Why Do We Need More Women?

March 10, 2016
March/April 2016
This online-only article is a supplement to the March/April 2016 print edition of Home Energy Magazine.
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I love this industry. I stumbled into it just over ten years ago and have found the impact we as an industry can have on the greater community humbling and inspiring. But our industry is small. Some call it a niche industry. Developed by some incredibly smart building scientists over the last 30-plus years, we really love talking to ourselves about the great work we can do.

In a recent meeting I attended, a group of industry leaders convened to discuss the barriers to home performance, and to develop actionable steps to move the industry forward. To kick off the meeting, we went around the room introducing ourselves and sharing what gets us out of bed (inspiration) and what keeps us awake at night (concerns, fears). It turned out that the same things were keeping us all awake. Whether the message was conveyed through climate change, oil prices, energy independence, or what we leave for the next generation, we in home performance are collectively worried about showing the greater home improvement industry that we are valuable. And this has partly to do with the size and current growth trajectory of home performance.

Right Image Back in 2012, Home Energy featured a cover story on a five-day BPI certification course exclusively for women at Pure Energy Center in central Montana. Pictured: Students Stevie Moe and Jennifer Weedn puzzle through operating a DG-700 pressure and flow gauge while instructor and Pure Energy Center owner Tamasin Sterner sets up a pressure pan. (Kathy Price-Robinson)

Have you looked around an ACI conference? We are a predominantly white male industry. Without an injection of diversity, home performance will be overlooked as technology allows companies like Amazon to get into home improvement. By increasing the number of women in our industry, we can also gain new perspectives. And perhaps most importantly, we will gain a better perspective on the target audience for customers who buy home improvement services. According to a 2008 Pew Research Center study, when decisions are made concerning the home, women are the sole financial decision makers 43% of the time, while for men the figure is just 26%. This means that 74% of the time, women are either making the decision (43%), or are involved in making the decision (31%).

If that’s not enough to sway your thinking, consider this: Women account for only 15% of directors of corporate boards, yet companies with more women in management jobs earn higher return on equity than those with fewer women. Women business owners employ 35% more people than all Fortune 500 companies combined. Turns out there are some good female business owners out there. 

What Is Women in Home Performance?

A few years ago, I started asking women about their experiences in this industry. A few themes emerged from these conversations:

  • Despite the limited number of women in the industry, women have thrived through the support and leadership of men and women passionate about supporting the community of home performance. Many of the women I interviewed emphasized that they owed much of their success to the support of the industry leadership, which happens to be predominantly male.

  • Women feel the lack of a community of women who could support each other professionally.

  • Women would like to learn how best to capitalize on the strengths that they bring to the industry. They would also like men to learn what women have to contribute. This includes addressing sexual harassment, which still keeps great women (and probably some men, too) from realizing their potential in this industry.

Most of the people I talk to about this issue agree: We need more women in this industry. Yet again and again, I’ve seen smart, motivated women dip their toe in and then disappear. In talking with many of these women, I have found that this often has to do with their interactions with men in the industry. There are some men who ruin it for everyone. These are the men who still see women as booth babes, arm candy, an opportunity to show off their male prowess. It’s not always overt; often it’s buried in offhand comments, or stories told around the water cooler. Sexual harassment is still an issue in this day and age, and it cannot be ignored when considering strategies to bring more women into this industry.

And so the Women in Home Performance Initiative was born. Women in Home Performance is a grassroots initiative the mission to promote women in the industry while strategically engaging businesses and organizations outside the industry. To achieve this mission, the initiative has developed three key focus areas:

  1. Market transformation and business development, which includes

    • All aspects of business development, from the day-to-day decisions made at the contractor level all the way up to the national policy discussions that are under way to move this industry forward.

    • Professionalizing this industry. We have a great foundation of men and women who have gotten us where we are today. How do we take it to the next step and increase the overall credibility of the industry?

    • Thinking—and acting—more strategically about how we engage women. After all, women make the majority of key financial decisions in the home.

  2. Education on the strengths women bring to bear, which includes

    • Teaching men and women how to capitalize on the strengths women bring to the industry, from personal interactions to professional decisions.

  3. Networking and support, which includes

    • Developing an organized opportunity for women to build relationships, and to discuss specific concerns and issues that women face in the workforce.

How Can You Help?

You’ll start seeing Women in Home Performance more and more often at ACI/Home Performance Coalition events. The first thing you can do is attend and show your support! Reach out to bright women of all ages and offer to mentor them. Create supportive work environments that allow for flexibility and opportunity. And include women in your decision making if you’re a home performance contractor.

learn more

To learn more, and to volunteer, contact Amy Beley at amy@beley.org.

Finally, understand that your actions matter. Our industry has become my community. And sometimes when that is the mind-set, it’s difficult to remember that this is still a professional setting. When you make an offhand comment, or an untoward advance, or pigeonhole women into administrative positions, you are setting the tone for others. We’re all guilty of this—the stream of society is hard to break. Home performance needs some disruption, and to step away from the status quo.

Amy Beley is an independent consultant in the home performance industry. She has a passion for connecting people and ideas. Most of her professional training comes from management consulting, which allows her to be adaptable to the needs of customers and clients.

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