Women in Tile
Used to be, when you thought about the tile industry, the most popular pronoun related to this sector of construction was “he.”
While the majority of construction workers and setters are certainly men, the balance is changing to include more “she.” Women are entering more hands-on positions like tile installers, artisans, tile makers and contractors, and are assuming more prominent roles in the workings of companies throughout the industry.
We take a look at four prominent women in our industry in this year’s Women in Tile feature, taking their place in leadership, ownership, marketing, product development, and hands-on artistry of setting tile in this finishing trade.
This upward trend towards women in the industry is providing a new balance and new harmony within the tile trade, adding an element of diversity that makes the industry more responsive and engaging, both for customers and young people – including young women – who are interested in entering the trade and infusing it with new ideas, creativity and a passion for the craft.
Crosby Hall, Executive Vice President of Corporate Resources, Louisville Tile Distributors
Louisville Tile Distributors is in Crosby Hall’s blood – literally. Her grandfather started the company in 1955, both parents worked there, and her mom brought her to “take your daughter to work days” and on work trips.
The company prides itself on transparency, sharing both vulnerabilities and challenges. “Our biggest obstacles have often been our biggest catalysts for growth,” she said. Choosing to fill leadership positions from outside the industry imbued Louisville Tile with a “good balance of industry expertise and out-of-the-box thinking,” she explained.
Hall is proud of her Bachelors in Business and Masters of Science in Human Resources and Organizational Development, but is even prouder of her “decision to lead with empathy and vulnerability and the positive impact that has had on my career and the company.” As part of the Executive Leadership Team, “leading with empathy and vulnerability is how I connect with team members and solve problems,” she said. “I think most organizations now understand the positive impact of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and the importance of training leaders and team members to understand themselves and their colleagues better, leading to improved communication and culture. And in many ways, I think this type of environment lends itself well to a woman’s natural strengths.”
2020 was an especially tough year for the family, with the loss of Hall’s grandfather and company patriarch. But this was also the springboard to some leadership changes to align company culture with the company’s future. “Now the company is growing, our culture is incredible – I’d argue it’s our best asset, and I know my grandfather would be proud,” she said.
As part of Louisville Tile’s growth, women have taken on more prominent positions in the company. “Many roles that for decades were once dominated by men in this industry are now balanced or even dominated by women,” she said. “I’m proud to have seen particular growth in the number of women in senior leadership in our organization, and I know we are better for it.”
Hilary Frank, Regional Vice President Daltile, Marazzi & American Olean, Midwest Region
In 2007, a casual suggestion from a family member to apply for a position in Dal-Tile’s Chicago Studio showroom changed the trajectory of Hilary Frank’s path from an unloved career as meeting planner to 16 years passionately employed by the Dal-Tile franchise.
Frank has been drawn to people development and elevating others at Dal-Tile, with admired managers and mentors who have helped support and shape her professional growth and leadership style.
To continue this legacy, last year she co-founded an internal women’s leadership initiative at Dal-Tile, called LeadHER. “It is aimed at developing women in their current roles and preparing them for future leadership,” Frank said. “For 2023 I am most looking forward to LeadHER’s second year with all that we have planned to grow and strengthen that network.”
Frank’s varied roles with Dal-Tile means that “every day is different and that keeps it exciting,” she said. “It also means a lot of balls in the air at any one time. That kind of juggling act is something I experience both professionally and personally as a mom of five kids aged 8 to 14. Between work and home, staying organized and an ability to multi-task have become critical skills for success for me.”
To add to Frank’s juggling act, she recently took a position on the NTCA Board of Directors. She’s been involved internally at Dal-Tile with NTCA for the past few years, but her board position allows her to “deepen my involvement with NTCA. At the end of the day, the NTCA contractor member is Dal-Tile’s customer. I want to ensure we are supporting that contractor, providing valuable education and training while finding ways to expand the industry. Plus, this allows me to have an avenue for national feedback outside of my day-to-day responsibilities.”
Frank observed that “there are many more women in the industry than when I started and I know that trend will continue.” Grateful for people who have invested in her during her time at Dal-Tile, she added, “Regardless of gender, you need champions in your life to really be successful. To cheer you on, encourage you to learn, be a listening ear and offer advice when needed.”
Shanan Hehir, Owner, Shanan’s Absolute Tile LLC
Shanan Hehir fell into the tile trade in 2019 when her master electrician dad introduced her to a custom tile business owner who was looking to train an apprentice before retiring. The job offered flexibility for her as a single parent, and better starting pay than any other job she’d had. “It was a no-brainer for a struggling mom who was capable of putting in some hard work,” she said.
Her first job was a luxury multi-million dollar home with at least 2,000 sq. ft of tile installed throughout the home, with five custom bathrooms and floors. “I was in awe and immediately drawn into the creativity we are able to produce and build in someone’s home,” she said.
Hehir feels being a woman in the trades is inspiring not only to her daughter, but also to other young women. “They can achieve and do great things within this industry or other trades as well,” she said.
Prior to establishing her residential tiling business in Manchester Center, Vt., that serves Southern Vermont and Upstate New York, she worked in the hospitality and restaurant industry, which helped build her customer service and communication skills with many different types of clientele. “My greatest feedback from clientele thus far has been how easy it has been to communicate with me from beginning to end and get the job done,” she said.
Hehir joined NTCA about three years ago, when her apprenticeship mentor introduced her to it. She’s found tremendous value in the voucher program, the in-person training events around the country, networking with peers, and the top-notch companies that sponsor NTCA. “There is no way you can go wrong by becoming a member of the NTCA,” she said.
The other huge support she has enjoyed is from forums on Facebook, including the Tile Chix page and Global Tile Posse. “This industry stands strong as a family, and if you are able and willing to put yourself out there for guidance, there are people in this industry – between installers, business owners, and reps – who I have found will do whatever it takes to help you succeed and get to the next step,” she said.
Coverings 2022 in Las Vegas was her first trade show, and it was where she attended the first meeting of the NTCA-supported Women in Tile group. She said it “was second to none and was hard evidence that women are taking a serious role within the industry now. The support from the NTCA and all the other companies who sponsor alongside them has proven they are on a mission for women to succeed whether it’s more women working in the tile companies or installers in the trade. The support is there and it’s evident.”
Jordan Richards Abbott, Vice President Marketing Director & Product Development Director ProKnee
Another woman with a family heritage of installation is Jordan Richards Abbott, whose dad – Lee Richards, founder and inventor of ProKnee kneepads and tools for flooring installation – had a flooring installation business for 24 years. “This early exposure to the flooring industry instilled an unparalleled respect for the trade and a love for the art that it could be,” she said.
Richards Abbott pursued a fashion career at New York’s Parsons School of Design, which led to an eight-year tenure designing clothing for Ralph Lauren. Twelve years later she returned to her family’s manufacturing business, with background in design and graphics that made it natural for Abbott leap into print advertising and social media.
After learning this new industry and joining the ProKnee team in 2018, she elevated the company’s exposure in social media and helped launch its Grab ‘N Go displays so installers can service their pads at their local distributor. “This has resulted in exposing ProKnee to a broader group of contractors that were not previously familiar with our brand,” she said. She considers this a positive contribution since the proper padding and products can save careers, and this affects the livelihoods of families.
Richards Abbott has a strong need to prove herself in what she calls a male-dominant industry, relying on her formal design training and experience, confidence, curiosity, creativity and vision and willingness to learn the nuts and bolts of the industry – manufacturing and operating a business. These gave her “an initial edge and provided me with a voice to be heard,” she said. “I had a skill set that I could bring to the table, something I could add to the team,” she said. She parlayed her critical thinking from fashion and graphics projects into problem solving and strategizing, and the experience gleaned at Ralph Lauren relating to sourcing and supply chain processes into her current role.
She sees the tile industry as providing an outlet for creativity for women, even as time and
experience build a firm foundation of credibility for women to prove themselves and shine bright, she said. “Confidence is built in your capabilities as not only a woman, but a person who provides a sense of ease over the years,” she said. “But in my experience, that ‘ease’ has to be earned, woman or man.”
Women in Tile – a new group backed by NTCA to support women in our industry, met for the first time at Coverings 2022, and has been angling to develop a board and a set of initiatives to support the women in the tile industry.
Elizabeth Lambert, Co-Owner of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Lambert Tile & Stone in Eagle, Colo., and a member of the NTCA Board of Directors, chairs the group, supported by NTCA staff members Amber Fox, Michelle Chapman, Becky Serbin and Lesley Goddin, with several more industry-based board members expected to join.
“Women in Tile was conceived to illustrate the pathways to a career in the industry for women,” said Lambert.
The working Mission Statement declares that “The Women in Tile organization is dedicated to promoting gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in the tile installation industry. We believe that all women deserve the opportunity to succeed in their careers and achieve work-life balance. We provide support, resources, and advocacy to help women overcome barriers and achieve their goals in the construction industry.”
There will be a Women in Tile luncheon at Coverings from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Thursday April 20, sponsored by LATICRETE and Coverings, to give industry women a chance to gather, network, learn about tools for personal and professional growth and discuss key concepts and directions for the organization. It will feature a short session by Gianna Vallefuoco of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Vallefuoco Contractors.
The lunch will commence shortly after the close of the Women Talking panel moderated by TileLetter Editorial Director and Senior Writer Lesley Goddin from
9:30 am – 10:30 a.m.
Editorial Director and Senior Writer for TileLetter and TileLetter ARTISAN
Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11. Her journey has taken her through a career in publishing and publicity, landing her the editor position of TileLetter and its special publications in 2006. Her goal is to educate, inspire, recognize and encourage those in the tile industry -- especially the tile and stone contractor.