Female Leaders In Flooring: The industry’s top female leaders weigh in on what women can bring to the flooring industry and what the flooring industry can offer women



By Jessica Chevalier

How does the flooring industry benefit from having more women in leadership positions?
ROCHELLE ROUTMAN:
The flooring industry can benefit from general diversity in leadership, not just [the inclusion of] women. According to numerous studies, businesses are not only more successful but also more sustainable, the more diverse the leadership is. In fact, a study led by BloombergNEF showed a direct correlation between gender diversity, climate performance and innovation in business. That study found that companies with at least 30% women on their boards outperform their peers in climate policy and transparency.

McKinsey & Co. has been studying the impact of women in leadership positions for several years. Its most recent report is even more convincing: Having more diverse leadership leads to sounder decision-making and a more successful organization. In fact, this latest “Diversity Wins” report shows that there is a widening gap between diversity, equity and inclusion leaders and companies that are laggards, and the leaders are enjoying a significant advantage over the laggards. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability.

Additionally, having leadership reflect the customer base is vital. At HMTX, several of our vendors expressed the desire for diversified leadership to better reflect their customer base, an important touchpoint especially considering the import role of women in flooring purchase decisions. I also believe the flooring industry needs more women in the c-suite and beyond, who can mentor other women leaders-a trickle-down effect that will benefit the growth of the industry.

BRENDA KNOWLES: In an industry that has historically been dominated by men, women bring a wealth of diverse and innovative ideas that can move the flooring industry into the future. Studies have shown that women are strong and impactful leaders, and when they are in these roles, they can inspire and harness the power of other women growing in their careers.

What’s more, women make up the largest population of our customer base, both in the commercial and residential market. Having women in industry leadership can help create products and solutions that meet their needs and, thus, drive growth with this crucial customer base.

LORI DOWLING: First, let me say that I am incredibly fortunate that in all my years in the flooring industry, I never felt that I had to prove myself as a “female leader.” I always felt respected and valued as just a “leader.” I had amazing mentors, coworkers and opportunities. Women don’t always need to see themselves as a separate entity to succeed.

Any diversity is a benefit for any growing business. However, it is especially important in the flooring industry where so many decision-makers are female. Commercial designers, residential homeowners-these customers appreciate a female perspective, and women leaders can represent their viewpoint.

LAUREL HURD: As the flooring industry continues to evolve, we can further drive innovation through diverse perspectives and experience. This includes bringing more diversity to the highest levels of leadership in the industry, as well as creating more opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups at all levels in our organizations. Since starting my career almost 30 years ago, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by impressive and talented women.

BETSY AMOROSO: As with any industry, diversity helps the business stay relevant through all kinds of shifts and changes. In flooring, most of the purchasing decisions are made by women, so having women in leadership positions better connects the higher-level business goals with what’s actually happening at the end-user level.

What attracted you to the flooring industry?
DOWLING:
Originally, it was the strong training programs. I trained for six months in all aspects of the flooring business before seeing my first customer. In addition, the entrepreneurial aspects of sales appealed to me.

REESIE DUNCAN: My passion for architecture and design really attracted me to Shaw, and seeing the impact of design on how people work, learn, heal and live keeps me inspired every day. It’s rewarding to work in this industry where I get to collaborate with smart people, creating new products and solutions for the built environment. Flooring is one piece of the puzzle, but it’s really about the people in the spaces and solving problems for our customers.

ROUTMAN: I love being in the manufacturing world and have always been fascinated by and enjoyed the challenges of working for heavy industry manufacturers. As I planned my career in the sustainability field, I read and attended numerous lectures and learned that the flooring industry was leaps and bounds ahead of every other type of industry in terms of sustainability, and that intrigued me.

I also love the fashion, design and creative aspect of flooring. I’ve always been interested in art, and our industry is the perfect merger of visual innovation and science and how they come together to create sustainable products. Plus, there are always new technical innovations, which are frequently related to sustainability improvements, and this results in a very dynamic work environment.

AMOROSO: The industry chose me rather than the other way around. I was working for a public relations firm in Philadelphia, handling clients in the home furnishings realm. A friend called and said she thought I would be a good fit for a new role opening up at Mannington Mills. I guess she was right: I just celebrated my 20th year here!

As for the industry, there’s so much creativity and innovation, and everyone is passionate about what they do. Just look at how flooring has evolved over the past 20 years; that’s all thanks to the people who dedicate their lives to it. Also-and you certainly don’t see this in every industry-the women I work with both inside and outside of Mannington are very supportive of each other.

KNOWLES: I began my career in the flooring industry to support myself through college. In flooring, I found an industry that was rapidly growing and innovating, and, in Shaw, a company that was opening doors for women. I have been with Shaw my entire career because of the numerous opportunities it has offered me.

Throughout my 38-year tenure, I have been amazed by the incredibly talented people I get to work with both at Shaw and in the market. Every day is exciting for me; I get to collaborate with creative and innovative individuals, all pushing our industry to new heights. Beyond my fellow flooring industry colleagues, I am fortunate to work with a rich and diverse customer base throughout the architecture, design and construction community along with our strong dealer partners and end users across all segments.

HURD: I had never really given flooring much thought; before Interface, carpet was just carpet. When a recruiter reached out to me on behalf of Interface, I was ultimately drawn to the company for its mission and culture. Upon diving in further, I learned about the many benefits flooring provides. With a focus on sustainable efforts as well as innovative design, I now understand how flooring can transform an entire space, and more importantly, the impact a space can have on the people who use it.

What advice do you have for younger members of the industry who are coming up through the ranks and hoping to achieve what you have?
HURD:
Over the years, I have learned valuable lessons that stuck with me. First, worry less about your next role or next opportunity. Do a great job in the job that you are in; think every day about how you can best help the company and your customers succeed. For this, you will be noticed, and success will come your way sooner than you would imagine. Second, a focus on results and winning as a collective team will help you develop your career and drive company growth…and winning together is fun!

ROUTMAN: My advice would be to constantly push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and take assignments that challenge you to grow. The industry moves fast, so you can’t be complacent. If you are, you’ll be left behind.

Establish your own network of people who can be honest with you, are like-minded, and with whom you can mutually support one another through the ups and downs of your career journey.
Finally, I have always worked for companies that haven’t figured it all out yet and are open to new ideas. It’s so much more interesting! Where is the challenge, and how can you contribute if you work for a company that believes that it has already achieved its ambitions and successes? This applies to any field. Go work for a company that needs your mind and creative energy. That is truly a growth environment, especially for women.

DOWLING: There are always the obvious ones: work hard, work smart and be a team player. These are still critically important! I would also add that gathering input and advice from more experienced members of your leadership team always pays benefits. And don’t be paralyzed to make decisions; trust your gut.

KNOWLES: Be curious and never stop learning. Seek opportunities that strengthen and stretch your current skills and take the initiative to contribute more to whatever existing position you are in. While my daughter was growing up, I always told her to “do all you can and a little bit more; do all that is expected and a little bit more.” That advice can be applied in business with building skills and fulfilling your duties in your current position while being open to opportunities to contribute more.

Build trusting partnerships. Beyond finding a mentor or being a mentor, we must advocate for each other and uplift the younger members of the industry. I would not be where I am today without the support and empowerment of the generations before me.

AMOROSO: One thing I always tell my daughter, who is about to graduate college and embark on her own career, is to “say yes.” I’ve always said “yes” to opportunities that came my way, even if they were intimidating and sent me into the great unknown. If it doesn’t work out, you come away with a learning experience, and it’s just as important to know what isn’t right for you as to know what is.

DUNCAN: Be curious. Don’t be afraid to learn new things and take on more than you think you can do. Look for mentors who can help. Be true to your purpose and align with a company that supports you. Do what you love.

What can the flooring industry do to make itself more attractive to women?
HURD:
Hiring and elevating women within the industry is the first step. I am fortunate my path led me to Interface and this industry, and my hope is that we continue seeking out women leaders who are optimistic about a bold future in flooring and beyond. The flooring industry is full of impressive leaders, and encouraging women leaders to enter the flooring industry will increase innovation and create greater opportunities for success.

DOWLING: Stress the multiple career paths available in our business. And stress the “fashion” elements of the industry: there is lots of design, color and pattern involved in our products.

All employees, but especially women, appreciate a work/life balance. Provide more unique benefits that women value, such as a four-day work-week and longer maternity leave.

DUNCAN: We are in interesting times in which diversity is key to innovate and grow. It’s important that companies build a culture that is committed to creating an inclusive space for all and with diversity in all levels. Women make empathetic leaders and provide different perspectives to business. I’ve seen throughout my career that women are powerful role models and advocates for other women leaders, and investing in developing female leaders can have a positive ripple effect.

KNOWLES: The flooring industry needs to continue to demonstrate inclusion and share the many different growth and development opportunities offered to women. At Shaw, we have introduced multiple associate resource groups, including the Women’s Innovation Network, which connects women across our organization with networking opportunities, mentorships and education to further foster growth. This incredible group of women is passionate about empowering future generations of women in flooring. Outside of Shaw, organizations like WiFi (Women in the Floorcovering Industry) are reaching across the industry to educate, advocate and recruit more women to careers in flooring.

AMOROSO: We’re doing a lot right now to open up the higher levels of leadership to women, which will help attract young talent to our industry. But we can always do more, which is why organizations like WIFI are so critical.

In addition, it’s important to let women know of the types of jobs that are available in our business. From chemists to artists, flooring companies need a wide range of skill sets.

ROUTMAN: The flooring industry overall has improved since I first joined it in 2012, but it still has [barely] cracked the CEO glass ceiling for women. This is unfortunate, because when women job seekers see female CEOs, that in and of itself can draw amazing female talent. If [the ceiling were finally to shatter], we would see a domino effect: the employees, the companies, the customers/investors, and the industry itself would all benefit.

Collectively, most industries (not just flooring) are behind the curve in attracting and placing high ranking female talent in the most important jobs and achieving a diverse population of employees. While there are now more females than ever on boards, running companies and holding senior leadership positions, statistically among all industries, only about 25% of CEOs are women, and about that same percentage are female directors. The time has come to quit asking what can be done to make business more attractive to women and take real action.

Lastly, I find this conversation revealing: Why do we need to even address this question in 2022? We should have solved this problem by now, and instead we could be focusing on how the business world can make a positive impact on society through support of social equity and diversity efforts and policies in general. How can we go beyond the business of making flooring and be an overall positive influence in the world? Every company should be asking these questions. The business world has great latitude and the resources to make positive social change.

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