Focus on Leadership - January 2011
Interview by Kemp Harr
The role of women as business leaders has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Looking back, we can timeline the freedoms that American women have been granted, starting in 1920, when they gained the right to vote. The next milestone came in 1963, when Congress mandated they be paid equally when doing similar tasks as men.
Then in 1981, women obtained the right to be drafted—and in 1996, it was decided that women could attend the once all-male military academies. And while there’s technically nothing that’s been preventing them from holding executive positions in the flooring industry, very few women grace the boardrooms or management conference tables even today.
Based on this inequity within our own industry, we felt it might be informative to highlight the women who hold leadership positions within our industry, and shed some light on the talents they bring to the business equation—and perhaps in the process make a case for more diversity within the senior ranks of this business. We start with Patricia Flavin, Beaulieu’s senior vice president of marketing.
Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Flavin is a perfect first candidate for this column, not only because she is smart, confident and a talented fashion leader, but also because she has a sense of humor and tells it like it is.
Flavin earned a marketing degree in Ireland, came to the U.S. at age 27, and started her own company that manufactured and marketed beauty products to women on the Home Shopping Network. She’s been at Beaulieu now for three years and has helped the firm pick up marketshare by focusing its carpet message to the primary decision maker for most home décor purchases—women. I recently spent some time with Patricia and asked her to speak about the role of women in this industry.
Q. Why do you think the flooring industry has traditionally been a male dominated business?
A. Because that’s the way it always has been … that’s the famous line in this industry!
I think because it’s been operated as a commodity-type business as opposed to a consumer-type business and that makes it a perfect match for the male brain.
Q. Why are there not more women within the executive ranks of the major manufacturers in this business?
A. Probably because some men won’t allow it and the women have come to not expect it, which is a shame as it only hurts our industry.
Q. What dimension do you bring to the decision making process?
A. The female perspective … I get my say even if I’m not agreed with. That is the great thing about Beaulieu … everyone has value. I had no history in this industry but a strong background in marketing to women, so I could ask, “Why are we doing that?” Ignorance in my case was liberating. We are a team at Beaulieu and we all have a say and an open-door policy. That is what is unique about our company.
Q. How do you think it benefits the flooring industry to have more women in the workplace?
A. It amazes me, Kemp, that you can even ask that question and not appear sexist! I go back to where it makes sense for all us: the sales and profits. If the female consumer is ultimately making 94% of home decorating purchasing decisions, then is she not ultimately paying all of our paychecks? Then why would we as an industry keep her needs, moods, emotions, wants, etc. out of the equation? Are we, as an industry, standing in our own way? More women in the workplace and in key positions in our industry will only help us connect better with the end-customer and her needs. Women are generally more sensitive anyway and a little sensitivity doesn’t hurt in any company.
Q. How do you think the corporate experience (especially in executive positions) differs for women and men?
A. In this industry or any other, I think women have to prove themselves more than men. There is an erroneous assumption that women cannot manage at the top as they have too many other issues and men can handle it all better. We might be a little more emotional at times but we are much better at multitasking! I’ve found that many men have trouble doing two things at one time.
Q. Do you believe that creating a line of carpet branded specifically towards women like Bliss is, in any way, catering to a stereotype of women as primarily emotional rather than information-driven buyers?
A. No. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I would never pin a woman into any “type.” I know her. She can change her mood in a moment. What Bliss does is to provide simple, easy-to-understand information to point out unique selling features and benefits at a glance. We listened to her in focus groups and found she was confused about carpet, so we made it simple. This is a fashion accessory for her home so this should be a fun experience.
Q. Who played a key role in making you who you are? Who is your role model?
A. I know it sounds cliché, but my parents. My mother was a successful fashion designer, so I grew up around fabric and color. She was a very strong but kind woman who told me I could be anything I wanted to be. My father (my hero) was managing director of 3M Ireland and worked for 35 years as its head of sales and marketing. He was a very proud family man who had very high expectations for all his kids and to this day I try hard to please him even though he is no longer with us.
Q. Tell us some of your frustrations as a woman in the business world.
A. Being taken seriously, although it’s a lot better here than when I worked in Japan.
Another frustration is dealing with men who don’t know how to interact with strong women. I just want to be considered as an equal.
Q. What is the secret to your success?
A. If you’re defining success monetarily, I have had more success in my past life. It has come and gone, so I never take anything for granted and I do not ever think of myself as having become “successful.” I wake up every day with a fear in my belly and a need to do more. I am very competitive and I love a challenge. The fact that I’m Irish is a definite factor. Not only are we fighters who stand up for what we believe in but we’re also very people oriented and relationships to us are very important.
Q. What does this industry need to do to improve?
A. Support each other. Look at other industries that are evolving and emulate them. Hire more women. Hire people from outside the industry who can bring in a fresh new perspective and a new level of energy. And lastly, recognize that the role of marketing is not a support function to the sales team but rather the strategy that the business takes to meet the consumer’s unmet needs. Beaulieu understands this but there are other key suppliers who do not.
Don’t get me wrong, this business is evolving nicely, and just in the last few years, more attention is being centered on giving the consumer a better product and a better shopping experience. Thankfully, we’re on the right track when it comes to being more fashionable.
Q. How do you balance your family life and your career?
A. With great difficulty. I have a supportive husband, an overworked nanny, a lot of organization behind me, a great boss and prayers. I am fortunate that Beaulieu has a great heart as a company and supports my need to have some family time as part of the mix. I thank God for my family, friends, my team, good health and Blissful sales.
Copyright 2011 Floor Focus