Focus on Leadership - March 2011
Interview by Kemp Harr
This is our second Focus on Leadership in a series spotlighting women in decision making roles within the flooring industry. Kathy Young has worked in flooring for over 35 years, moving up the ranks from her first position as a receptionist at Cumberland Carpets to her current role as marketing director for Shaw’s residential business. Here, Kathy answers our questions about gender in the office, family life, business and how she works to maintain balance in all these areas.
Q. Why are there not more women making the important decisions in the flooring business?
A. Like many industrially based businesses, the floorcovering industry was started by men and they’ve played a leadership role since the beginning. If women want to see a balance between the genders in industry leadership, they need to aspire to reach these levels, then work hard to prove themselves along the way.
Let’s not generalize this discussion around executive positions but focus instead on the marketing and communications roles within the industry. In the book “Why She Buys”—a great book—Bridget Brennan makes a point that most manufacturing companies are heavy male at the top with females holding marketing positions, especially when selling products to a female buyer. There are increasing numbers of women in these roles, acting as the key “influencers” in establishing effective image and messaging to our dealers and consumers.
Q. How do you think it benefits the flooring industry to have women in these roles?
A. Our product is purchased by women more than 85% of the time. So, as women, we relate to the buyer’s thoughts and needs in regard to the products she is choosing for her home—and in the language we use to communicate with her.
In addition, women are fabulous multi-taskers with great organizational skills—watch a working mom perform both domestic and professional duties daily. Add a travel schedule to that and just get out of her way.
Q. Tell me why marketing and communications is an important place for women to focus their career aspirations within the flooring business.
A. I think it is where they can make the biggest impact. Without women in the marketing role, we would still be presenting our product as a technical innovation instead of a fashion item that will perform in the home. Weight and gauge is how you make carpet, but it’s not how you talk about it to women.
Not only are the manufacturers predominantly male but so are the retailers in this business. They all need a dose of empathy to properly position flooring to the female consumer. Many of our dealers embrace the fact that our department represents the consumer gender-wise, and we believe they listen to us because of that. You may not be aware of this, Kemp, but 96% of Shaw’s residential marketing department is female.
Q. So as a department of women, what dimension do you bring to the decision making process?
A. We bring a lot to the decision making process regarding in-store displays and marketing, advertising, the design of messaging and imagery. Whatever we do, we do it with the consumer in mind. I’ve been fortunate to have spent most of my 30-plus working years in this business as part of successful teams. That gives me a level of confidence to fight for what I know has worked in the past.
I also play the role of maternal adviser to our younger staff of women and our sales trainees. Blending genders in the corporate conference room or even when interacting with customers can create interesting scenarios, and I try to offer advice where I can, based on what I’ve seen.
Q. How do you think the corporate experience differs for women and men?
A. We have established that history has given us a male dominant structure in management. Now add a woman to the mix, and there is effort on both sides to ensure that everyone is comfortable and open. Hesitancy to consider the mix of gender is so much less than it used to be. We just need to have as many qualified female candidates as possible to see a greater change. Our women have to possess assuredness, maybe have a little thicker skin. Women often present greater challenges to other women than male counterparts do.
Q. Tell us some of your frustrations as a woman in the business world.
A. Mainly just breaking the habits of an all male audience within the workplace. The most difficulty I have experienced in my 35 years in the industry was during the first 15—just trying to be heard in the male world. Things got easier after that; I’m not sure if it’s because men got more open minded, or if they started listening because many of the programs I helped develop were successful. When you come to a meeting with a healthy bottom line behind you, people listen!
Q. How did you come to work in this industry and ultimately with Shaw?
A. I wasn’t even out of high school yet when I started to work in this industry. I started as a receptionist, then moved into customer service and eventually became the assistant to the VP of sales at Sutton. From a company perspective, I’ve worked for Cumberland, Diamond, and Sutton. I ended up with Shaw because Salem bought Sutton, and Shaw bought Salem. With every move came more opportunity.
Q. What is the secret to your success?
A. I am passionate about product and people. I am very action oriented. I have been told that I have a contagious spirit, and people engage with me.
Q. Who played a key role in making you who you are?
A. There have been several but, first and foremost, Allen Stein—he is a true merchant, full of creativity. He taught me so much and nurtured my creative spirit. Once I entered into the large corporate world, Scott Sandlin, Blane Haywood and Kurt Paulson were my product manager peers, and they never once took me for granted. Randy Merritt has taught me the most about integrity, confidence, leadership and balancing work with family. And, yes, they are all men, but I am okay with that.
Q. How do you balance your family life and your career?
A. I take lots of vitamins! I’m fortunate because I did not start traveling heavily until my children were in middle school. My husband is a teacher and a coach, and Sam willingly picked up the pace to allow me to pursue my career. It is important to me that I am a good wife, mother, daughter and grandmother, so I ensure that I spread myself among those I love. They fill me up when I am tired. They’re proud of me and inspire me to work harder. There are so many personal rewards in success. I remember Allen telling me often that no one could ever take away the memories of my accomplishments. I find they are even better when I share the learning experiences with my family.
Q. What does this industry need to do to improve?
A. Realize that it now takes aggressive and creative marketing to reach the consumer. We need to focus beyond the channel to the end-user and continue to stress the fashion element. Manufacturers and retailers need to work together to satisfy the expectations and needs of the end user of our product. We also need to adapt to the new technologies of communications but not lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people’s quality of life and home environment. This is a people business.
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