Women in Flooring – Kathy Young: Deep roots, hard work instill humility, influence

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Volume 27/Number 23; March 17/24, 2014

By Jenna Lippin

As a successful woman from the south, Kathy Young, Shaw Industries’ vice president of marketing services, is modest about her accomplishments. With a strong support system both at home and in the workplace, Young worked her way into a position to which many women in the industry aspire.

Young has lived in Dalton’s surrounding area her entire life and comes from a family with a deep history in the flooring industry, her mom having worked on the “blue collar” end in tufting and manufacturing while her father sold fiber.

“I didn’t move away, so I knew I would ultimately work in [this industry], which is a good thing,” she said.

In 1975, while Young was still in high school, she started working in a vocational office training position, which she said helped move her along into future jobs. From reception to inventory control, project planner and customer service representative, she eventually advanced to the position of assistant to the vice president of sales, which she held throughout the 1970s and ’80s.

“I had prior employment records with foundational carpet mills, including Cumberland, when it was privately owned, and Diamond,” Young explained. “There was a point when I took a year off and thought, ‘Is this what I want to do?’ and during that time a very good friend told me there was an opening at Howard Carpet Mills. The company had just opened Sutton Carpet as a direct line to retailers in 1988, and it was there that I found myself at a turning point. Sutton was purchased by Salem, ultimately acquired by Shaw, and therein lies my 25 years with the company.”

While assistant to the vice president of sales at Sutton, Young said that through various projects she discovered her “creative interest” and was given the opportunity to use it in the marketing world. At the time, she was a young mother, raising children who were 8 and 13 years old, while her husband was working in the industry and furthering his education by attending classes in the evening, after his workday was complete. In the midst of balancing the demanding elements of all of her roles—assistant, wife, mother, daughter—Young was given the opportunity that ultimately changed her life.

“I distinctly remember the day that my mentor at the time, Allen Stein [former vice president of sales and marketing at Sutton Carpet], said, ‘I think it’s time, and I’m going to open the door. If you want to go through it, you have the ability, but it’s going to change things.’ And with that I became a product manager for the Sutton division [of Shaw].”

With Stein’s help, who Young said had an eye for style and design, she realized she loved product and the fashion and creativity that went with it. Her innate creativity and outspokenness helped ignite the flame that would help her move up the ranks at Shaw. “I’m fortunate enough that I have been able to express my inspiration.”

Young admitted there was a time when she was the only woman in the room at a number of meetings. Furthermore, any decision making or advancement within the company needed the approval of an all-male chain of command. “At Shaw, when we were first acquired, I was the only woman in many R&D meetings,” she remembered. “Eighteen men and Kathy.”

Despite the challenges she met when approaching men and asking their permission when making business decisions, Young noted how her biggest roadblocks, ironically, came in the form of other women.

“[This industry] is not for sissies; you have to be pretty strong. There were so very few opportunities in the ’70s and ’80s, and even into the ’90s. And they weren’t in management roles, but support roles to management. Women were very competitive, even a bit vindictive, and it was difficult. The lack of opportunity made it hard all around. Many days I had to wake up and give myself a pep talk that I was going to do the best I could and move forward. There were days when there was truly no ally on either side.”

Once she became part of Shaw, Young saw a different face of the flooring world. While challenges will always exist, she believes the opportunities and progressive thinking of the company have helped relieve some of the pressure women feel from each other. “There is continuing education, ongoing training opportunities, awareness and exposure. Decisions were made by committees even back in the ’90s. Today, there are strategic business teams making decisions, but Shaw discovered early that it was easier to come to the right conclusions with many people rather than just one.”

Many challenges do, in fact, come with being a woman in a male-dominate field, but there are also some advantages, with one more important than the rest: Females are the target consumer.

Young agreed that in roles that include product management, in which a person influences decisions, one has to speak louder and take advantage of any moment that allows “you to make an impression. I was always able to speak on behalf of the consumer. Many things can be challenged in terms of when to do it, how to do it, why to do it, but the fact remains that women make more than 85% of our purchases. It was popular to speak on her behalf and change the trend on how to speak to her heart, emotions and pocketbook. We realized we needed to change marketing tactics to really reach her. I was fortunate enough to have the battle scars behind me and I was the woman in the room. As hard as it was, it came naturally.”

Young’s advice for women entering the industry and working their way up the corporate ladder? “Just be you.” She explained how she has encountered a number of women over the years who have put exorbitant effort into being more like a man than utilizing the strengths of being a woman.

“[Some women] fight so hard from within themselves to fit in with men, to be the stronger force, to be more competitive, to be louder, and they lose themselves in it. I would say be real, be who you are. You have to be resilient, accountable and reliable, yes, but I don’t think you have to adjust who you are to get there. I walked into these rooms with only a high school education, but an eagerness to learn. You have to listen and make your own mistakes, but just make them once and learn from everything you experience.

“I’ve found that honesty and hard work have helped every time. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between confidence and experience, but I think people recognize humility. It’s more about the team than you, and you will get ahead with that attitude. Today, it is very much a team world.”

Outside of her professional life, Young enjoys spending time with her four grandchildren and participating in several charitable organizations, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters/The Boys and Girls Club and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a cause near and dear to the heart of Shaw Industries.

Along with her charitable efforts and nurturing the four generations of her family, Young is still very much involved in and excited about the evolution of Shaw.

“Shaw is so forward thinking in making sure that we are always preparing ourselves for the changes that are occurring in the world, including the workforce and the demographics of the consumer/buying public,” she said. “I am fortunate to be part of a newly formed Women’s Innovation Network forum that we have here at Shaw. I have come into contact with a lot of people and a lot of organizations but I would say this is probably the most exciting for me. At this time in my life, at 55 years old, it’s just very nourishing to be able to have comparisons of before and after and to be an influence.”

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