According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010 saw 807,853 women employed in the construction trades – 8.9% of 9,077,000 total employees. Reflecting the trend in construction jobs overall, that’s down from 2009 figures, which showed 921,690 women in construction, about 9.5% of the total. In the last five years, the percentage of women in construction peaked in 2008 at 9.7% (1,064,447 actual female workers); but the highest number of women employed in construction was in 2006, at 1,127,904, when women made up 9.6% of the 11,749,000 U.S. construction and extraction workers.
Statistics show that the percentage of female carpet, floor and tile installers and finishers hover at about 2.3% of total construction workers, with a high of 2.4% in 2006. Women are most strongly represented as first-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers, making up between 2.6% in 2006 and 3.7% in 2010 of total employees.
Most of women in the tile industry profiled in this story hail from marketing and communications, publishing, public relations, media or sales backgrounds and have parlayed their expertise into the tile industry in differing capacities.
Some women have come from a business background, such as Dal-Tile’s senior marketing manager Lori Kirk-Rolley. With a degree in business and an MBA she was attracted by the history of tile plus its fashion connection, the diversity of marketing to architects, designers, builders, and homeowners – and the pedigree of Dal-Tile itself. “Dal-Tile is seen as a design, innovation and sales leader in the tile category, and that made the opportunity even more exciting,” she said.
In college, Crossville’s marketing director Laurie Lyza worked for a family-owned paint and floor covering company as she studied journalism and public relations, with an emphasis on communications and public speaking. She grew up near Crossville and jumped at the chance to work in marketing for this ground-breaking company. Crossville – which has a long history of women in key positions including Mary Yocum and Linda Hennelly – supported Lyza in completing her MBA in marketing, helping to empower her to work with budgets and balance sheets and help Crossville evaluate how initiatives and launches impact the bottom line.
In 1999, Stephanie Samulski, project manager for Tile Council of North America (TCNA), traded in her publishing job for a BAC apprenticeship in Detroit. The training still informs her work today. For eight years she worked on commercial jobs, learning about installation products and systems. This experience helps her field TCNA technical calls and work with labor. Besides her work on installation-based standards and issues, she’s written the manual for the CTEF installer certification program and helped to develop the hands-on test and the overall program, as well as help it grow. She also invested her skills and time into revamping the 2011 TCNA Handbook. “My publishing experience and tile experience combined makes all these kinds of projects the ideal way for me to stay in tile as a career,” she said.
Paige Wadford Smith’s family has been in tile contracting since 1964, where she worked over summers. Her professional background is public relations and marketing, and she brought those skills to Neuse Tile Service in 1995 as initial short-term office help for brother Nyle Wadford: now she’s Neuse’s vice president. “With the current economic downturn, I’ve been able to use my background in marketing and communications to build on our well-established reputation and ramp up our promotional activities fairly quickly and without a great deal of additional cost.”
Likewise, Chris Woefel signed on recently with the third-generation familyowned tile contracting company where hubby James is a principal. She brings her experience as television news anchor, radio reporter, video producer, public information officer, editor, flight attendant, project manager, marketing director and communication strategist to play for Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co., where she serves as marketing director.
￼￼As excellent as the NTCA Five-Star Contractor is at tile and stone installation, James realized “our forte is not figuring out what we need to do to communicate with our customers.” Watching Chris’ success with promoting and supporting other businesses inspired him to bring her onboard.
Chris Woelfel added, “Sure there are people who assume I’m here just because I’m married to the vice president, but I laugh and tell them that he (James) is the one who knows he got a bargain. There are plenty of challenges unique to women in business – no matter what the industry – but I have found that navigating through them and coming out in one piece is possible when you have trusted advisors. For me that’s meant some peers – both women and men – and quite a few good books.”
Chris’ camerawoman skills have also benefited NTCA, since she shot video of the Installation Design Showcase while at Coverings 2011 in Las Vegas earlier this year.
Patti Fasan was the first female recipient of the Joe A. Tarver Cornerstone Award from NTCA earlier this year (see TileLetter Coverings 2011 issue, page 74 for background). She’s a passionate spokesperson and educator about tile today through her business Professional Attention to Tile Installation (www.patti-tile.com) and the work she’s done as a consultant for Tile of Spain. She started out 28 years ago in the industry with a distributorship as an architectural rep and became captivated when tasked with replicating a marble zodiac floor. She was empowered by the year-long Ceramic Tile Institute of America course, funded by a Canadian government grant for non-traditional industries for women. “You can’t sell and design with [tile] unless you have installed it… you have a lot more credibility once you know what the installer has to go through to make the design work,” she said. “The installer is the tailor of the industry: I can make the pattern and pick out the ‘fabric’ but unless it can be installed, it won’t work.” What she learned, and her practical, hands-on experience is the basis of what she does today.
The female factor
Many of our featured females point to the innate communication skills of women and the way they can resonate with the female homeowner or decision maker, who drives the majority of tile selection. This comes into play in designing displays, or presenting information without overwhelming.
“In a sense, I represent our primary target audience, and that gives me an advantage in ensuring that our marketing messaging is crafted just the right way,” Kirk-Rolley said.
Smith recognizes the benefits that diversity brings to a company. “Having both men and women involved in any company makes for better decision making and understanding,” she said.
Some women struggle with weighty challenges entering the tile industry – literally. “Well, tile is heavy, for one thing!” Lyza said. “There have been times when we’ve been setting up for events and putting displays in place when I’ve joked that my next job will be at a pillow company. Seriously, though, I’ve never felt I couldn’t accomplish anything the men in the industry could, just because I happen to be a woman.” That acceptance is a prevailing sentiment, though Fasan noted that when dealing with European industries, it’s more unique for women to be in the field. Otherwise, a woman’s competence at “heavy lifting” in the range of tile industry roles speaks for itself.
“People figure out pretty quickly if you know your stuff or not, whether you’re male or female,” Samulski said. “I just do my job and eventually they figure it out.” It’s rare that she encounters “people who still feel the tile industry belongs to men and don’t want women involved regardless of their credibility,” and is grateful for the all the women who have made inroads in the industry in the last 10-20 years (she references the book We’ll Call You if We Need You that documents women breaking into the construction trades).
A system or network of support serves women in the industry as well as it serves men. “Ours is a challenging industry in many ways, and you’ll need to surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and industry peers who will share your passion and longterm goals,” Smith said.
Lyza concluded, “The industry organizations do a great job of reaching out to women and giving them a place at the table. I serve on several industry committees and when I look around the room during meetings, women are certainly well represented. Even more importantly, we are listened to when we speak and our opinions are valued.”