Real conversations with women in flooring

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While diversity within the flooring industry remains an uphill battle, women in flooring are gaining a bigger and better foothold as each year passes. Still, women in business face challenges every day that their male counterparts do not. Equitable pay and equitable recognition and opportunity, for example, are just a few of the hurdles women in business must face today.

To bring light to those challenges and the innovative ways women overcome them, FCNews senior editor, Megan Salzano, sat down with nine high-ranking and influential women in flooring: Olga Robertson, president, FCA Network; Anne Funsten, president, Tom Duffy Company; Ericka Robinson, CFO, Tom Duffy Company; Traci Smith, vice president of operations, Tom Duffy Company; Carole Cross, founder & CEO, Mobile Marketing; Kaye Whitener, director of operations, FCEF; Theresa Fisher, SVP visual merchandising & brand development, CCA Global Partners; Andrea Blackbourn, executive director, FCIF; and Maryanne Adams, president/CEO, Avalon Flooring.

Each woman spoke candidly on a number of topics, including their personal experiences as women in business, how gender might have affected their career paths, innovative ways they’ve tackled hurdles and which challenges they feel are faced by women and not men. We also asked some of these women to touch on the topic of diversity and how a more diverse industry could spell success for all those involved.

Carole Cross
Founder and CEO, Mobile marketing

What has been a major challenge in business for you?

One of the biggest career challenges I have faced was becoming a mother. At the time my son was born, I was in a leadership position and climbing the corporate ladder for a Fortune 500 company. I had to learn how to balance the expectations of an 80-hour work week with having a new baby. I had to learn how to keep up with my job, which was at an industry-leading technology company, while caring for a child. In tech industries especially, things change very quickly, even in a few short weeks. I couldn’t walk away and step back onto the ladder in the same place I had stepped off. I am thankful for my husband, who became the stay-at-home parent to help care for our son.

What challenges do you think women face in this industry that men do not?

The balance of having a family and pursuing a career is different for women than men because of societal expectations and pressures. It’s not that a man never faces balancing work with a family, but I do think it is a different situation for women. We have to work harder to show we can do it all.

How have you coped with challenges?

I was fortunate to have a mentor who was a male—and a friend of the family—who taught me how to be a professional and understand how professional men think. He taught me how to navigate my career as a result. I also worked for a female CEO and I took the initiative to have lunch with her occasionally. Sometimes it isn’t easy to take that step especially if you’re an introvert—but it’s important to build these relationships and learn from others. Having mentors is an invaluable experience.

What do you believe diversity would bring to this industry?

I’d like to see more diversity in flooring, not just male and female but different cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, etc. It is from diversity that creativity really grows. There are so many opportunities for people of all backgrounds in the flooring industry. And if we want to continue to grow the flooring industry, we need to appeal to future generations, and we can do that through diversity and inclusivity.

women in businessOlga Robertson
President, FCA Network

What is your experience as a woman in flooring?

As you may know I’ve been in the flooring industry for over 40 years. When I first signed on, women were relegated to either bookkeeping positions or customer service. There were very few female sales associates and most of them were on the wholesale side of the business. I learned early on that if I wanted to stand out and make more money, I needed to take on more responsibility and learn everything I could about this industry. Fortunately, I was mentored by Bob Hill, who recognized my talents and let me shine.

What are the relevant challenges women today face in business?

The “elephant in the room,” so to speak, is compensation. Women are still, after 50 years of the Women’s Movement, making less money than their male counterparts in most industries and in most positions. Equal compensation levels the playing field. Capable women want to be recognized and rewarded for their contribution, for their leadership style and not singled out because they are women. Men aren’t singled out because they are me —it’s a given that they are capable and worthy of recognition.

women in businessKaye Whitener
Director of operations, FCEF

What challenges have you faced in your career?

I was one of those “rug rats” born into the carpet industry. The absence of females in leadership positions was very noticeable in the early ‘80s and ‘90s. However, I was extremely blessed to have worked for amazing companies such as Collins & Aikman that understood the value of the person before the gender. But my position and title did not automatically provide me respect from men—especially as a southern female in a leadership role. I had to earn their respect or demand it, if necessary, but I always handled myself professionally.

How have you faced these challenges?

Trying to always prove my worth was and still can be one of my biggest challenges. I have almost 40 years of experience in this industry in many facets and bring a lot to the table when given the opportunity. I learned to walk away from situations that did not allow me the opportunity to contribute and have no issue fighting for my place if necessary. Knowing your worth is invaluable to your career path in life.

women in businessAnne Funsten
President, Tom Duffy Company

What challenges have you faced in business?

Early on as a sales rep, I encountered blatant sexism and bullying from certain flooring contractors. I have had to work twice as hard as male counterparts to prove my worth. Women are second guessed way more than men. It’s very disrespectful.

What strategies have you developed to overcome these challenges?

I used to worry about or get pressured to follow how the other guys did things. There is a certain “old school” mentality to the flooring industry that says: “We have always done things this way, so don’t try to rock the boat.” I have instead chosen to take the road less traveled. My team and I are modernizing our entire business model to adapt to the changing world.

How would more diversity improve the industry?

I think more diversity in the industry is the key to success. I pride myself on the fact that my leadership team is 50% women, including my CFO, vice president of marketing and vice president of operations. My team has never been stronger than now where we get a real cross-section of perspectives.

Traci Smith
VP of operations, Tom Duffy Company

What challenges do you think women face in this industry that men do not?

I think flooring is not much different than other sectors—women tend to have limited access and less developed networks of other women to be mentored, gender bias continues along with stereotyping. There is a lack of female leaders and the expectations of traditional work hours may not support the modern family.

What strategies have you developed to overcome challenges?

I was able to partner with other women executives and learn from their experiences. I asked for their guidance and their support. They gave it freely. That is what makes women so important in professional settings; they understand how to network and how to give access to future female leaders. This is something I’ve taken with me throughout my

What do you believe diversity would bring to this industry?

In my experience, women are great leaders. They work hard, they’re motivated, they communicate well, they are critical thinkers and they are inspirational. Women also tend to advocate for other women. In the flooring industry, women can bring unique perspectives and offer new solutions. They certainly understand the core customer and can bring an emotional connection when it comes to decisions for the family and the home. Women value team environments and relationships, which is very effective when developing, marketing and selling flooring.

Ericka Robinson
CFO, Tom Duffy Company

What challenges have you faced in your career?

Gender equality is a real issue in our society. I personally feel that I’ve had to work harder to prove my worth. I’ve also noticed a double standard to the pay gap. Men making more than women and personally needing to fight for that equality.

Theresa Fisher
SVP visual merchandising & brand development, CCA Global Partners

What challenges have you faced in your career?

When I entered the workforce, it was more typical to find women in supportive or administrative roles vs. executives. It was difficult to find role models to mentor me as a female. I was extremely fortunate to find that role model in one of my very early jobs. Seeing a woman successfully navigate a “man’s world” helped me understand how to conduct myself effectively and with authenticity. Every day can bring challenges you don’t expect. A big challenge for me was to find ways to bond with colleagues outside of connecting on sports. I don’t believe women have to contort themselves to fit in.

What challenges do you think women face in this industry that men do not?

The issues women face in our industry are germane to the issues women face in any male-dominated industry. And truthfully, it’s up to us as women to make sure we’re seen and that our insights and contributions are assessed for the value they bring. I don’t want special consideration based on my gender; I want equal opportunity.

women in businessMaryanne Adams
President/CEO, Avalon Flooring

What challenges have you faced in your career?

Let’s face it, we all experience challenges in the workforce. What is different is the form the challenge takes—which is largely dependent on the industry and role that one is in. I started in a role that was typical for a female at that time—I worked in an administrative capacity. Since that time, the challenges resulted in opportunities wherein I was able to move into roles with more responsibilities.

What strategies have you developed to tackle these challenges?

I think my strategies are a part of how I operate. I recognize that everyone brings something different to the proverbial table—whether it is personal or professional. We all have different strengths and different experiences. My entire career I’ve always looked to others to seek what it was they excelled at. I think being naturally inquisitive and driven allowed me to recognize that I can always do better. I enjoy working with others and learning from them and believe we all benefit from being better together.

What do you believe diversity would bring to this industry?

As I learned over the years from others, I can only imagine how much more I could have learned had I had the opportunity to learn from others more diverse from me. I’m confident that in the world of floor covering, as well as other industries, with more diversity comes the benefit of greater shared experiences.

Andrea Blackbourn
Executive director, FCIF

What challenges do you think women face in this industry that men do not?

Not just in the flooring industry but in our current culture, you hear about the mental load women carry from (most of the time) being the primary parent, head domestic organizer, in addition to being a fulltime employee.

How do you tackle challenges?

One strategy that works for my family is calendaring. This helps everyone to be on the same page about the schedule for the week. Communication is the key to bringing to the table all the tasks and finding ways to make sure everyone is getting their needs met.

How do you handle diversity in business?

Diversity on your team first starts with being open about your personal strengths and weaknesses. Different personality types, communication styles, professional experiences, technical skills, geographic location are all important to consider along with some of the more common dimensions of diversity such as age, race and gender.

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Jan. 23/30, 2023

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