, male-dominated industry, and certain challenges come along with it. We do not want to be negative in any way. It's recognizing the realities of some of the challenges and helping ourselves to become better at dealing with them."

Communication is a big issue as women and men communicate differently. Learning to bridge that gap goes a long way to establishing rapport with male co-workers and vice versa.

"It's our focus on the education piece," she says. "At some point, we may expand beyond that, depending on the interests of our group. So, if a strong contingent of business owners emerges, we may focus on owning a business and being successful."

Pillar 4. Recognition. "Part of recognizing or supporting women is identifying women heard doing unique things in the field," Gill notes. "We don't have specific awards set up yet, but we anticipate them coming soon."

Scholarships reside in this pillar, and Gill says that WiPP does put money aside from founding sponsors to fund them: Ferguson, Contractor in Charge, Fluidmaster, NIBCO, Power Women of the Trades and Service Nation.

"We're hoping as we launch chapters and they help us in this effort at the chapter level that we will bring more money in," she says. "Our advisors will work on creating what those scholarships look like for next year. And then we're hoping next May to launch the application process."

WiPP will broadcast a free virtual town hall Oct. 20 for members and nonmembers to gain insight into the organization and its goals. And at this year's PHCC Connect in Cleveland, WiPP is hosting a Women in Industry luncheon Oct. 25. Visit or email [email protected] for more information.

"The more we grow and the more members we have, the more people sharing and communicating to make WiPP a worthwhile experience," Gill says. "We’re educating ourselves, bettering ourselves, empowering ourselves, and realizing that a group of women, a community of support, is behind us, behind all women.”

Kelly Faloon is a contributing writer to CONTRACTOR magazine and principal of Faloon Editorial Services. The former editor of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, she has nearly 35 years of experience in B2B publishing, with 25 of those years writing about the plumbing, heating, cooling and piping industry. Faloon is a journalism graduate of Michigan State University. You can reach her at [email protected].

About the Author

Kelly L. Faloon | Freelance Writer/Editor

Kelly L. Faloon is a contributing editor and writer to ContractorContracting Business magazine and HPAC Engineering and principal of Faloon Editorial Services. The former editor of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, Faloon has more than 26 years of experience in the plumbing and heating industry and more than 35 years in B2B publishing. She started a freelance writing and editing business in 2017, where she has a varied clientele.

Faloon spent 3 1/2 years at Supply House Times before joining the Plumbing & Mechanical staff in 2001. Previously, she spent nearly 10 years at CCH/Wolters Kluwer, a publishing firm specializing in business and tax law, where she wore many hats — proofreader, writer/editor for a daily tax publication, and Internal Revenue Code editor.

A native of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula, Faloon is a journalism graduate of Michigan State University. You can reach her at [email protected].

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