The treatment and inclusion of women in the workplace has drastically improved since the first observance of International Women’s Day in 1911. Yet there is still a long way to go. To help Modern WorkTruck Solutions celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke to five women with ties to the work truck industry about their journey to working in a field dominated by men, some of their challenges, and tips for other women in the industry.
MWS: WHAT DID YOUR JOURNEY TO HOLDING A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN THE INDUSTRY LOOK LIKE?
ANGIE: I spent my formative career years at NewellRubbermaid (now Newell Brands) in the writing instrument division (formerly known as Sanford). During those 12 years, I had the opportunity to work in multiple functional areas: product marketing, channel marketing, sales, and supply chain. I also led the order to cash team as Newell began a global implementation of SAP. As a result, I held roles that allowed me to understand the business through different functional lenses. These cross-functional leadership roles served as a great foundation for my first role as a general manager.
JOYCE: My career started in consumer bank finance that led to working for a startup manufacturing company as an office manager and inside sales manager. Working for a startup, there is no such thing as “it’s not my job.” I did everything from ordering lunch to setting up major finance and sales accounts. I was eager and willing to learn all I could. I worked my way up to VP of finance in short order. I thrived on wearing multiple hats and keeping a lot of balls in the air. After taking a leave of absence to recover from an illness, I received a phone call from my now current business partner, whom I’ve worked with in the past, asking if I would like to partner with him in his business and take it to the next level. Knowing he already engineered a great product and eager to get back into manufacturing, I jumped at the chance.
BRENDA & BONNIE: Hard work, gaining experience in other industries, and then putting in the time to continue to learn our business, attending peer groups, family business classes, working with team members, demonstrating leadership roles, and implementing business strategies that got positive results—these actions transitioned us from daughters to second generation business owners.
MWS: WHAT INSPIRED YOU THE MOST ALONG THE WAY?
BRENDA & BONNIE: Our parents. They have a strong work ethic, spirit of volunteering, and raised four kids. They showed us how to take care of customers, team members, and how to be good community stewards. It was also always stressed to never forget God in our lives and to use the talents and blessings He has given us to do His will.
MWS: WHAT WERE/ARE SOME CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED OR CURRENTLY FACING AS A WOMAN IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY?
ANGIE: Having spent the majority of my career in male-dominated industries, I have learned that self-awareness is critical. I am really sensitive about reading the room, being mindful of how team members and customers are reacting to my style and/or my message. Checking in frequently with trusted colleagues allows me to keep a pulse on where and when I’m being most effective or least effective.
JOYCE: The biggest challenge I have faced is the perception of incompetence, simply because I’m a woman. Networking is also difficult for women in truck body manufacturing. Vendors, customers, and dealers will often invite other men to networking events—golfing, football games, dinners, etc.—and overlook the women who potentially miss out on the sale or team building. There is also the double standard of when a woman is assertive she’s often perceived as being mean or over aggressive, but given the same situation a male is patted on the back for “taking charge.”
BRENDA & BONNIE: Unfortunately we meet some people from time to time whose body language shows disrespect or who do not take our advice or opinion with the same weight as a male. We don’t stress or waste time on those people. We simply move on and surround ourselves with like-minded, positive people.
DONNA: One of the challenges I have faced is overcoming preconceived notions that a woman is supposed to act a certain way. It’s the double standard. Women who are assertive are thought to lack interpersonal skills; whereas a man who has a bold, decisive demeanor is brimming with leadership qualities. Be yourself. If the working environment is not conducive to your well-being, find a job where you feel empowered.
MWS: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO EMPOWER WOMEN IN BUSINESS?
ANGIE: There are plenty of studies from reputable experts in the diversity space like McKinsey and BCG that show organizations led by gender-diverse teams yield better financial results than the industry average. But it’s not just about financials. Attracting diverse teams allows organizations to cast a wider net in the overall talent pool. If organizations are not intentional about attracting women, they are missing out on 50% of the workforce. It is equally as important to provide a work environment that allows women to contribute and maximize their potential so they are retained once onboard.
JOYCE: I think it’s important to empower both men and women in business. Empowering women in male dominated fields is especially important. We don’t have much, if any, peer support. Women face different challenges than men do, and if I can lead by example and lend an ear or offer guidance, I do. I have learned from other business leaders what to do, but most importantly I have learned what not to do.
BRENDA & BONNIE: Women are equipment owners/operators too, and their experiences and perspectives are important in improving businesses. In this field, traditional gender roles are evident. However because of women empowerment, we see more and more women in this field, and it’s great to see and hear diversity.
MWS: WHAT ARE SOME TIPS/ADVICE YOU’D GIVE YOUNG WOMEN LOOKING TO BREAK THE GLASS CEILING IN THIS INDUSTRY OR OTHER MALE-DOMINATED FIELDS?
ANGIE: Find your advocates! Look for people in your organization who will give you critical feedback and expose you to opportunities or special projects that are outside of your comfort zone or areas of expertise. If you’ve been focused on operations, get out with the sales team and make customer calls, or better yet, really stretch yourself and raise your hand for the open sales role. Lastly, support women in the workplace every day. Help attract and recruit new women in your organization. Proactively build trusted relationships with female peers and support their success. Pay it forward!
JOYCE: I tell them that if they want to do it, they can. If you put your mind to it and you’re not afraid to put the work in, it can be done. I don’t stand for harassment in any environment against any person. Women do have to have thick skin to “break the glass ceiling.” You must be educated in your field because once the other person knows you have a solid understanding, the barriers come down and you gain their respect.
BRENDA & BONNIE: I would give the same advice I give to anyone looking to grow in their desired industry. Stay positive, be confident, humble, accountable, and do your research. Do more than is expected. Get involved. Join peer groups, attend workshops. When you see problems, offer solutions. Use others’ disrespect as motivation to do and be better.
DONNA: The best advice I can give to any person entering the workforce is to always strive to do your best. There will be times when you are tested by a coworker or boss that does not have your best interest at heart. In these situations, make a decision you can live with in the long term. Live your life with no regrets. Understand that doing the right thing doesn’t always bring about the best results. You may be harassed; you may lose your job; you may face others that don’t want a woman in their work circle. You can’t make every person happy. Be good to yourself, and take the lead role in your life.