Women in HVACR: A View from the Field

June 1, 2014
We proffered three questions regarding the role of women in the HVACR industry. Here is a round-up of how they view their role.

Editor's Note

Below is the introduction I sent to women throughout the HVACR industry. The introductory note and the editor’s column explain my interest in the topic. The answers we received offered an interesting cross section of similar and contrasting views, as well as a touch of personality in each reply. We sent four questions, with the final one asking whether the recipient was a member of Women in HVACR. Below are the three primary questions we proffered.

Speaking of Vision …

During a brainstorming session, the team at HVACR/Hydronics Distribution Business magazine agreed that a special issue about Women in HVACR makes sense. It is important to learn what you think about your role in the industry and, quite frankly, how we might recruit more women into this business sector.

We have set aside a special date and issue, June 2014, and are working with your organization, Women in HVACR, on this thematic series of articles.

For some, there’s an affinity for these “roundups” if the questions are open-ended and reasonable. I am particularly fond of some open-ended questions because they allow the readers to best express themselves through the lens of their experience and the company for which they work.

Women in HVACR Questions for the special June issue in HVACR/Hydronics Distribution Business magazine.

  1. What do you think of when someone says: “Women in HVACR”?
  2. What suggestion(s) would you offer that would encourage more women to enter the industry in the next five years?
  3. On a personal level, what have been the most rewarding aspects of working in the HVACR industry?

As a member of the HVACR industry, my interest is automatically piqued, as this is a small enough “club” to be considered “elite.”

First, there are many places in the industry that are well suited for the capabilities that women can bring. Nothing, in my opinion, is off-limits here. Second, with a substantially greater percentage of men in the field, particularly in technical and leadership positions, this is a perfect place for a confident young woman to begin a career and be assured of the ability to grow, move and be noticed. Finally, recent years have our industry looking at energy conservation, reductions in environmental impacts, smart and green building applications, etc.

Participation in the field can be challenging and rewarding, but also part of some bigger picture efforts that have far-reaching effects. The HVACR industry space is a great place for women, and other minorities, to explore.

After spending a number of years in the petrochemical industry, I’m actually a bit late coming to the world of HVACR. I work for and with some incredibly knowledgeable, talented and innovative people, and there’s something to be said for the satisfaction that comes from being a member of such a team. There are many technical challenges that come my way (yes, even in the role of Marketing Manager!) and I find it very rewarding to work through those issues and come up with solutions that work.

Belinda (Bea) Amaya, Marketing Manager,
Custom Air Products & Services, Inc.,
Houston, TX,

The future. I think more and more women will be entering this industry as time goes on.

Don’t be afraid! If the industry interests you, get involved. You’ll need a thick skin and an open mind, but don’t let fear of failure or exclusion stop you. You’ll find people in this industry respect hard work, innovation and experience regardless of who you are.

I’m a problem solver, and problem solving is at the heart of the service side of HVACR. I’m lucky enough to work with some of the best service technicians in Chicago, and the satisfaction of working alongside them to resolve whatever issues come our way while keeping our customers happy is the greatest reward I can ask for. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to say I truly love my job and the fantastic team I work with.

Heather AnCel, Service Manager –
Commercial HVACR, Hayes Mechanical,
Chicago, IL,

Women in HVACR are still a minority, but they are a growing demographic with a lot of great opportunities still existing. I’ve worked the Women in HVACR booth at trade shows, and I can’t count the number of comments and conversations I held with men about how we can get more women in the industry. So many women in HVACR have proven themselves to be strong additions to their company, stronger than men in many instances; and they’ve paved the path for more women to enter the industry.

A woman that I know taught me to “use your assets but keep your morals.” I don’t know if people will think that’s PC, but let’s face it – women are different from men. Women, often the decision makers, tend to trust women better in a sales environment. Women are able to juggle multiple projects, tasks and stresses. Women are quick learners and look at situations from different angles. Back to my original statement – work hard, earn and protect the respect you deserve in this male-dominated industry.

I’d have to say that the relationships I’ve made are what I place above all else. Not only did I meet my husband in the industry, I’ve made some very close and dear friendships. There are so many amazing people in the industry with so much to teach! I’m talking about both men and women who are smart, strong, driven, successful and down-to-earth people. I have so many mentors that have helped me with my professional and personal growth. Attending HVACR industry events is like going home.

Kimberly Batham (formerly O’Neal),
Go-to-Market Specialist, Honeywell,
Golden Valley, MN,

Sometimes I wince thinking of people’s perceptions of special interest groups – like we’re a cult with our own language and secret handshake. But really, we’re a diverse group of individuals who work in the same industry and occasionally wear heels. I take a lot of pride knowing that when we meet, we have meaningful, forward-thinking discussions and that together, we can accomplish anything!

With a shortage of qualified technicians on the horizon, HVACR is a great industry for both men and women. But we all already know that! Talk about your career and others that you see being successful in our industry everywhere – career day at school, family barbecues, the hairdresser – you never know where a future HVACR technician may come from.

There is something very satisfying in watching the look of doubt turn into astonishment and then respect when I make a perfect flare in front of a group of contractors. Right or wrong, many have set their expectations for women in HVACR quite low. We are more than happy to exceed them!

Emily Bavaro, Director of Marketing, hilmor,
Newell Rubbermaid, East Longmeadow, MA,

When someone says “Women in HVACR,” I think of a unique group, but a small one. I also think of the opportunity that “women in HVACR” represents. With the expected job growth in the industry over the next few years and the growing need for qualified HVACR workers, coupled with the current national unemployment rate, I think this is a prime time to make a strong push to encourage women to join the industry.

I think we need a strong, industry-wide message that addresses and dispels the false perception that working in HVACR is a man’s job or a “dirty” job that women cannot or would not be interested in doing. I’ve met quite a few female NATE-certified technicians and HVACR contracting business owners who demonstrate that the real need is for brains over brawn. This work is very technical, detail-oriented, can offer flexible schedules, and it is high-paying. I think there are many women who would find the HVACR industry appealing if it were accurately presented as an option.

I’ve always been attracted to jobs in industries where I see a real need. I worked in disability employment and healthcare for over a decade because I believed in the value of those services. I feel a similar need for HVACR, especially with NATE. We not only represent the means to improve the competence and confidence of technicians across the HVACR industry, but I believe that displayed competence plays a small role in upholding the image of the industry as a whole. I’m proud to be a part of that.

Valerie Briggs, Director,
Marketing and Business Development,
NATE, Arlington, VA,

When someone asks me what Women in HVACR is about, I reply that it is an organization of dynamic women within the HVACR industry that want to make a difference for themselves, desire to help others and want to influence the industry. We welcome women in all positions, in all areas of the HVACR industry. Indeed, I feel it is important to gain all perspectives, from contracting to sales to marketing to manufacturing to service providers and more. Building relationships that support and further your personal and professional growth is an area that is often overlooked by women, and this organization provides that very avenue. Within this group is a supporting network of women and men eager to share knowledge, coach and mentor others and together reach common goals and objectives.

The HVACR industry field is wide open for young women who want to make an impact in a male-dominated industry. I firmly believe that support groups for women are vital to how women view themselves, approach their careers and ultimately how successful they become. Getting involved in a group like the Women in HVACR helps to round out your knowledge of the industry and decide what arena is right for you. Read trade magazines and attend local industry meetings and trade shows. Most groups welcome young people participating, and it is a good way to find a mentor for your field of choice. Check into part-time or summer jobs with a local contractor, manufacturer, distributor or service provider. Some may have scholarship money available. Map out a course and ask for suggestions and advice from knowledgeable experts.

For me, the most rewarding aspect of working in the HVACR industry is helping contractors to better understand the business side. Although I began my career with a different industry, my spouse has been in the HVACR industry since the l970s. In 2000, when the opportunity came to change my personal path to the HVACR industry, I felt like I was ahead of the curve with “inside knowledge” of challenges contractors face on a daily basis. I am passionate about helping them overcome those obstacles.

Nita Brooks, Business Solutions Development Manager,
National Comfort Institute, Nashville, TN,

Over the past eight years, I have been fortunate to meet many professional women in this industry. When I think of women in HVACR, I think of professionalism, determination and smart women who have chosen a field with abundant opportunities.

Find a mentor in the industry and discover all of the career opportunities available to women in this field. Become involved with Women in HVACR. There is so much to learn from this professional organization. Check out local trade schools and career centers to discover the educational opportunities related to this field.

One of the most rewarding aspects has been the dynamic and interesting people I have had the pleasure to meet and learn from. From engineers to contractors, my field of knowledge has been vastly improved from their sharing of their knowledge. I also felt embraced by the industry on day one. I never felt like “the girl” in the room.

Kristie Burch, Director of Marketing,
Jackson Systems, Indianapolis, IN,

I think of the not-so-silent minority that is gaining traction in the industry by both numbers, as well as holding leadership roles in the companies that help shape our industry.

If you can think of it, HVACR is a part of it – there is never a dull moment with the way technology is growing and moving. HVACR is literally shaping tomorrow’s world today, by the measures we are all taking to be as energy efficient as possible.

As someone relatively new to the industry, I have seen the different aspects that HVACR impacts – from a data center, to a football stadium and the largest mall, the projects are endless.

[I value] being part of an industry where I ultimately feel I am making a difference. I am working on energy-efficient products that are going into new construction, and as retrofits – all making a difference in the carbon footprint we are leaving behind for the next generation.

Vanessa Castro, Product Manager,
Economizer Applications, BELIMO Americas,
Danbury, CT,

Excitement and opportunity – I hope to see more and more women join this industry.

Don’t let the fact that it’s a primarily male-dominated industry frighten you off. Keep in mind that women are the primary end user customers of our products (at least of residential) and contractors/salesmen must be prepared to market to them. Being a woman puts one in a unique situation to make an impact when not only selling to a customer but also when designing and selecting product that will keep those customers coming back.

The most rewarding aspect of working in the HVAC industry is definitely the people that I have met and worked with. Working for a master distributor of HVAC and Water Heating parts (The Rheem Replacement Parts Division) allows me to interact with our Rheem and Ruud distributors as well as their contractor customers. I have never met a more down to earth and friendly group of people. I look forward to every store visit that I make.

Beth K. Childress, Manager of Store Development, Replacement Parts Division,
Rheem Sales Company, Inc., Randleman, NC,,,,

This association is a cross-functional group that supports advancement of Women in a largely male industry.

I firmly believe that the HVACR industry offers an excellent career path that will be intellectually challenging and will provide a good earning potential.

Really, it’s the people in this industry. I appreciate the technical and the sales side of my job equally. It is really satisfying to help find a solution when someone calls with an issue they have created. I like being the girl who helps them figure out the solution.

Marcia Christiansen, National Sales Manager,
PECO, Inc., Portland, OR,

My first thought is, “What? There are women in HVACR?” (LOL) Seriously, I think – GREAT! Let’s break up the old boys’ club and take down stereotypes of where women should and should not be.

Our industry NEEDS more women. I’m a huge advocate of having women at the table, so to speak. It is my belief that when women are a part of any organization, the organization benefits and becomes stronger due to their involvement.

I LOVE that I can share the knowledge I have to make HVACR more approachable and accessible. Many women are smart, but are intimidated by “mechanical” stuff. I want to set the example that a woman can be successful in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Karen Crnkovich, President and “Chief Hand Shaker,”
DMC Service, Inc., Olathe, KS,

As a member, when I hear Women in HVACR, I think of strong, successful women currently well-engaged in the heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration industry working to engage and educate other women in the industry. My interaction with these women has been impressive, educational and memorable. I also think about the lack of women in this field and the need to reach out to other females in the industry. Women in HVACR allows all women in our field to reach out to each other and share opportunities for networking, empowerment, training and education.

I would encourage any woman to enter the heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration industry based on the need for strong, intelligent women as in any “service” industry. The service-based industry is a consistently growing need nationwide. Stereotypical representations of the HVACR field (or any service-based company) automatically resort to a male figure, although the phrase, “behind any good man is a strong woman” remains true and factual. While our industry may currently be a male-driven workplace, I believe the women behind this persona may actually be the power. Women entering this field have more opportunities for advancement without the feeling of “breaking a glass ceiling.” Today there are women representing the contractor, wholesaler, manufacturer and supplier at every level, including some of the highest levels and ownership. Regardless of whether a woman is seeking employment with a contractor, manufacturer or supplier, the need for women in our field is never-ending and constantly being sought after.

The opportunity for advancement is even greater.

I’ve been given the opportunity to create and operate a multi-million dollar company as a woman contractor from the ground up. The rewards of this endeavor alone are multiple. I’ve been rewarded by meeting and networking with incredible women in the industry that have the knowledge, experience, drive and want to help me succeed now and in the future. The greater reward will come as more women learn about and pursue the opportunities available to them within our field.

Amy Davis, Vice President, Director of Operations,
Budget Heating- Air Conditioning-Plumbing,
St. Peters, MO,

Boundless opportunities for women! When I came into the HVACR industry 24 years ago, there were very few women, other than office and administrative personnel. Today we have women servicing in key roles through every area of our industry, from top-level industry trade associations, owners and executives of major distributors, contractors, engineering and architectural firms, manufacturers, educators, technicians, installers … the list is endless. HVACR is an industry where your energy, expertise and knowledge can put you on the career path to success (however you define success).

HVACR is an industry that is in need of new ideas every day that will help re-invent, enrich, diversify and improve the results we all work toward. Women contribute to all of these and have a positive impact on all aspects of business. Get involved in making a difference in the lives of others, our environment, our government, conserving energy. You can make a difference!

It is clearly the respect and relationships that have been developed over the years, as well as the privilege of being able to enter a room filled with industry associates and never feel alone or unwelcome because we are applying our individual skills to the advancement of our industry.

Ruth Ann Davis, Senior Vice President,
Sales & Marketing, Williams, Colton, CA,

My thoughts of Women in HVACR are of strength and leadership from women who own companies, lead in an organization or are crucial to the existence of a company.

I would suggest or encourage women to enter this great industry because heating, air conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration offers such a variety of opportunities to expand one’s expertise, whether it is in manufacturing, engineering, contracting, fabricating, installing, etc. This industry is a necessity for our living comfort, and is therefore an industry that should thrive for years to come.

Personally, I began working in this industry in the late 90s when there were not as many females. I have only felt welcomed and encouraged to grow personally and professionally with a great group of peers.

Julie Decker, Distribution Sales Manager,
Carlisle HVAC, Wylie, TX,

I think of all the countless women, all ages and levels, who are contributing to our industry. These are amazing women who have made a difference in companies. They work for associations, manufacturers, distributors and contractors. Women have given our industry a new perspective, a new way of doing things. And in many markets, women are our main customers, making many of the decisions for today’s household. Being a woman in the HVACR industry shows our daughters and sons that there is no industry off limits.

There’s a stigma that we are a technical industry and positions require technical knowledge. But that’s not true! There are so many opportunities in so many divisions – associations, corporate, small companies, large companies … you name it. I’ve met so many women in every part of this industry and continue to be amazed at all the different jobs we have.

Coming from the corporate world, I was surprised to find that people in the HVACR industry are willing to be so open and share so we can all be better. We truly believe in helping each other. I also think this industry offers many opportunities to go beyond our own businesses. We have wonderful associations that represent contractors, distributors and manufacturers, and each is looking for leaders to step up and lead their causes. For me, being part of the leadership of ACCA made me a better leader in my own business while giving me the chance to make our entire industry better. Those connections I’ve made are the ones that I turn to when I need advice and that’s invaluable to any leader of any company.

Laura DiFilippo, Vice President,
DiFilippo’s Service Company,
Paoli, PA,

I am new to the industry so I had not heard of Women in HVACR. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this organization exists and is designed to help women succeed in what has typically been a male-dominated industry.

I would advise women to not be intimidated by this field. HVACR is a growing, changing industry that offers a lot of opportunities and demands a variety of skill sets. If you want a career in HVACR, don’t hesitate to pursue it.

I am a sales consultant for an EPA-certified refrigerant reclaimer, and I work with a variety of HVACR contractors throughout the Southeast. I enjoy getting to know all of these professionals and their businesses. The best part is helping them improve their cash flows through refrigerant reclamation. I also derive a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that we are working in sync with environmental efforts to promote a greener tomorrow for our children.

Julie Dopp, Sales Consultant,
Diversified Pure Chem, Rhome, TX,

My initial thought or question is, “Are women in the field taken seriously?” I have to ask myself, “Is there the potential for growth for women in this field, and where are the opportunities for advancement?” The term HVACR covers such a broad array of jobs and work responsibilities overall, but there are few upper-level positions that women hold. This predominantly male field has been difficult for women, and I wonder if women are just discouraged from getting in and taking advantage of opportunities, or if they are finding the work overwhelming. Most of the women I have encountered typically land secretarial-type roles, loosely labeling themselves as being in the HVACR profession and not the more complex mechanical aspects. Women should have more of a stake in HVACR.

Mentoring would possibly help, especially if it showcased examples of successful women and women-owned businesses who would openly share their own stories about the obstacles they encountered and how they overcame them. It would also help if workshops were available on various topics, such as the best schools to attend, minority-friendly suppliers and getting familiar with the male competition.

The most rewarding aspects for me personally have been the sense of accomplishment I get from repairing equipment. I am an operator and have tried to practice a set procedure dictated by the craft. Examples: Being within sight and sound of the equipment, logging parameters, monitoring equipment and performing scheduled maintenance are all aspects of the work that I enjoy. Now that I have advanced my skills well enough over the years, my peers and management consider me someone who is capable of getting the job done.

Valerie Edward, Engineering Operator,
Motor City Casino Hotel, Detroit, MI,

When I hear Women in HVACR, I think accomplished, I think empowered and I think multi-tasker. To be a woman in HVACR, there are still stereotype challenges that we face on a day-to-day basis that our counterparts do not always face. However, through knowledge and determination, tact and implementation, we overcome these every time. Women have a natural instinct to multi-task and problem solve. By tapping into this skill, women are able to be successful in all aspects of HVACR, whatever their position.

There are so many opportunities in this industry to make really good money that do not require a college degree. I am not advocating not going to college if you can; however, just getting a piece of paper that shows you went to school for four more years does not ensure you will have a career/job when you come out. You need to focus on a skill. HVACR is a CAREER and a growing industry, one that is in need of skilled people. As I look forward at what our country will continue to need and use, HVACR will continue to play a huge role in our society. It is all around us in every facet of our lives, from hospitals, food service, industrial manufacturing processes, food preparation, storage of everything from produce to vaccines, shipping, buildings and office space, residential homes and more; everywhere you look, you see HVACR in some form. It is an industry that you can grow in while working on the job. It is a career that allows a woman to use her best tool – her brain. Women excel at troubleshooting and multi-tasking, and this is an industry that rewards efficiency. Break free from the limiting patterns that have kept you from branching out in an industry you are unsure of and believe in yourself. To quote Beverly Sills, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you do not try.”

My HVACR career began with someone seeing in me the potential to succeed and to be great. Not knowing anything about HVACR or IAQ (Indoor Air Quality), this was the avenue of HVACR I started in. I took this opportunity as a challenge to learn all I could about how air flow and filtration would affect the entire system and building overall. I took advantage of all of the training I could – free classes, webinars and CEUs – and I made sure that if I did not know the answer, I knew where to get the answer and I always told the customer the truth even if it was not what they wanted to hear. I did what I said I was going to do and always got back to the customer when I said I would. It was not always easy, and I was challenged often in the beginning as a woman. However, that was short-lived once I proved I knew my job. I had no idea that this job opportunity would turn into a career and lead me to the HVACR family that I have today. My HVACR family spans from coast to coast and has brought me several very close friends in the process. I get to travel to great places throughout the U.S. and always make time to try and enjoy something in each new place I go. I truly love my job and this industry, and I believe that as long as you love what you do, you never really work. Every day there is a new challenge, and no two days are the same for me. This is what I love; I am always challenged with opportunities to continue to learn and meet new people along the way.

Patti Ellingson, Director of HVACR Sales – North America,
Cooper-Atkins Corp., Middlefield, CT,

Women have a unique and fresh perspective that is becoming much more essential in design, development and production in the HVACR industry.

Opportunities are multiplying exponentially with technological advances in HVACR, and a continued growing emphasis on energy conservation and management. There is a need for women in this industry at all skill levels and disciplines. We are under-represented.

I have a broadened awareness of the importance of well-designed products for improved energy efficiencies. I am thrilled to be part of Hart & Cooley Inc., a company that supports this industry by engineering and manufacturing products that contribute to overall environmental conservation, health and wellness.

Jill L. Gantos, Marketing Manager,
Hart & Cooley Inc., Grand Rapids, MI,

Too few, but we’re heading in the right direction.

We need to talk about our industry more to college and high school students. Women and men alike need to see the numerous opportunities in the HVACR industry. From technician to accountant, manufacturer to one-truck shop, a person can have a long, fulfilling career in our industry.

On a personal level, what have been the most rewarding aspects of working in the HVACR industry? Far and above anything else, the people I work with and meet in our industry. They are smart, warm and all-around fantastic.

Karla Graves, Social Marketing Manager,
Emerson Climate Technologies, Sidney, OH,

I think of the enormous career opportunities for women in this industry. Our company has numerous female technicians and sales professionals who work directly in the field, as well as many office managers in charge of daily operations and entire departments. We have also found that women really excel on-site when dealing with female homeowners and business owners.

I would suggest finding a female mentor to learn first-hand what it takes to be successful as a woman in HVACR. Spend time with technicians, sales people, etc. to determine if this industry actually sparks passion in you. Then find a company, like ours, that trains all positions from within. We also have a complete in-house technician training and certification program to help ensure a fruitful HVACR career.

Air conditioning and heating are very needed services, especially in Texas. I am extremely proud of how much comfort and improved quality of life we have provided for countless families and business owners, including those done through community pro-bono projects. I’m also proud of the number of employees we have. They work hard for us, so we provide the best opportunities, salaries and benefits we can for them and their families.

Sherry Green, Owner, Operator, Vice President,
A#1 Air, Inc., Lewisville, TX,

I think that there are few of us! I recall being at a convention once where Women in HVACR had a booth, which was unmanned for about an hour. No less than 10 different groups of men came by and took photos of themselves standing by the empty “Women in HVACR” booth, giggling hysterically at the irony. I couldn’t help but join them.

I would guess that women might be hesitant to enter the industry out of fear that it is a big educational hurdle or that it might be … (gasp!) boring. It is far from either. Furthermore, the industry has the capacity to have a high impact on our economy and the health of our planet. Of the 4.5 million commercial buildings in the U.S., 80 percent are small to medium sized. Of those buildings, more than 85 percent have no energy management system, meaning it takes 55 percent more per square foot to operate these buildings than their luxury high-rise counterparts. Through better management of HVACR, we can cut those numbers drastically, resulting in less energy waste and more retrofitting of existing buildings.

My colleagues, men and women both, are incredibly talented and often undervalued. There is something to be said about skilled people who are humble. They are a rare breed today.

Sandra Heflin, Strategic Partnership Manager,
Incenergy, Austin, TX,

I think: WOW! There is such an opportunity for women in HVACR!

I would offer seminars, training and exposure to women at the high school level, college level and post education career level. The key is to get women to consider the field for sales, service and installation. We know women make fantastic HVACR techs, plumbers and electricians; they just never consider the career. I prefer to see classes with women ONLY in them, as this creates a more comfortable environment for females to explore our great industry.

[I love] to see them get excited about the career and earn great money working in our industry. We have four female sales reps and seven female field technicians, and we think our field group of ladies is one of the largest in the nation with six HVACR technicians and one plumber.

Hugh Joyce, President and Owner,
James River Air Conditioning Co.,
Richmond, VA,

My initial thought is the usual “raised eyebrow” response I get when I state that I’m the owner of an HVACR distributor. Although I still feel that women are in the minority within the industry, I’ve certainly seen the evolution of women’s roles. Previously, women were mostly involved in prototypical roles such as accounting, clerical, etc., but now I often come across women in more technical and sales focused roles representing manufacturers, distributors and contractors. In fact, one of our top performing inside salespeople is a woman, Shannon Aguilar.

HVACR products are a necessity even in an economic downturn. Who doesn’t need heat or A/C? Over the last few years, we were in one of the worst times I can remember. Selling a product that is a necessity guarantees job security that has allowed me to render no layoffs of my staff. Also, the technology is always changing, so there is always something new to learn.

First, being a member of the Johnstone Supply Cooperative has been extremely rewarding. The relationships I’ve built, along with the continued support of my peers, have added such value to my career. One of the most rewarding aspects from my vantage point is being part of the evolution of our customers’ businesses. Over the years, we have helped many of our customers grow, and we have the opportunity to share their accomplishments and successes while growing close professional and personal relationships.

Colleen King, President,
Johnstone Supply, Cherry Hill, NJ,

When someone says “Women in HVACR” I think about an industry that is smart enough to care about hiring the right person for the job, regardless of gender. It’s an industry that relies on the successes of the personally run, family-owned businesses that more and more are co-owned by wives and daughters.

This is a growing, exciting field that has limitless opportunities for both men and women. If a woman is looking for a solid career with growth potential, she need look no further than this gem of an industry. A willingness to work hard and learn the product is what is required, but many women don’t even apply for such positions because they feel that this is a “manly field.” In my career, I have never had a door closed to me due to my gender.

When I started in this industry 30 years ago, it was predominately male, especially in managerial roles, and women typically held most office positions. I was initially hired for an accounting position and, over the years, numerous opportunities have presented themselves in ways I never thought possible. I work for a wonderful, privately held HVACR Master Distributor owned by someone who has always looked at the qualifications and successes of the employee as opposed to their gender. I have seen such tremendous growth and change over the last 30 years. The industry has had tough years and the family-owned businesses, which dominate, have had to really pull together. Many wives and daughters have joined the ranks, which really has opened the doors to many wonderful opportunities for both women and the HVACR community. I am thankful for what this industry has allowed me and many other women to be a part of and achieve.

Susan Kirkland, President,
Packard, Kennesaw, GA,

Succeeding in a male field, these are women who refuse to be limited by societal rules. They believe that with hard work, they can excel in this arena. I am an “if I can dream it, I can achieve it” person. With very few exceptions, every woman that I have met in the field is the same.

This industry creates an opportunity for women who are willing to work hard to learn and understand what the industry needs to be quite successful. Customers respond exceptionally well to the natural tendencies of a woman to be an empathic listener and listen for the root problem.

The most satisfying aspect is helping my customers find the right solution for their needs. Exceeding expectations has become my own internal measure of success. When I am able to accomplish that, I firmly believe that I can do anything!

Denise Klaren, National Sales Director,
Koolant Koolers, Inc., Kalamazoo, MI,

I found out about your organization at the last AHR Expo held in New York in January. I was excited to learn that there was an organization focusing on supporting and recruiting women in the field of HVACR. Unfortunately, there is a large gap of qualified women in the HVACR sector.

Companies should target recruiting events at the college level to focus on attracting women students for internships. Scholarships could be offered for students pursuing a career in business development, marketing, operations, engineering, etc., focusing on plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning or electrical fields.

We pride ourselves on knowing this industry and building valuable, long-term relationships with our clients based on clear communication, quality service and professional dedication. We have been fortunate in attracting top talent for our clients, but look forward to acquiring a larger pool of qualified HVACR female candidates in the very near future.

Jan Kuhns, Owner,
ISG Recruiters, North Las Vegas, NV,

I think of a well-run organization focused on supporting women in a male-dominated industry. I have heard nothing but praise from all who attended the conferences, and I found them to be well-organized with thought-provoking and helpful speaker topics. I appreciate the leadership of this organization and their efforts to support women in this industry.

I think there is tremendous opportunity for women in the HVACR industry. I primarily interact with salespeople at the wholesaler and supplier level, and I think women are very well-received and can be very effective and successful within this industry.

I have enjoyed meeting and getting to know other women in the industry. There are several women that I have met through WHVACR that I see at other events throughout the year, but I never would have had a chance to really get to know them had I not spent time with them in the smaller setting of the WHVACR events. I have also appreciated the opportunity to talk with contractors because most of my industry interactions are with wholesalers and suppliers.

Colleen Leppert, Vice President,
BLUE HAWK Cooperative,
Gilbert, AZ,

I think of a group of dynamic women who support and encourage their female peers in the HVACR industry.

Try to inform young women of the variety of HVACR opportunities at high school age or younger – before they’ve selected a college. Also find ways to advise adult women who may be considering returning to school of the potential earning ability and possibilities for women in this field. I once gave a talk at our local community college for Women in Technology about my experience in a technical field, and feel it was a positive influence.

For me, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to work with family, as I understand many HVACR companies are family businesses. It is very rewarding to feel I have made productive contributions because of my previous work experience.

Bernadette Meier, Design & Marketing Manager,
Meier Supply Co., Inc., Conklin, NY,

A meeting, immediately preceding Comfortech.

Contractors have begun to realize that women can be more successful than men as sales professionals and technicians when they deal with other women. If nothing else, hire women as maintenance technicians so they can have predictable hours. My guess is they will outperform men in this role, generating higher levels of customer satisfaction, more system enhancement sales, more replacement leads.

Watching contractors grow and prosper.

Matt Michel, CEO,
The Service Roundtable,
Lewisville, TX,

When someone says to me Women in HVACR, it reminds me of how the organization has gained in stature over the years. The organization is recognized as a progressive force in the HVACR industry and does an outstanding job of promoting and recognizing the achievements and accomplishments of women and supporters in the industry.

I would encourage women to be open-minded to the opportunities available in the HVACR industry. Many of the perceived labor shortages could be rectified if more women were recruited into the industry. The opportunities available to women is great.

The most rewarding aspect of working in the HVACR industry is helping individuals, teams and companies to reach their full potential. The process of helping them grow personally and professionally is very exciting.

Michael Moore, Director of Training and Development,
Lennox Industries, Richardson, TX,

When I hear someone say ”Women in HVACR,” it brings me back to my childhood and growing up in an “HVACR Family.” My parents started their own company in 1973 when I was 7 years old. As a young girl, I watched and admired my mother’s role as a clerical/administrative position in their business. I would hang around the office and help her as well as get to assist my father on an occasional service call here and there. My perception was that “Women in HVACR” was not possible. The typical “masculine stereotyping” of this industry was imbedded in my thinking, and made me feel it was not a woman’s place to get involved at a technical or greater level.

Since then, I have seen and experienced the many opportunities and advantages that come from being a woman involved and advancing in this industry. I had the opportunity to start in the business in the clerical aspect, then move to an owner/manager, and more recently passed my Class A Mechanical licensing with the Florida DPBR. If you have the desire to work and learn, you have the opportunity to make substantial income. As energy consumption and other environmental matters become more prevalent, I don’t feel this is a career that will diminish or slow down any time in the distant future. The development of new and innovative products for consumers leaves constant room to grow in our industry. I believe many of the traits we hold as women help us to see things from the “other side” and give us an edge with our detail-oriented, multi-tasking skills, as well as an edge on sales and managing our businesses as women.

I feel the most rewarding aspects of working in HVACR are that I have gotten to first handedly overcome a more male-dominated industry with the efforts I have put forward over the years. The challenges of a woman’s role, when embraced, can have great rewards. As we start introducing a third generation into our family business, it is good to know I had a pivotal role, as a woman, to close some of the past male stereotyping in our business and the HVACR trade.

Christine Nisa Mulrooney, Vice President,
NisAir Air Conditioning, Stuart, FL,

For me, the HVACR world is mainly ASHRAE, so when I think of “Women in HVACR,” my first thought is how my experience of the women in the field has changed over the years. When I first attended ASHRAE, going to SSPC 52.2 (filter testing for particles) and TC 2.4 (airborne particles), I was often one of 1-3 women in the room. In some of the other groups, even now, I am the only woman. However, in TC2.3 (gas-phase) and SSPC 145 (gas-phase air cleaner testing), we are about even. So, over time, my experience of women in the HVACR world has been that there are a lot more of us than there were, and that being in the right place makes a big difference. Early on, all the committee chairs I knew were men. Now I chair SSPC 145 and TC2.3 Research and I am the secretary for 52.2. Twenty-five years ago, I don’t think that would have happened.

My part of this world is the research and testing end, so I would tell women that engineering and science research is exciting. We are always learning new things. And, by working with something as fundamental as the air people breathe, we are helping people and making the world better, even as we earn a good income and enjoy our careers.

Feeling that I am contributing to a better, healthier world is high on my list. Discovering new things whether by my own research, at trade shows, in discussions with colleagues and in the literature is rewarding; moving forward with that knowledge is also fun. I also really enjoy being treated as a smart, competent contributor. While women are still rather rare, we are recognized as very important to the industry.

Kathleen Owen, Research Chemical Engineer,
RTI International, RTP, NC,

[I think of] strong, capable, energetic, engaging, driven women in various positions – business owners, marketing experts, managers at all levels, sales professionals, customer service experts and technicians.

There are many opportunities in the industry. Investigate what the trade schools and colleges offer. Join Women in HVACR and begin networking with some of the best. Attend all local and national industry trade shows if possible.

The women in this industry are absolutely amazing. They are welcoming, they support each other and the networking is real, incredibly valuable and offers substance. In general, I would say the industry is ever-evolving with very ambitious players of all kinds. It offers a wide range of career opportunities. There is little issue with the glass ceiling. And I foresee continued opportunities for women.

Leslie Peckham, Senior Marketing Consultant,
Warm Thoughts Communications, Clifton, NJ,

As a contractor’s daughter, I skipped my junior and senior years in public high school to be a “dispatcher.” Working and making money sounded like more fun, so I took night correspondence courses before college and bought my first car. That was over 15 years ago … so technically I was in the industry. Yet up until three years ago, I thought Women in HVACR was, “a 20-30-year-old woman wearing overalls, a blond ponytail, pink hardhat and a tool bag – a technician!!!” The cliché of our industry is that to be in it, you need to be a technician. Fast forward to today, and I’ve been vastly educated. Women in HVACR is comprised of marketers, manufacturers, technicians, dispatchers, service managers, accountants … these positions are all pieces of the puzzle necessary in forming our industry as a whole. Hence, now when someone says, “Women in HVACR,” I think, “Awesome!”

Women need to know that the industry is broad with terrific avenues for growth and success. It’s a young industry for women so it is far less competitive than, let’s say, the fashion industry. But it’s strong, growing quickly and there is room for more women! Why not jump into an industry where you can learn, excel and thrive without a glass ceiling?

The camaraderie, whether a technician, manufacturer, sales rep or even a service provider, we are all working together to serve people. The passion and energy are contagious in our industry. There are so many entrepreneurs in various forms with creative ideas for growth, and entrepreneurial minds take ownership. Those who take ownership tend to be very hard-working people, who are a privilege to be around.

Danielle Putnam, President,
The New Flat Rate, Dalton, GA,

When I started out, I was the only female manager in the organization. We’ve come a long way since then, as there are more women in this industry now than ever. However, I don’t consider HVACR to be a gender-specific industry, as any qualified person, regardless of gender, will be able to fill any role and execute it successfully. So when I think of “Women in HVACR,” what comes to mind to me are innovative people with outstanding problem solving and relationship skills. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career that I have never encountered any negativity from those unaware of women interested in or taking on leadership roles in this field. Simply maintaining a solid foundation of knowledge of the industry has allowed me to garner the respect and cohesive work atmosphere my male counterparts receive. Women who have inspired me in this field do an outstanding job of creating a strong network of industry contacts and have an in-depth understanding of each marketing channel. Though as a female I may feel pressure to demonstrate my skills a little more, or come to the table with a unique approach, the overall results are the same.

A large part of holding a position in this field is having the ability to leverage partnerships with distributors and having the confidence and personality to interact with a wide variety of people, including engineering managers, sales representatives and media. Women also need to be knowledgeable of the industry in which they’re entering. Reading industry trade publications is a quick way to gain an understanding of the latest products and trends. It’s imperative to have a strong understanding of the products and services you work with and the ability to speak about them confidently. This industry can be very technical at times, and at the end of the day, you can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re trying to solve customer needs. Additionally, staying up to date on current events and understanding how it impacts the HVACR industry can be invaluable.

What I enjoy most working at LG is seeing the results and positive feedback after a successful product launch at a trade show. At this year’s AHR Expo, for example, our efforts resulted in mentions of our products in more than 1,000 publications and online resources, increasing the awareness of the benefits of our HVACR products to millions of consumers. It’s a great feeling to be able to oversee a project from beginning to end as part of a collaborative effort with our team. It’s also nice to know that in the end, we’re helping to solve the problem of an end-user or owner, offering a variety of units that offer ideal, personalized comfort.

Lorie Quillin-Bell, Director, Go-to-Market, Commercial Air Conditioning,
LG Electronics USA, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ,

My first exposure to Women in HVACR was at a MCAA (Mechanical Contracting Association of America) annual conference held in Orlando, FL. MCAA had an exhibitor event with sponsors and, as I was walking through the event, I noticed a colorful, bright banner, Women in HVACR. This was in 2004 and there was nothing anywhere about Women in HVACR. When I approached the booth, I was greeted by an outgoing, happy and knowledgeable young gal, Valerie Stakes. As it turned out, Valerie was one of the founders of Women in HVACR. She was enthusiastic about this new association that was started in 2003 by herself and other amazing females. It was at this time I was recruited in the association and, from 2004 to 2010, served as Treasurer to President.

The Women in HVACR is dedicated to education, mentoring and fellowship for women in the HVACR industry. There are plenty of jobs in the HVACR industry, and many are working within the industry. For example, energy and climate issues are affecting the HVACR and building industry; therefore, pursuing green projects can benefit businesses.

I cannot emphasize enough how industry involvement has played a vital role in her professional development. The HVACR industry is a great experience when you are involved in associations like Women in HVACR. It has provided me with a great education about many facets of the HVACR industry. Coming from the contracting side, it has been a great experience meeting and networking with members from manufacturers, distributors and associations.

Karen M. Riffice, President,
Amalgamated Services, Inc.,
Frankfort, IL,

When I hear the phrase “Women in HVACR,” I think of women who have broken the glass ceiling. I think of women who are confident, intelligent and fearless. Today, women are no longer expected to fulfill only a handful of traditional roles of employment. The sky is the limit. It’s truly an exciting time to be a female in America and to see the opportunity that lies ahead.

I would tell women to believe in themselves. Women are born multi-taskers and, because of this, we shouldn’t hesitate to take chances. More times than not, we accomplish the goals we set for ourselves. When it comes to Women in HVACR, there’s a strong network to tap into, so take advantage of the expertise of those who came before you. You will find that they are rooting for your success.

Working in the HVACR industry has offered me the opportunity to meet a number of truly outstanding females. Not only are HVACR women not afraid to take a risk, but they are extremely supportive of each other. There is a strong bond that exists among women in the HVACR industry, and it’s evident by the way they welcome newcomers into their circle.

Janice Saari, Marketing Manager,
Southwire Company, LLC,
Carrollton, GA,

I love to hear that women are in HVACR; it makes me feel stronger and not like I am alone in the industry. I know we as women share common denominators and there is always more strength in women, so knowing that there is a business magazine and an organization specific to our industry makes me very proud.

This is not an impossible industry. Our company is also strongly involved within the community, and I am currently sitting on several boards, one of which is called SCI, where we oversee the RGV-Woman’s Business Center. Our goal is to assist women in new business.

I am passionate about my family, and my father and mother started this business 31 years ago. My mother had a stroke that has left her paralyzed and hence retired from the company. My father still works on and off part-time, but devotes his time to care for my mother, so being part of the business they created gives me the most satisfaction possible. It being a male-dominated industry adds no hindrance to our progress, as the team we have created responds well to our changes and we grow together along with the community.

Sarah Sagredo-Hammond, President,
Atlas Electrical & Air Conditioning, Refrigeration Services, Inc.,
Alton, TX,

Being a member of “Women in HVACR” is like having your own legion of mentors. It’s inspiring to hear successful women share their experience and knowledge, and it’s always done in a fun and comfortable atmosphere.

For women starting out, the Women in HVACR organization is an ideal platform for professional development and networking opportunities.

The HVACR industry influences everyone’s daily life. It encompasses all of our indoor and some outdoor environments, from residential to commercial and industrial buildings. It is exciting to be involved in an industry that is continually researching and developing methods and equipment to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is Superior Radiant Products’ mantra with our mission statement: “Our mission is to expand, through the application of sound engineering, quality manufacturing and customer-attentive marketing, the use of infrared heating technology and products, because the concept is environmentally sound and fuel-efficient.” It’s rewarding to be involved in an industry and a company looking toward the future.

Susan Samson, Marketing Manager,
Superior Radiant Products Ltd,
Stoney Creek ON, Canada,

First I think – not too many of us, but things are looking up from 25 years ago. I recall taking phone calls back in the mid 80s and having the person ask to speak to “one of the guys,” not to me – as if I couldn’t possibly be qualified to answer a technical question. I used to really feel outnumbered at the trade shows – thousands of men to one woman exhibitor and almost no women attendees. It’s great to see the numbers growing in all areas of the industry.

I think there is tremendous opportunity for motivated individuals. Take advantage of the fact that you still stand out in the crowd and use that to showcase your best skill sets. Caveat – you might still have to be better prepared and better informed than the average tech or salesperson, but that just keeps you sharp. Get involved in industry organizations and participate – No Deposit, No Return – this is a motto to keep in mind.

Without question, [I value] the people I have met and the relationships forged over the years. My company works on both the OEM and distribution sides of the industry, so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing how it all comes together. By getting involved in industry organizations and making contributions, I have reaped benefits both in terms of expanded knowledge and opportunities that have come my way.

Leslye Sandberg, President,
Permatron, Elk Grove Village, IL,

Why not? One of the biggest reasons women are not dominating this field is because we haven’t been encouraged to. Let’s be honest, it is a male-dominated field. However, women have all the skills necessary to be great technicians, customer service representatives and comfort consultants. My best employees are technicians who can connect and communicate with the customer; the rest is a learned skill set. We are not in the HVACR business, we are in the customer service business. It has always been about the experience that makes the customer refer you and generates repeat business. Women have an innate ability to actively listen, connect emotionally and show empathy and sincerity. People do business with people they like and form a memorable relationship with. The skill sets required to troubleshoot and diagnose are trainable. Women are key to success in HVACR, whether they answer the phones, do sales or do the technical work.

Working in the HVACR business can be very liberating and rewarding. There’s a lot of money to be made in HVACR, if you are positive, confident, a good listener, caring and a problem solver, this is a field you should definitely check out. Our natural ability to communicate and empathize with the customer is the most important skill that you need in the HVACR business.

The most rewarding aspect of this industry has been being able to help and provide solutions to customer problems. Most customers are so grateful for the time I spend with them and the knowledge I share with them. They don’t expect me to know anything because I am a woman in a male-dominated business. As a result, I am very memorable to my customers, well respected and feel appreciated on a daily basis.

Jennifer Stueber, Office Manager,
Blue Ridge Heating & Cooling, Inc.,
Pine Beach, NJ,

I see an elite group of women who immerse themselves in understanding the ever-changing world of HVACR.

It’s really a great field; it offers such diversity in what you can do! We need strong-minded, independent women who are willing to take on challenges. Educate yourself, and continue too, because this field is constantly growing and changing.

I thoroughly enjoy hearing the satisfaction from our customers when we have fixed or installed equipment; they seem genuinely happy! It’s also great to see our technicians grow in their knowledge of HVACR!

Jill Sturtevant, Owner,
Douglas Mechanical Services Inc.,
Plainville, CT,

Myself. Retain women: Companies in the HVACR industry need to dismiss bullying bosses (managers who are yelling at staff or expressing empty threats) and enforce strict rules of conduct (sexual harassment does include sleazy comments and invites to hotel rooms). Allow flex-time and be flexible on maternity leave for working mothers.

Hire women. Hire people from outside the industry when they have the formal education and skills. There are more women in other industries, e.g., hiring a quota of women straight out of college or hiring from other industries is necessary. Also, long-term staff retention is better for women than a job-hopping culture. For companies that keep their staff for many years, a few months of maternity (or paternity) leave do not have a significant effect on their staff ’s “net present value” – meaning women in reproductive age have a better chance to get hired. Once there is a critical mass of women in the industry, it will be more attractive to women (role-model effect).

[This industry has] allowed me to learn about technical subjects and economic contexts that I would otherwise not have understood. It is a very international industry that has allowed me to travel for work.

Katherine Sutter, Owner & CEO,
KatWords Conglomerate, Plano, TX,

They are talking about a woman that is in the HVACR trade, such as a technician, engineer, office personnel or a vendor/manufacturer rep.

People hear HVACR and assume that means you have to be a technician, and I believe that scares women off. I would first say to them that a woman can be just as mechanically inclined as a man. Second, there are so many jobs in the field of HVACR that are challenging, financially stable and career-making and that HVACR is something that will always be needed.

To me, it is the people – the technicians who you hire and watch learn and grow as professionals. They are like my children; I want them to succeed in what they are doing so they can enjoy their lives and families. The customers who I form partnerships with also become a part of my professional family. They rely on me to make sure they are taken care of. I feel proud when a customer says to me, “I knew I could count on you to take care of the issue.”

Leslie Titcomb, Operations Manager, Commercial Service Group,
Harvey W. Hottel, Inc., Gaithersburg, MD,

Great!!! Who better to talk to the customer about home comfort than a female? In most cases, the female in the family is the final decision-maker in a large purchasing decision. The nurturing nature of women helps develop and foster employee and customer relationships that benefit the business.

Don’t get hung up on the technical side of it; there are many other components of this industry. I have worked with several very competent female HVACR service technicians and sales staff over the years. Leadership and communication skills come naturally to many women, [and these are] the skills needed to develop a solid workforce and foster customer relationships.

[It is crucial to] meet and develop long-term relationships with our customers. Customers want to deal with a provider they can trust and depend on to be there when they need us most. Even in the busiest seasons, we take pride on being there when they need us. Some of our longest-term customer relationships include the local SPCA and several veterinary clinics that depend on us to maintain indoor air comfort for their furry friends, something they take very seriously. Our customers put a lot of trust in us to maintain the indoor quality of their homes and businesses.

Kimberli Tucker, Division Manager,
Griffith Energy Services, Columbia, MD,

At first I thought it was a challenge because of the stigma that HVACR was a man’s sport, but now have found great acceptance throughout the industry.

Because of the incredible growth potential out there, I would encourage any ambitious person who wants success to get into this business.

[It’s so rewarding] to see all the hard work and sacrifices of the last 10+ years paying off in so many good ways.

Tina Vasile, President/CEO,
Swing Green, Colorado Springs, CO,

When I see references to “Women in HVACR,” I always think, “Oh, that is probably a really interesting group of strong women. I should look into joining.” But then, I typically make too much work for myself, so I have not taken the time to investigate.

If you are a hands-on personality, have an interest in architecture or construction and like the satisfaction of making things happen while working with great people, the HVACR industry will provide a lot of gratification. I would suggest just trying a job within the industry (there are many options and different routes to explore) to see if it appeals. I landed in the industry by a totally unexpected fluke, but became eager to get back after a recent interlude in the engineering sector.

As a woman in this male-dominated industry, you will sometimes feel a bit “different” and have to prove yourself. But if you are fortunate enough to land in a growing business, with an atmosphere of respect, you will find the interpersonal relationships to be highly rewarding. Because the HVACR industry is relatively small and very friendly, the friendships you make will last a lifetime, even if you change companies.

Ann Woodard, Marketing Manager,
Navien America, Inc., Irvine, CA,

Tom Peric´ is the editor of HVACR/Hydronics Distribution Business. Brianna Cook, a senior journalism student at The American University, Washington, D.C., assisted with this article.