As everyone enters the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) Women’s Industry Network (WIN) breakfast, each place setting has a motivational post card. One reads, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.” It is accompanied by a wooden elephant ornament with a tiny card, detailing the relationship between female elephants in a herd: “Female elephants have a strong sisterhood. When one of their sisters is suffering, they circle around her, watch, guard and kick up dust to protect her from predators. Welcome to our herd.” 

Many of the women who attended last year’s event returned this year, but there were several new faces in the audience. There were women who have been in the industry for decades, and women who are just getting their start. The variety in flooring industry roles combined with different experience levels made for a wide range of perspectives. 

Kim Milani, marketing manager, Corus Fastening—a first timer, said, “Events like this are not only crucial for developing the necessary skills and strategies to succeed in women's leadership roles, but they also create a supportive community of women who empower and uplift one another. It's not just an investment in oneself, but a commitment to uplifting the voices and perspectives of women in positions of power (and aspiring to be), and ultimately creating a more equitable and diverse future for everyone.”  

This year’s speaker Renee Martin, vice president of business development & corporate trainer, Dale Carnegie & Associates, led the group through several exercises to determine the differences between passive, assertive and aggressive behaviors. Ultimately, the goal was to uncover where we fall on that spectrum and figure out what we are doing right and what we need to work on in order to be more effective in our professional and personal lives. 

The purpose of WIN, according to the event description, is “to unite women throughout the wood flooring supply chain, providing opportunities to network, support, and learn from one another.” 

Behind the scenes, driving this event, is Anita Howard, COO, NWFA. She has been in the flooring industry for many years and has witnessed the changes taking place, ever how slow they may be. 

“When I first joined the industry 20+ years ago, there were so few women at the NWFA Expos that we all knew each other’s names,” she said. “We definitely were a minority back then, but that is changing. We are seeing younger faces, and more women, every year. This is encouraging as we’ve been trying to reach a younger and more-diverse audience for quite some time. Even more encouraging is that the women we’re seeing are not just in the “traditional” roles in our industry (marketing, finance, etc.), but they are doing the installation work and even running their own installation companies. It is a big shift, and one we’re happy to see. So, seeing all these engaged faces at the WIN breakfast represents a big shift. Having an event early in the morning, on the last day of our show, is not the best time slot, but we have had great participation since launching this event, and we’re encouraged to keep growing and improving it.”

As we break bread (or pastries), everyone continues sharing what their roles are and the challenges we face and spends time discussing solutions. What we quickly realize is that each testimony sounds remarkably similar. 

“For some women, it’s just really important to know that they aren’t alone or that their struggles aren’t unique,” said Elizabeth Baldwin, environmental compliance officer, Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. “I really liked seeing how eager everyone was to participate. From the exercises the presenter had us do to just discussing ideas for the future, there was a tremendous enthusiasm to make things better and to get involved.”

Wrapping up the event was Barbara Titus, board director, NWFA, and VP business operations, Gary Sinise Foundation. She took a vote on future events and polled the audience on the need for implementation of specific programs to address issues that affect women like harassment and pay inequality. “These are things that are often overlooked, and we need to make sure we stand up and say, ‘we need these things,’” said Titus. 

“We have held this event at our Expo twice now, and I’ve been humbled by the women who have taken the time to stop and tell me how much the meeting meant to them,” said Howard. “They have felt alone and unsure how to navigate in a male-dominated industry, and this group has provided them with colleagues to connect with and resources to take advantage of. A big part of our meeting this year was to determine how we would move forward accomplishing some of our goals, like attracting more women to the industry, providing scholarships aimed at women specifically, and developing educational resources for women. We compiled a pretty big list of ideas. Now, the hard work begins to see what we can bring to fruition.”

As for next year, Milani says she will be back. “The Women's Industry Network Breakfast at NWFA Expo was a truly empowering experience,” she said. “It was so inspiring to be surrounded by so many accomplished women who are breaking barriers in the building materials industry. I left feeling even more motivated to continue pursuing my own goals and aspirations. I will definitely attend again next year.” 

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