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Reconvening Thoughts at AED’s Second Annual Women in Construction Equipment Roundtable

When AED held their first Women in Construction Equipment Roundtable (WICE) last year, it heralded a milestone in an industry struggling to build equality and the workforce of tomorrow. AED’s second annual WICE Roundtable held this past May in Chicago. 

This half-day event gave women professionals in the construction equipment industry an opportunity to enhance their leadership skills and discuss the unique challenges they face. Furthermore, this year’s WICE Roundtable gave women an opportunity to reconvene on the ideas, sentiments and strategies formulated at the inaugural event. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey estimates that only 9% of the construction workforce is female. That figure has remained relatively unchanged since 1996, and as we all know, the heavy equipment distribution industry reflects a similar percentage. But the attendees of the WICE event concerned themselves with the future and the tangible steps needed to create a better industry through diversity. After all, dealerships need to leverage the diversity of leadership to improve the quality of decision-making, fuel growth and inspire the next generation. 

The featured presentation at this year’s event was given by Kate Offringa, president and CEO at Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI). Located in Washington, D.C., VSI is the trade association for manufacturers and suppliers of vinyl and other polymeric siding. A certified association executive with over 20 years’ experience in Washington, Offringa previously served as president of Tallwood Strategies LLC, as president and CEO of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, and as director of market transformation for the Alliance to Save Energy.

After the featured presentation, attendees participated in a workshop entitled “Essential Qualities of Women Who Lead” led by Alexis Gladstone. The workshop focused on courage and communication, two of the seven essential qualities. This interactive workshop was based on Judy Hoberman’s best-selling book, “Walking on the Glass Floor,” and encouraged attendees to reflect on courage in the face of change, and what it means to take risks, conquer fear, and cultivate confidence. 

“My passion is empowering professional women, working with them individually and with organizations on their programs and practices to retain, develop and champion women,” Gladstone told CED. “These forums give women a safe space to talk about the unique challenges we face and learn how others have worked through them.” Gladstone is an affiliate with The Chatfield Group and has over 25 years of training, coaching, speaking and consulting experience. She works with clients across all industries in the areas of leadership, sales and organizational change to maximize company and individual results. 
During the workshop, attendees also discussed topics such as how to foster healthy relationships, creating an environment of greatness for your team and organization, the importance of listening, and asking questions with a purpose. 

CED spoke with several of the attendees of this year’s WICE Roundtable, and everyone resoundingly agreed that events like these are needed to bring change in an industry so desperately looking to fill their hiring needs. Here are brief biographies of the attendees we spoke with, followed by their thoughtful responses to the questions posed by CED. 

2019 WICE Attendees
Stephanie Sczpanski, general manager at Leppo Rents. Sczpanski manages 24 people at her location and focuses on supporting the staff to enable them to do their jobs to the best of their ability. “I also am involved in several strategic projects within the company to prepare for our future,” she said. She got into the industry through the landscape construction industry, “intending to have my own company, but ended up working for the company that sold us our Bobcat skid steer.”

Amanda Weisiger Cornelson, field service coordinator at Carolina CAT. Cornelson works in the field service office at the Charlotte branch. “We handle dispatching the technicians to jobs, work order and invoice management, parts and service quotes, and customer communication for all field jobs in our territory,” she said. “My family has been in the construction industry for quite some time. Carolina Tractor & Equipment (CTE) was founded in 1926 and purchased by my great-grandfather in 1930. It has been in family ownership ever since through my grandfather and my father. I joined the company last year, representing the fourth generation of family involvement.”

Stephanie Farley, chief people officer at Berry Companies Inc. “My role allows me to be highly integrated into everything that concerns the talent of our organization,” said Farley. “I oversee all HR functions including training and development, benefits, payroll, employee relations, compensation, legal compliance, recruiting and any strategic initiatives currently working within our divisions.” She says there is no “typical” day for her: “80% of what I do presents itself either at the last minute because an immediate need arises, or because I’m answering employee questions or reaching out to visit locations and spread our Berry culture throughout our locations.” 

Janet Cooksey, senior sales manager at DLL. “I am a financial sales rep for the heavy machinery division called CTI (Construction Industrial and Transportation ) at DLL,” says Cooksey. “My typical day is calling dealerships and end users in the construction and trucking industry and quoting financing to support the sales of new and used yellow iron equipment – very fast pace with lots of phone calls.” She got into the industry through construction and transportation with Volvo Finance 19 years ago. “I had a male colleague that worked at Bridgestone and he suggested I try my luck in the construction and transportation industry. He really encouraged me to change fields and move from credit to sales, which I love.”

Kara Hamilton, corporate marketing manager at Bramco Inc. Bramco is the parent company of Brandeis Machinery & Supply, Power Equipment Co., Bramco-MPS and Certified Rental. “My days are completely varied,” says Hamilton, “but my responsibilities include advertising and lead generation, social media management, website management, corporate image and branding and, most recently, I have taken over management of our CRM system.” After 20 years in business-to-business marketing, Hamilton found herself looking to change career paths a couple of years ago. “I spoke with the people at Bramco. While I have no background in the equipment industry, I did have the marketing skills they needed to help grow and brand their business. In my two years I have found it to be an extremely interesting, competitive market.”

Now that we have introduced some of the guests at this year’s WICE Roundtable, here is some of what they had to say about the event: 

Q: What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the construction equipment industry?

The best part is that as the industry changes, in age and gender, there is nothing but opportunity for women. Being a woman in this industry makes you a tremendous asset. We are offering unique ideas and different ways to approach situations. – Kara Hamilton

Really, it’s about bringing a new perspective to an old industry; shared experiences and years of experience have changed the face of the construction industry. DLL really supports women in the construction industry. We have a great deal of women in this industry and are always looking for diversity in our business. – Janet Cooksey

Due to the limited number within the industry, it actually gives us an advantage to stand out. We can change the perception of women in the industry, but it is going to take great recruiting, education, and purposeful movement toward equality efforts. – Stephanie Farley

There is so much opportunity for women in the construction industry right now. Companies are putting an emphasis on recruiting and promoting women and pushing diversity and inclusion in general. In our dealership in particular, it has been very exciting to see the men get involved in programs sponsoring and mentoring women, and even participating in our women’s affinity group. – Amanda Weisiger Cornelson 

My boss once told me that I was his secret weapon. I proved myself every day and made sure that I learned everything I could. It catches some people off guard to see a woman in this industry. – Stephanie Sczpanski

Q: Many women have felt their gender has affected the way they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?

One specific situation was when a customer stated that he wanted to talk to a man. I simply handed the call off to one of the guys. When my co-worker answered the call, he said, “Steph is the one that knows, let me transfer you to her.”  It felt good being supported by my peers. I also felt like I wasn’t as valued as a woman compared to the men, even though I was doing the same work. I spoke up and have never looked back. I feel empowered and supported as much as anyone at the company I work for. – Stephanie Sczpanski

Absolutely. I’d love to say that I never hear or see differences in gender treatment, but that’s just not always the case.. I’ve been in situations where someone would shake hands with everyone in the room but me as the only female, or where they would make eye contact with every male in the room while speaking, but not with me. I just continue to put my hand out and present myself as an equal. Early in my tenure with Berry, a female leader in a competing organization told me that the difference between men and women in our industry was that men were assumed to be competent in their roles, while women had to prove competence. It’s not something that is purposeful, but it does exist. It’s something that we need to continue to address and work towards progress. We can change perceptions with education, continually developing our workforce, and infusing the culture of our organization to include every employee, regardless of gender. – Stephanie Farley

The old boys’ club used to really be predominant in this industry, but times have changed. I am seeing more women than ever in leadership roles in the construction industry. It’s exciting! – Janet Cooksey
It is true that I work with mostly men. Men who have worked together for many, many years. What I have found is that they are more than accepting of having me join the team and receptive to my ideas. I think the biggest hurdle is that they think they need to treat me differently or be more reserved in their conversation. It isn’t something I have said or done, it is really more what their perception is of how to treat me! – Kara Hamilton

Q: Do you notice a lack of women in the industry? If so, why do you think that is the case?

Yes, for sure. Truth is, I think the subject matter – construction equipment – isn’t something that interests most women. It hasn’t been marketed to women. It has always been considered a job that is for men. Dirty, gritty, built tough. You don’t see advertising that caters to women in this industry. The industry as a whole hasn’t shown women why they would want to work in it. – Kara Hamilton

Absolutely, but only in some areas. At CTE, we are lucky to have a strong group of women in our marketing, HR, finance and IT departments. However, you see very few women working in the core business – our parts, service, sales and rental departments. We’re always looking for ways to encourage women to apply for jobs in these spaces and develop career paths for them. We want to encourage women not to relegate themselves to one role or one department – that they are fully capable of working in the roles typically is a place for us, and we may need to reach out to young women to let them know we have a place for them. When they get to high school, they have never even considered working in the construction industry; we need to reach out them before high school. – Amanda Weisiger Cornelson 

Q: What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the industry? What do you wish you had known?

My biggest piece of advice would be to get your hands dirty as often as possible. Do whatever you can to understand how every part of the business works. Ask for opportunities to get out on the assembly line, go out on technician ride-alongs, visit customer job sites, work in the shop, and shadow people in other roles. Even just for a few hours. You’ll be better for it, and most importantly, you’ll develop a broader perspective. No matter what your role is, show people that you are willing and able to engage and understand the business on every level. – Amanda Weisiger Cornelson

I wish I would have been able to understand how valuable my voice was. I didn’t believe in myself at first, but the company I work for encouraged me and supported me to speak my truth. – Stephanie Sczpanski

When I first started, I thought I was in a little over my head. I knew very little about the machines that I was trying to market – what they were, what they did, why they were used. But the truth is, that is the subject matter. It is a business, like any other business. The industry needs professionals who know about accounting, marketing, sales, distribution, and inventory management, in addition to machine experts. You don’t have to know everything there is to know about wheel loaders to succeed in this industry. Now, does it help to find it interesting? Sure. I was hooked after being able to test out an excavator. But is it a requirement to love all the machines or the all hobbies our customers do? No. – Kara Hamilton

Q: Why is it important to have events like the Women in Construction Equipment Roundtable?

As in any industry, the best training comes from hearing others’ best practices. In a format like the Women in Construction Equipment Roundtable, this is not only a place for best practices with organizations exactly like mine, but also from a similar perspective working with the same issues I face on a daily basis. This is the best of the best! – Stephanie Farley

I think the more opportunities we have to pull women together, the more likely we are to both retain them and attract more. This gives women an opportunity to bounce off ideas and talk about how they are succeeding in what has always been a predominantly male-dominated industry. – Kara Hamilton
 
Q: Why is it important to have events like the Women in Construction Equipment Roundtable?

As in any industry, the best training comes from hearing others’ best practices. In a format like the Women in Construction Equipment Roundtable, this is not only a place for best practices with organizations exactly like mine, but also from a similar perspective working with the same issues I face on a daily basis. This is the best of the best! – Stephanie Farley

I think the more opportunities we have to pull women together, the more likely we are to both retain them and attract more. This gives women an opportunity to bounce off ideas and talk about how they are succeeding in what has always been a predominantly male-dominated industry. – Kara Hamilton

Given that women are few and far between in the industry, the women’s roundtable and other similar events give us a rare opportunity to come together to get to know each other and learn from each other. Building those relationships provides an invaluable support network. 
– Amanda Weisiger Cornelson

When I attended the first roundtable in 2018, I remember Diane Benck saying she didn’t need special treatment, but just to know she could have a seat at the table. I knew from that moment on that I would admire her. She made me feel comfortable knowing that the group wasn’t about to say women are better, but that we want to be included. – Stephanie Sczpanski

Q: What advice would you give a female interested in attending an event like the roundtable?

Come prepared to make new friends and look at new ways of doing business to reach your full potential.  – Janet Cooksey

Go. You won’t regret it. – Stephanie Farley

Let’s go! It is a really nice event to celebrate our achievements and network with other women in the industry. – Stephanie Sczpanski


Q: How do events like the roundtable better the industry?

They give you added support to network and learn from other successful women. – Janet Cooksey

These types of events provide professional development opportunities where they might not exist. This last roundtable wasn’t just about the industry, it was about leadership skills. These are things that can be used regardless of your industry or specific job tasks. 
– Kara Hamilton

Q: What are key takeaways you will take back to the dealership from the roundtable?

My takeaway from the meeting is that the opportunity is there, we just all have to stake our claim to success.  – Janet Cooksey

My key takeaway were the tips for building and nurturing business relationships. The characteristics that stood out to me were: be authentic, model honesty and accountability, do what you say you will do, listen with an open mind and heart, and appreciate others. – Stephanie Sczpanski

The viewpoints shared at the second WICE Roundtable reflect the diverse yet unified approach women take to leadership, strategy, negotiations, education, technical knowledge, communication, power and presence. Not only did the participants take on the hard-hitting questions their gender faces in the industry, but they had a lot of fun doing it. If you or know someone that would like to be a part next year’s WICE event, contact an AED representative at 800-388-0650 or email info@aednet.org



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