A few days ago, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of Leanin.org, co-wrote a New York Times article underscoring the importance of industry leaders stepping up and declaring their visions and dreams for their industries, while vigorously shouting down the less desirable elements. Leaders’ messages must clearly reject discrimination and include a visionary statement as well. Over the years Sandberg, and other high-flying executives like her, have repeatedly called for women to take their rightful seats in the boardrooms of America and not to apologize for the ambition that brought them there.

Women In Roofing Initiative

Steve Little, the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association (MRCA), and a small but formidable group of fifteen female industry powerhouses assume the visionary mantle this week as they roll out the Women in Roofing Initiative at the MRCA’s 65th Annual Conference in Grapevine, Texas. They hope every woman in attendance will join in making this initiative a vehicle for mentoring, networking, outreach, and education for women at all stages of their careers.

Mentors Matter, Especially In Commercial Roofing

“Mentors are key,” says Little, MRCA President and President of Dallas-based KPost Company Company, a regional commercial roofing company with an impressive track record of promoting women within its ranks. “Look, this is a male dominated industry. We should encourage women to come together. Commercial roofing can only benefit from a broader, deeper pool of talent. Some of the most gifted businesspeople I know in this industry happen to be women. I don’t know what I would do without the women in my company who have guided me so well,” says Little.

Many women who have carved out fulfilling careers in commercial roofing credit a mentor with helping them to find their way in the beginning, when thoughts often ended in question marks and steps were tentatively, rather than confidently, taken. They recount the relief of having someone, male or female, they could turn to for advice and guidance in those early days. Everyone interviewed for this article expressed her pleasant surprise upon discovering how warm, loyal and family-oriented the commercial roofing field has been. Many women who anticipated quickly moving on from commercial roofing have opted to stay, joking that once a person is in, she can never get out.

“I’ve had so many women approach me over the years to ask what steps I took to get where I am. Young women coming into the industry need the opportunity to have these conversations and to network with women who have seen success. We can educate and empower these young women to get into leadership roles,” says Heidi Ellsworth, Executive Vice President of Marketing, EagleView Technologies. “The initiative must cover three things: education, networking, and mentoring.”

Helene Hardy Pierce counts herself among the lucky ones whose mentors truly made a difference over the course of her career. She expresses enthusiasm over the initiative and the “boundless future” for women in the commercial roofing industry. She knows women involved in all aspects, from manufacturing to sales and technical support, from estimators, to crew members, to roofing company owners.

“I think many of the women who have been successful in this industry had a mentor who took them under their wing and provided them with very good guidance. This Women in Roofing Initiative provides structure to what has never been structured before. It is a wonderful opportunity for women,” says Hardy Pierce, whose career has taken her from fledgling engineer to Vice President of Technical Service, Codes, and Industry Relations at GAF.

A 2012 survey reveals that women feel uncomfortable to seek mentors. 63% report never having had one. And yet research shows that women benefit greatly from mentor relationships, particularly when those mentors are women.

Steve Little has mentored a number of up-and-coming bright lights in the commercial roofing industry over the years. He was listening carefully the day Heidi Ellsworth shared her vision of the Women in Roofing Initiative. Ellsworth had watched as the Young Contractors Council grew from its initial 30 members to this year’s healthy 120 members. The casual conversations that led to new ideas, advice, and future collaborations inspired her to request women form their own association. She had shared the idea with several other people, to no avail. In Little, though, Heidi found a champion. She and Shari Carlozzi, National Sales Manager, Hapco Inc., will serve as the initiative’s co-chairs.

“What a great guy. Steve truly brings a level of integrity and professionalism to this industry. He actually started the Young Contractors Council. You need someone like that with the vision to believe in it and make it happen. We just needed a foot in the door. We’ll take it from here,” says Ellsworth.

Advice To The Young And Intrigued

“Roofing is a wonderful field. So much of my family is in it now. But really, it chose me. I was sole support for my family for a time. This industry has truly helped me in my life. There are so many opportunities for women here. I have learned so much. One of my greatest lessons has been that it is not what I am say, but how I say it that matters,” says Jayne Williams, who holds the titles Chief Financial Officer and Safety Officer for KPost Company, as well as board member of Roof PAC. Williams relishes the idea of mentoring women new to the field.

Hardy Pierce agrees, “The roofing industry has provided me a wonderful career where, female or male, people are respected for their knowledge and opinions. This is not new and exciting like the dotcom buildup. It is not aviation, or computers, or nanotech, but every single day you have the opportunity to help someone. Because we all need shelter. You will never be a has-been or stuck in a dying industry. There is always a need for shelter. This industry has been very kind to me.”

Attend The MRCA Women In Roofing Initiative Kickoff Meeting this Week

The Women In Roofing Initiative debuts this week, offering women in the field the opportunity to shape the industry’s future. The mentoring, networking and educational opportunities promise to make the membership a meaningful one.

“I hope the roofing industry will discover exactly how many women are out there. We can join together here and show that we really are becoming a huge part of the field,” says Williams, who, with the other visionaries, is waiting at the table, boldly offering seats to any woman who dreams of propelling herself forward.

“Little victories lead to bigger ones. It doesn’t have to be magnificent with that first one, but a little victory is a victory. And this is a start for us. We will see where it goes,” says Carlozzi.

As Sandberg might say, “Lean in, friends. This is your time.”

company icon