The Industry Might Still Be Male-Dominated, But It Isn’t a Good Ol’ Boys Club Anymore

By Drew Vass

“I knew from a very young age I wanted to do what he did” – Carol Kelly, director of sales for Masonite, regarding her father, who worked in building product sales

“I think maybe the last 10 years it’s really changed, from what I personally see. I’ve always tried to be the person who sees people for the value they bring to the table. And I think our whole society
is starting to get better at that.” – Bonnie Davis, vice president of Jeld-Wen’s Excellence Model (JEM) transformation

“Amid the pandemic, we lost quite a few ladies from our industry. And they didn’t go to other millwork companies. We just lost them.” – Roaslie Leone, executive director for World Millwork Alliance

When Carol Kelly was growing up, summers were for road trips. Not the type involving campgrounds and scenic byways, but sales routes. “My mother would say, ‘You’re going on the road with your dad,’” says the youngest of four.

Her father was a salesperson for Boise Cascade, as were her grandfather and great uncle. At the time, Boise Cascade was a hardboard siding manufacturer.

“I’d go on calls with him,” she says of her dad.

She remembers setting up her Barbie dolls in the company car and swimming in hotel pools.

As a career choice, she found building product sales to be exciting, she says, adding, “I knew from a very young age I wanted to do what he did.”

In college, Kelly helped her father at industry trade shows, where she found her first job: working for DAP, selling caulks, sealants and spackling. In 2003, she landed a job with TAMKO, where she says she was the first female representative ever hired in the decking division. After TAMKO, she became the first female manager for Fiberon, a composite decking manufacturer, and later was one of few female managers at Milgard, she says. Now, she serves as director of sales for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest region for Masonite International.

Kelly is one of many female success stories across the fenestration industry—some of which span from entry-level positions to executive suites. Like many, she knew she was joining a male-dominated field, she says, but never gave it a second thought.

Similarly, “I was raised around the building industry and carpentry trades growing up,” says Rosalie Leone, executive director for World Millwork Alliance. “My grandfather used to put me in his lap when he was working on plans.” She was comfortable entering a building products and construction-related industry, because “I’ve always been around it, all of my life,” Leone says.

Without those family connections and viewpoints, however, things look much different for women outside of the fenestration, millwork and other male-dominated fields.

Window Shopping

Aside from those who grow up in them, perhaps, statistics show that women actively avoid male-dominated industries. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in the U.S., only 6.5% of women worked full-time in male-dominated occupations in 2020. Now, with the influence of COVID-19, those numbers could be even worse.

“Amid the pandemic, we lost quite a few ladies from our industry,” Leone says about millwork. “And they didn’t go to other millwork companies. We just lost them.”

So far as fenestration is concerned, there’s no hard data to go on, but female representation “is generally similar to the manufacturing industry overall,” says Annie Zipfel, chief marketing officer and senior vice president for Andersen Corp. “In manufacturing, women make up about 27% of production roles and 28% of business roles,” Zipfel says. Despite year-over-year improvements, women remain underrepresented in the field, she says, and representation decreases among leadership positions. “This is especially true for women of color, with even smaller representation at every level,” she adds.

With labor shortages and plenty of available positions, the opportunities for women are abundant throughout the fenestration, millwork and manufacturing industries, Leone and others suggest. The question is: Why aren’t they taking them?

A study conducted by the Women in Manufacturing Association found that 68% of all women surveyed would not consider manufacturing as a career path because they saw it as a male-dominated field where they couldn’t advance. At the same time, a separate survey from the Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute found that 75% of women view the manufacturing sector as possibly rewarding and fun. Why the juxtaposition? In a single word, the most likely answer is probably: history.

Research shows that male-dominated occupations are particularly vulnerable to reinforcing harmful stereotypes and creating environments that make it difficult for women to excel.

“Women have to work twice as hard to always prove themselves,” Leone says.

Women get judged more quickly, Kelly adds, suggesting, “We are not given the same runway that men are given, even to this day.” For this reason, she warns women entering the industry, “You will be judged harder and faster, so you better know your stuff,” she says. Kelly admits that, had she not been “born into” building products, “I probably wouldn’t be in this industry.”

Times Have Changed

But things have improved drastically over the years, Kelly and other women say. When Bonnie Davis, vice president of Jeld-Wen’s Excellence Model (JEM) transformation, came into the industry 33 years ago, “It did feel strange,” she admits. These days, the company has “female business leaders, female plant managers, female manufacturing managers and production managers,” she says. There are three women on Jeld-Wen’s board of directors and a woman on its senior leadership team. In the past three years, the company’s CEO Leadership Awards have gone to female leaders.

“I did see that transition over time,” Davis says. “I think maybe the last 10 years it’s really changed, from what I personally see. I’ve always tried to be the person who sees people for the value they bring to the table. I think our whole society is starting to get better at that.”

The opportunities for women are more there than ever, Kelly says. “I would say that companies are very keenly aware that they need to have more diverse cultures,” she adds.

The fact is: men and women are different, Leone and other women suggest. “What is it? Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right?” she says. “How we handle situations and how a man would handle the same situations can be totally different.”

Women are good at “closing the loop,” suggests Janice Williamson, director of OPS for Quanex. They’re also good with people, she adds. “I think that I, along with many other women, am good with getting people engaged in activities that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise do,” she says.

Those are small examples, but the idea that women bring unique attributes to leadership roles and the workplace is a notion that’s backed by meaningful data.

According to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, women are more likely to collaborate than men. For this reason, it isn’t surprising that a separate study by Boston Consulting Group, surveying diversity across 1,800 companies in eight countries, found that organizations with above-average diversity had 19% greater innovation revenues.

Another report published by the global management consulting group McKinsey and Company shows that gender-diverse companies are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies that are less diverse. The same report also shows that when women filled 30% or more of executive-level positions, companies were 48% more likely to outperform their less-diverse competitors.

But research also suggests that focusing too heavily on female-oriented traits can have negative outcomes, as experts warn that women working in male-dominated industries face pervasive stereotypes.

A study conducted in 2018 showed that females often cope with those challenges by accepting masculine cultural norms and acting like “one of the boys,” which they say can exacerbate the problem by normalizing male-dominant culture. Research also shows that the same behaviors can lead women to isolate themselves from one another in the workplace, leading to an issue that Williamson says she’s spotted over the years.

“I think women can sabotage each other sometimes,” she says. “Because sometimes when there are only a handful of women, there isn’t enough room for everyone to get recognized and promoted. So, I don’t know that women promote each other as much maybe as we should.”

When Masonite’s executive leadership called for the creation of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts and supportive affinity groups, Kelly was one of the first to show up, chairing a U.S. council on diversity in its inaugural year in 2021. At the time, one of her female peers said, “God, I can’t believe you signed up for that. I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole,” she says. “I said, ‘That’s exactly why I did it,’” she explains. “‘Because I know the cultural environment of the building materials industry, and a lot of industries. It’s not where we want it to be.’”

Turning a Corner

Women interviewed for this article say they’ve had their fair share of issues over the years. But they also say that those years seem to be behind us, for an industry that’s more than ready to shift and in many ways already has.

“There has been a definite shift in the demographic of U.S. fenestration and glass industry association leadership over the last 20 years,” says Janice Yglesias, executive director for the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance (FGIA). When Yglesias began her career, in 1999, with one exception, all of the major industry organizations had male executives, she says, adding, “And it remained that way for many years thereafter.” Today, all but one are led by female executives. “Seeing this evolution helps illustrate the true career path opportunities available in this industry for women,” Yglesias says. “You can climb as high as your talent and hard work will carry you.”

It’s all about finding companies with the right culture and mindset, Leone, and others suggest. And that’s becoming increasingly easy, as “the ones that embrace gender equality and support and encourage opportunities for growth, with equal pay,” are easier to come by, she says. “It’s happening and we’re hearing about it more.”

Among the major door, window and millwork companies, most have established DEI initiatives and programs over the years—aimed not only at attracting and supporting women, but other minorities as well.

“It has to become a fabric—literally the fabric of an organization,” Kelly says. “The mindset has to be one that every leader exhibits from the very top down, leading by example.”

At Masonite, it was the company’s CEO, Howard Heckes, who said they needed to launch DEI efforts, prompting the formation of affinity groups, she says. “They have to show it, talk about it and embrace it,” she says. “People are going to pay attention to what their boss says is important, and executes, and leads and shows.”

But research shows it also has to be genuine.

Experts say that checking the boxes toward more female employees might get more women in the door, but ultimately it won’t fix the cultural issues that have kept the vast majority out to begin with. For one thing, it sends the wrong signals.

“I want to be in a position because I have made it very clear that I am the correct person for the job, regardless of my gender or sexual orientation,” Williamson says. “I don’t want to be a box checker.”

When she entered the industry 27 years ago, as one of the technicians who worked with the founders of Super Spacer technology, she was invited to the table based on her experience, Williamson says. She then earned her way up, working as a research and development technician, then a project manager, customer service manager, business unit manager and director of planning and scheduling. She’s now been with Quanex for around 10 1/2 years, where she was recruited, again, based on her experience.

“Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be about checking boxes,” she says. “I think there needs to be more of a balance. Everybody brings something different. I don’t think you have to be male- or female-dominated. Instead, let’s put our best people out there.”

Avoiding Self-Righteousness

Even if companies deliberately added more female employees, two studies (including a randomized double-blind experiment) show that biases persist when they’re well represented. Worse yet, studies show that people who perceived their fields as unbiased against women were actually key drivers of it—making up a “high risk” group, including men and women. The conclusion? “While such a belief may seem reasonable to adopt, especially upon seeing women’s representation in the field grow … it may actually make one more susceptible to conveying bias,” researchers suggest.

In the meantime, a better avenue might include supporting and highlighting the female employees you have in order to create a more cohesive and supportive environment. On this basis, groups have surfaced over the years, gathering women from across the industry—the idea being, not only for discussion and mentoring, but to reassure those weighing the industry that they will be met with support.

“You work with and gravitate toward people who look like you,” suggests Michelle Blackston, senior director of development and engagement for the National Fenestration and Rating Council (NFRC). “And it’s a little intimidating when no one looks like you—when you walk into a room to apply for a job and you’re the only female in the building.”

NFRC launched a Women in Fenestration forum, she says, which gathers women across various levels and areas of the industry.

Several years ago, Leone established a Women in Millwork Roundtables series.

“I did this to provide a platform for women in our industry to discuss what’s on their minds,” she says. “It’s partly about easing those situations in which women feel pressured at work, between the workplace, home and family. It’s about bringing women together to support other women in our industry.” The response was overwhelming, she says, adding, “The time for these roundtables was never enough … this was their own time, to relate to other women in the industry at all levels.”

Companies have also carved out their own groups. Jeld-Wen, for instance, hosts a Women’s Network, and Andersen established a Women Leaders of Andersen employee resource network (ERN).

According to the New England Institute of Technology, in order to attract and retain more women, companies can also be more sensitive and supportive around needs that are specific to women, such as maternity leave, and by providing flexible hours and additional time off when needed. Experts also suggest that companies such as door and window dealers can use women-owned subcontractors, who serve as role models, and offer apprenticeships in construction trades.

In all, everyone agrees that those, and other efforts, do a masterful job of supporting women within the  fenestration and millwork industries. But they leave one glaring question unanswered: How do they appeal to younger women?

Starting Young

“With these spaces, how do you then encourage college kids to get into or consider the industry?” Blackston asks, adding, “I was 40 years old before I even knew what the word fenestration meant.”

Unless you’re born into the industry, “When someone asks you, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ No girl is going to say, ‘Be in the building materials industry,’” Kelly says. “You don’t even think about it.”

To overcome perceptions about male-dominated industries, efforts must focus on increasingly young ages, she and others suggest. Why? By the time you reach high school your perceptions and options for career paths have already been planted, Leone says.

“But really, it should be even sooner than that,” Kelly adds. “From the moment that young girls think about careers of any sort, manufacturing and fenestration should both be on the table and viewed as possibilities.”

It’s about giving young girls the same feeling she had every summer—riding on her father’s sales routes and participating in calls. Ultimately, those early impressions are what led to a long and successful career.

“That’s where the tide has to change,” she says—in the earliest phases.

Drew Vass is editor of Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine.

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