Baby, we’ve come a long way! I can remember when I first got involved in the industry when there were very few women. Trailblazers like Ann Kahn from Kahn Mechanical stood out as one of the few voices representing the contractor’s viewpoint. Boy, times have changed … or have they?
Today our HVACR community is filled with exceptional women, attending conferences and teaching seminars. I was so excited the first time I had to wait in line for the ladies room at one of these events!
Both HARDI and Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) have had women chairmen! But interestingly enough, when you get to the tippy top of the industry the players look almost exactly the same as they did when I started in this industry more than 22 years ago. Why is this? It’s not because there aren’t any diverse candidates to choose from. There are plenty. I believe that even though we’ve changed the attitude of having women in this industry we haven’t broken through the barrier when it comes to leadership positions. But is it our own fault?
I was at an annual conference for contractors recently and they announced their new Board of Directors for the upcoming year. I heard two women behind me express, “Why are there no women on the Board?”
As a former chairman of this group I thought that’s a great question? But then I thought, why didn’t they volunteer? Why didn’t they get more involved? You can’t expect change without pursuing it yourself.
Let’s face it — everything about how we do our jobs has evolved in the past 22 years. Technology has changed everything my company does — from the equipment we sell, to how we purchase it, to how we communicate with each other and how we process our company’s paperwork. Think about all the things you do differently today. Yet there’s still no easy way to say, “I’d be interested in that” other than standing up and letting the words come out of your mouth.
The truth is that leadership positions don’t find us. We have to have a passion for the work and a desire to take it on. People today aren’t going to come up to you and ask you to take on any type of leadership positions — you’ve got to seek them out and campaign for them. We can’t expect changes if we don’t take action.
When I began my association career at ACCA I never imagined that I would become their first woman chairman. But I was determined that I could give back to an organization that makes such a difference in my own company and that I could help other contractors just like me.
It was my passion and drive for the work that inspired my involvement and searching out leadership roles. I volunteered to chair my first task team the very first year of my very first term. It came out of an idea I submitted to the Chairman of the Board.
And the work from that task team had a profound effect on processes we held on to as an association that were not working any more. But I didn’t sit back and wait for someone to ask me; I looked for real opportunity, presented my ideas and volunteered.
One of the things I’ve learned over my many years as a business owner and industry leader is that we don’t know what’s going on in other people’s heads. If you want to learn more, get promoted, take on a leadership position you have to be the one to pursue it. And an amazing side effect happens when we do get involved – we learn and grow. It’s those opportunities that shaped me into the leader I am today.
A fortune cookie told me, “To be a success in business, be daring, be first, be different.” As women in this industry those are words we can learn from.
Important decisions are being made right now in our industry and we are missing out by not seeking out opportunities to sit at the table. If our voices aren’t heard then our ideas and concerns may not be addressed.
It’s up to us to take on leadership roles and get involved. Now, that’s not to say that all of our contributions up to this point haven’t been valuable. But if we expect our voices to be heard during these critical times then we must take action to make it happen. This industry won’t evolve until we understand our role in the evolution process.
My advice for all women in the HVACR industry is to look for ways to get more involved whether it’s in your current role or job or a role outside of your company because those positions exist and are waiting for someone to just jump in.
There are so many opportunities right in front of you; you just have to reach out and grab them. And trust me, you will be grateful you did.
Laura DiFilippo is vice president and co-owner of DiFilippo’s Service Company, a residential heating and air conditioning contracting business in Paoli, Pennsylvania. For more than 22 years DiFilippo has been instrumental in running all the operations of the company including HR, financials, marketing and supervising the management team. A community staple for over 40 years, DiFilippo’s Service and its 12 employees pride themselves on a high level of professionalism and quality. DiFilippo has served on the Board of Directors of the Delaware Valley Chapter of ACCA for 15 years, holding all officers positions including chapter president for five years. She has served as a National ACCA Board of Director since 2003 and has chaired many committees including professional development and chapter relations. She is the first woman to serve as an officer of the association, being Secretary, Treasurer, Senior Vice Chairman and ultimately Chairman of ACCA for 2012-2013.