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The Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s Second Annual Women in the Mechanical Industry Conference lived up to its theme, proving that "Now, More Than Ever" is the time for women to get involved and thrive in the mechanical industry.
Held at the JW Marriott Austin from June 6-8 in Austin, Texas, WiMI gathered more than 200 women in the mechanical industry for the three-day event, which was packed with inspiring speakers, informative educational sessions, insightful roundtables and fun networking opportunities.
The first day of the conference kicked off with a Team Connect Challenge. Attendees competed in groups to build the most creative and complex Rube Goldberg machine that could successfully pop a balloon, using materials such as dominoes, marbles, and toy racecars. Afterward, WiMI Chair Kori Gormley-Huppert and MCAA President Robert Bolton officially welcomed conference-goers.
“I am certain over the next few days, WiMI will continue to take giant steps forward,” said Gormley-Huppert during opening remarks. “And together, we will make our industry a better, more inclusive and diverse workplace for all. That is the strength of more than 200 women.”
BrainAMPED’s Sara Ross closed out Day 1 with a keynote on leadership and emotional intelligence. Throughout her presentation, Ross shared research-backed strategies for redefining success and using EQ to create healthier, happier workplaces. Soon thereafter, attendees headed to the conference’s opening reception to network with each other and eat dinner — which, in true Austin-fashion, included a taco bar with protein options such as chicken tinga and grilled shrimp.
Challenge and change
On Day 2 of the conference, early risers could partake in a sunrise yoga stretch before heading to breakfast. Valorie Burton, CEO, Coaching & Positive Psychology Institute, kicked off the morning’s general session by sharing her personal experiences in a fantastic presentation on how to thrive through challenge and change. If I had to choose one message to take away from Burton, it is to strive to “be better, not bitter” when navigating life’s setbacks.
Next up, attendees had the opportunity to sit in on two of three education sessions: “Negotiating Skills for Women;” “Build Your Brand;” and “Working in a Man’s World.”
The first session I attended, “Build Your Brand,” was led by Amy Vandaveer Novak, a professor at the University of Houston. Novak emphasized the importance of creating a personal brand using the “4 Cs of Branding”: clarity, consistency, constancy and communication. Attendees were also tasked with defining our brand by choosing our top 10 core values from a list of more than 100 options, such as “accuracy,” “compassion” and “creativity.” When I shared my choices with the women sitting near me, we found that most of our values aligned with our personal lives vs. our work lives, and we wondered whether those values translate to those who only know us in a professional capacity.
Gina Schaefer led the second session I attended, “Working in a Man’s World.” Schaefer shared the lessons she’s learned through her experiences as the founder and CEO of a chain of Ace Hardware stores located in the D.C. Metro Area. She encouraged the audience to achieve our own goals by finding our inspiration and voice, asking us to describe our “super powers” in one word. Attendees listed “empathy,” “organization” and “positivity” among others.
After lunch, conference-goers had the chance to lead the conversations themselves in the following eight roundtable sessions: “The Service Side of WiMI;” “Understanding Finance & Accounting;” “Building Connections in Construction Ops;” “Senior Leadership - Getting There, Succeeding There;” “WiMI at the Local Level;” “Human Resources: Supporting Employees in the Office, Shop & Field;” “Sales & Marketing;” and “Recruiting & Mentoring.”
During the first roundtable I attended, “Sales & Marketing,” the primary topics discussed were how to host more effective lunch-and-learns, achieve successful lead generation tactics and execute creative social media strategies. In the second roundtable I attended, “Senior Leadership - Getting There, Succeeding There,” the conversation centered on how industry newcomers can gain respect, succession planning, how to stand out as someone who wears multiple hats at a company, and finding mentors. At the end of the discussion, “accountability,” “grit” and “resourcefulness” were listed as some of the most important attributes needed to succeed in our careers.
After enjoying a night of networking at The Eleanor in downtown Austin, attendees reconvened for the final day of the conference. Gormley-Huppert thanked the efforts of the entire WiMI Committee before giving special recognition to former Mechanical Service Contractors of America Executive Director Barb Dolim, who recently retired and had a significant impact on the creation and execution of the WiMI initiative.
It was then announced that there would be a relaunch of the WiMI Mentor/Mentee Program, which was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. MCA Omaha Executive Vice President Kelsey Johnson also shared how her chapter has been successful at bringing WiMI to the local level through social, community service and speaker events, as well as book club discussions.
Gormley-Huppert ended closing remarks by passing on the title of WiMI Chair to Auburn Mechanical President Stacy Johnson.
“My goal is to continue to advance the goals of WiMI, to continue to bring more women into this robust and important industry, and to create an even more inclusive workplace environment for all of us,” Johnson said.
The event concluded with a final keynote from Michelle Poler, founder of Hello Fears. Poler grabbed everyone’s attention by dancing her way onto the stage and encouraging attendees to join, providing the perfect introduction to her lively presentation on how moving beyond our comfort zones can drive innovation.
Mark your calendars for the third annual WiMI conference, which is scheduled for June 12-14, 2023, in Cleveland.