For nearly five years, concerted and strategic efforts to recruit and support women in the fields of plumbing, heating, cooling and piping (PHCP) have developed. Through affinity groups, conferences, mentorship, research and reporting, the industry has showcased its commitment to understanding the value that women bring to this workforce.
There have been wins to celebrate, including increased interest in the value proposition of a diverse workforce, funding of women’s initiatives by major industry players, and involvement in STEM programming for girls. A key statistic from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that has gained widespread attention is that the gender pay gap in construction is lower than that of other industries, with women earning 95.7 percent of what men earn.
Yet, there are still losses to be addressed, from physical obstacles on jobsites to social gaps in office environments. In 2018, Marketplace reported that women on jobsites are working with oversized gloves, harnesses and hard hats that while ironically are designed for safety are actually introducing more risk for instances of slips with tools.
From the jobsite to the office, in construction there is only one woman for every 100 employees according to a study by Big Rentz. The study goes on to break this data point down with the consideration that women make up 47 percent of all employed individuals in the U.S., meaning the construction industry is only benefitting from about 1.25 percent of the total female U.S. workforce.
Additionally, while the STEM education movement has presented an opportunity to reach girls, it has not directly steered them into PHCP pathways. According to the National Girls Collaborative, female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (60 percent) and life sciences (48 percent) and relatively low shares in computer and mathematical sciences (26 percent), and engineering (15 percent). Furthermore, the Chicago Business Journal recently reported that more than 40 percent of the women who do end up in STEM jobs leave after starting families.
This year’s spotlight aims to qualify some of this quantitative data. Hear from 14 women in the industry as they provide authentic stories and tangible suggestions for the industry’s future.
Director of Virtual Design & Construction, Victaulic
In her position, Comunale directs preconstruction services such as software and content development, estimating and BIM services. She helps drive the creation of new offerings that provide solutions to customers throughout the project life cycle. While serving Victaulic, Comunale is also a partner at Comunale Properties, a privately owned, fully integrated real estate company with offices in Denver, Colorado and Akron, Ohio. She entered the PHCP industry as the vice president of Operations and Services with S.A. Comunale, a leading mechanical, fire protection and HVAC services company. Comunale holds an MBA from Case Western Reserve University and a B.A. from Union College. She is also certified in Lean Six Sigma by Villanova University and a graduate of Leadership Akron. In the industry, she serves as a member of the National Fire Sprinkler Association and the American Supply Association's Women in Industry Division. In the community, she serves as vice chair of the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation and as a board member of the Women’s Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Let women know that they don’t have to start with a career in construction to have a career in the industry and they don’t need to be ‘handy’ to break into the industry. Construction is a diverse and exciting sector of business and is ever-changing. We need diverse thinkers, with unique backgrounds to continue growing. What I love about the industry is the diversity of the individuals I get to work with and the perspectives they bring to the office, field or shop.”
President & Owner, DMC Service Inc.
A self-ascribed paradigm shifter, champion of excellence and keeper of the “Golden Rule,” Crnkovich leads the Kansas City based commercial HVAC and plumbing service contractor. Serving in this role since 2010, the mission of the company is to keep people comfortable, safe and healthy where they work, live and play by providing efficient and effective solutions through phenomenal customer service and unmatched technical skill. Prior to this role, Crnkovich served in various sales leadership positions with LaGarde, Westin Crown Center, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and various Omni hotels. She entered the PHCP industry alongside her husband with the intent of helping him grow his business on the administrative side. Taking over accounting, sales, marketing and human resources, Crnkovich eventually bought into the company with 51 percent ownership. Today, she has 100 percent full ownership. Crnkovich earned her B.S. in Parks, Recreation and Leisure Facilities Management from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has Master Electrical, Master Plumbing, and Master Mechanical licenses in Johnson County, Kansas. She is also active in the community through Junior League of Kansas City, having held positions on the board and sponsorship committee.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “First talk about the fact that HVAC and plumbing is a totally viable and attractive opportunity for ANYONE. We must paint the picture of the financial freedom that our work can provide, highlight women who are currently in the industry, and actively recruit. Trade schools need to start showing women in their marketing materials to help at the grassroots level. It won't change overnight, but there is definitely momentum developing, which is very exciting!”
Owner, Keefe Plumbing & Heating Co.
For three generations, her family has been in the business of plumbing. Taking the torch from her father after he was passed the torch from his dad, Keefe has been in the business since 1990 and bought the company in 2013. Her family has been serving the Chattanooga area for plumbing service, repair, remodeling and retrofit jobs since 1950. Growing up, Keefe would spend time in the work truck with her father. Her first foray in the PHCP industry happened when she was a teenager and began working in the shop and office. She learned the business from the ground up in all facets. In college, she realized that plumbing was her passion. Keefe attended Chattanooga State Community College.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Let women know that it is a great time to be a woman with all of the career choices we have available to us across industries. For those women who like working with their hands, technology and problem-solving, plumbing is a great opportunity. Also, for the women who want to own a business, plumbing is a great avenue. You can to control your own destiny and be your own boss quickly compared to most professions.”
Purchasing Manager, Magnolia Plumbing, Heating & Cooling
In her current role, Miller serves on the operational management team. Through her work, she has had the opportunity to lead the development of a new division for the company in order to focus on wastewater mechanical systems. Prior to this role, Miller worked in Inside, Outside and Commercial Sales with Thomas Somerville Company and The Somerville Bath & Kitchen Store from 2014 until 2017. Miller first entered the PHCP industry after after graduating from college and being selected as a sales management trainee for a wholesaler. It was there that she gained foundational knowledge of products, plumbing and mechanic basics, and contractor service. Miller earned degrees in Government, Politics and International Business from the University of Maryland College Park.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Integrate women in all aspects of business, whether it’s hands-on in the field, operational management, or customer relations. Our attention to detail and strong work ethic make us extremely valuable throughout multiple facets of the industry.”
Director of Sales, Projects & Specifications, KOHLER Company
Dedicated to identifying customer needs and creatively solving problems for maximum effectiveness and profitability, Miller has a successful career in sales and management. Prior to returning to KOHLER in her current role in 2017, she served as manager of enterprise relationships at Vantiv. And before that, from 2006 through 2016 she held positions at KOHLER in regional sales and sales management. She entered the PHCP industry after being an executive recruiter, and has appreciated the opportunities to grow and create lifelong friendships and business relationships. Miller holds a B.A. in Business and Corporate Communications from Miami University.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Women in the industry should empower other women and bring forward your ideas to make your voice heard.”
Assistant Product Manager, Rough Plumbing, Zurn Industries
In her role, Murosky supports initiatives in product lifecycle planning and product marketing, including gathering and prioritizing product and customer requirements, helping define product vision, working with engineering to deliver winning products, and collaborating with sales, marketing and cross functional support. She started her career as an application engineer with Zurn. Murosky was not seeking a career in the PHCP industry but Zurn had a strong footprint in her community and the college she attended. After seeing them recruit on campus, sponsor projects and offer internships, she was eventually drawn in. Murosky earned her masters in Project Management at Penn State University and bachelors in Interdisciplinary Business with Engineering Studies, Operations & Supply Chain Management at Penn State University. She remains active with her alma mater as a volunteer for Penn State Behrend Outreach’s Women in Engineering Day.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “For recruiting, I would recommend partnering with educational institutions, whether it be high schools, trade schools, or higher education, and advocate for women in STEM and PHCP careers. To keep women in the PHCP industry, like any other industry, companies must provide a clear path for advancement and a culture that is dedicated to workplace diversity.”
Senior Project Engineer, Global Mechanical & Baja Design
There are two hats that Ochoa wears in her current role. She is a cost analyst for mechanical installations of combustible gas, plumbing fire protection and HVACR systems. Additionally, she is a designer for combustible gas, compressed air, vacuum and fire protection systems. A young professional, Global Mechanical and Baja Design are her first career opportunities. Ochoa has always been interested in mechanical systems and is excited to have educational and professional development growth opportunities with these companies. She went through the mechanical engineering program at Autonomous University of Baja California and holds certifications in water-based fire protection layout and automatic fire sprinkler technology.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “I'm a mechanical engineer and I don’t how it is being a woman in this area in other countries, but in Mexico when I went to school I was constantly told that this career was not for women because it’s difficult, etc. But, that never discouraged me. So, I encourage women to do what they love because if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is. You can become a master of it!”
President, CEO & Owner, The Part Works
Leading her company, Parris drives the comprehensive strategy for delivering effective, quality plumbing solutions to maintenance and repair professionals. With a focus on great people, continuous operational improvement, and leading-edge technology, she brings a modern approach to the timeless need of plumbing problems. Prior to stepping into this role in 2012, Parris served the company as co-owner and vice president and manager of Marketing and Information Systems. And before joining this company, she worked in management with Athena Partners and Pura Vida Coffee. Parris grew up in the PHCP industry with her family in the plumbing supplies business. By the time she was ready to graduate from college, she was seeking something different and new besides plumbing. She chose a career in the food industry and after several years of gaining real-word experience, she returned to her parents interested in buying the family business. Parris started as a partner and co-owner then took over then company when her father passed away. She earned her masters in Business Management from University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Parris is active in her community and the industry as the Business Diversity Advisory Board Member of the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services and President of North American Plumbing Specialty Distributors.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “We need to create opportunities for women to connect, build relationships, and support each other’s growth. When we’re intentional about connecting women together and with others who are committed to helping them succeed, we create mentoring and networking opportunities that benefit the individuals and industry as a whole. Men have a significant role to play in this space as each individual can be a force for empowerment to grow the industry. Looking at PHCP from a business perspective, we are facing a massive labor shortage across all trades. All business owners who are looking to grow their business can engage with and support women in industry-focused networking groups as a way to attract, retain and grow their female employees.”
Codes Manager, Uponor North America
Through her work, Pollet focuses on PEX pipes, tubing and fittings and radiant heating and cooling. Prior to joining Uponor in 2010, she served as an account manager with JANA Laboratories, providing engineering consulting and testing services for plastic piping manufacturers and system providers. Pollet entered the PHCP industry after college as a technical sales manager with Pacific High Tech. To enter the industry, she intentionally built her experience and background around her field of study, chemical engineering. She earned her masters in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto and her bachelors in Chemical Engineering from Sogang University.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Make sure that the industry is exciting. When people start by doing what they love, the rest will come. Women already in the industry must be sure to build a network that understands their work and the value they bring to their organization. Doing good work, by itself, is not sufficient to climb the corporate ladder. We can not be shy about promoting our good work and making ourselves understood so that we gain advocates to support us!”
President, The New Flat Rate
An innovator, Putnam is leading one of the first home service menu-selling system designed to put profit directly into the hands of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors. She knows home service, but she is also no stranger to big business. Before co-founding the company, she was the director of Strategic Accounts at Rovion and the director of Business Development at DigitalPost Interactive. She also held various positions in marketing with companies throughout her career. Putnam has a personal connection to the PHCP industry. When she was 7 years old, her first job was passing out flyers door-to-door for her father’s electrical contractor business. In high school, she moved up to being an office dispatcher and parts runner. After college, her first job was in marketing with an HVAC company. Putnam earned her B.S. in Marketing at Colorado Technical University. A public servant and active member of her professional community, Putnam was recently named the president of Women in HVACR. Additionally, she is the executive director of nonprofit Family Framework.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Utilize the word stability in recruiting efforts. Women are looking for a career that provides stability. Our industry has a need for more people and new talent, the need is here and offers long term stability with family-friendly flexibility. You don’t find that in banking.”
Vice President, Product Development, Fire Protection, Victaulic
At Victaulic, Schierwagen drives strategic business growth by executing and managing a broad product portfolio. Through her work, she has led several successful projects by taking initiative and building quality relationships. Schierwagen is known to visit job sites and seek out customer feedback in order to help the company develop innovative products that provide value, instill confidence and increase construction productivity. Prior to joining Victaulic in 2011, she held various global leadership positions as the vice president of Worldwide Sales for Solar Outdoor Lighting and the vice president of Lutron Electronics. Schierwagen grew up around the PHCP industry seeing her father in electrical contracting. Through her father, she was exposed to the inner workings of many construction sites and began to develop a love for STEM, eventually deciding to study engineering in college. Fueled by a passion for problem-solving, she entered the industry exploring electrical systems before switching gears to the mechanical piping systems that have become her niche. Schierwagen holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Tufts University. In the industry, she serves as a member of the National Fire Sprinkler Association seminar committee, the Board of Trustees for DaVinci Science Center, the Executive Advisory Council for Women in Science and Engineering network and on the Society of Women Engineers scholarship committee.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Reinforce a culture that empowers mentors to support and model the way. We must inspire an atmosphere of excellence and innovation. By encouraging cross-functional collaboration, we will enable teams to develop, learn and advocate across the organization.”
Director, Marketing, Builder, Projects & Specifications, KOHLER Company
To support the channels she leads, Sutton develops key programs and promotions in her current role. Since 1984, she has held various leadership roles at KOHLER in wholesale marketing, consumer segmentation, and communications. She also formerly owned the sports performance training company, Don Beebe’s House of Speed, and was a merchant marketing manager for KOHL’s Department Stores. Sutton entered the PHCP industry right out of college as a sales trainee at KOHLER. Her father, a roofer, was thrilled to see her pursing a career with the company. Sutton holds an MBA from Marquette University and a BBA in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Eu Claire.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “In an industry that has historically been dominated by men, women have made a significant impact. Some of the most successful business women I know either own their own PHCP businesses or work on brands or companies that support the industry. Women bring a voice to the industry that drives innovation, problem solving and leadership that can take this industry to the next level. I am fortunate to work for a brand that is a lifestyle brand for the home. We know the female consumer is the primary decision maker when it comes to making decisions for her home. To best represent that female voice, we need women in the industry to help her make the best decision for her home and family.”
Plumbing Project Engineer, dbHMS
A certified plumbing designer (CPD), Torres has extensive experience in mechanical and industrial engineering. Prior to her current position, she was a graduate mechanical engineer at Progressive AE from 2013-2016, working with the senior mechanical project engineer on the design of mechanical systems for buildings. Growing up, Torres wanted to be an architect. During her senior year of high school, she took an engineering and drafting class and it quickly became her favorite. After learning to pair math and science with her creative skills and attending the ConExpo, she decided to pursue architectural engineering in college. After graduating, she entered the PHCP industry, working in HVAC, plumbing and fire protection engineering. Torres earned her B.S. in Architectural Engineering with a Mechanical Specialty from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. In addition to being a CPD, she is a certified Construction Documents Technologist. An active volunteer, Torres serves with Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Engineers Without Borders USA, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, IAPMO, and MIND + HAND.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Start recruitment and awareness early. Girls and women many times don’t consider this industry because we don’t know what it actually entails and that many of us have the skills to succeed here. There is a need for a support system from the moment of recruitment to retention. Also, financial support for women to enter this career path from mentors, leaders, employers and organizations.”
Director of Sales & Marketing, Merit Brass
Through her work, Wallingford leads a team that includes inside sales managers, sales support managers, and marketing assistants. Since 1995, Wallingford has served Merit Brass through various leadership roles in ERP implementation, strategic business planning, sales, marketing, and order entry. Prior to joining this company, she worked in accounts receivable for IBM. Wallingford entered the PHCP industry after college, after realizing she was interested in outside sales. She knew the field required a minimum of five years of experience in inside sales and came across such an opening at Merit Brass. She took the leap knowing that the PHCP industry was unique in that it offered its own set of challenges and opportunities for growth. Wallingford earned her bachelors in Business Administration at Cleveland State University and a certification in executive leadership from the CEO Strategist program.
To recruit and keep women in PHCP, the industry should: “Market that there are growth opportunities here as the traditionalist generation retires and Baby Boomers start their journey towards retirement. Networks, such as the ASA’s Women in Industry Network, afford us the opportunity to share our experiences and our challenges as women. Careers within this industry challenge us to demonstrate our full capabilities as women since the misnomer and perception is that it’s not an industry for women. There are several women in our industry who are in high-level positions helping contribute to the success of the industry everyday whose reception into this industry was and is welcomed by our male counterparts.”