Grit and Grace – Women and Leadership in the Pool Industry
By Sandi Maki
Over the past few years, something really interesting has happened to the team at Legendary Escapes. Our company has become largely female-centric, with women making up a hefty portion, even sometimes a majority, of our crew as well as our front office staff.
It wasn’t intentional; this came about as a result of our certain way of doing things, of hiring people with a passion for the work and a commitment to our philosophical approach to business.
These women are making a huge difference to our work here on a local level, earning a reputation as respected and talented craftswomen. And it makes us wonder: What would it take for more women to take leadership roles in our industry?
We set out to learn just that.
Earlier this fall, Al [Curtis] and I went to the Las Vegas pool show with one goal being to search out stories about influential women in the pool business; women who are standing apart from the crowd and doing something important for themselves and their industry.
We definitely saw women at the show. We saw talented women who have roles with manufacturers and suppliers, and with industry publications. We talked to women in marketing and other front office roles. What we didn’t see were any women truly in the spotlight due to their construction or leadership roles in pool building companies.
To be sure, the female sex was represented on the educational programs (self included) most often talking about the marketing or customer service side of the business. On the show floor, though, most of the booths were staffed predominantly by men.
Our search for those stories of women leading in this industry was pretty unsuccessful. And we spent a lot of time asking ourselves why. Where are the women actually running the companies, leading the design and construction side of pool innovation?
As we talked about this after we came home, Al pointed out a possibility…that maybe our society, with as much progress as we’ve already made, still isn’t quite ready to let go of traditional gender roles. Maybe there’s still a gap between men and women’s perceived roles in constructions and skilled trades.
Let’s face it; if we call a plumber and Julie the Plumber shows up, we’re still a bit surprised. We’re all conditioned to the distinction between fields that women and men are either naturally or stereotypically drawn to. I find myself in this industry now leading a construction and service company, though at first I was in the office, and later running my own all girl opening and closing crew.
With that in mind, it seems that the larger question now is: How can we educate the world that it’s okay for a woman to work in construction or skilled trades? How can we stop treating women in the industry as a novelty, or a token placement, or a pull for ratings or traffic?
When do we get to the point where we stop being shocked or surprised by a woman making a career in a traditionally male role?
The Magic of Feminine Energy
From Al’s perspective, having women on the crew has helped make this company the success it is today. He is adamant that the interplay between the masculine and feminine energy created by our team is invaluable to our success.
“The feminine energy brings such richness to the project and the product and what we’re trying to accomplish,” says Al. “And it’s not because the women on the crew are doing it differently than the men would. It’s just a fact that the feeling they bring or approach they take to the work is different.”
When those two diverse energies – the masculine and the feminine – meet and are allowed to blend with each other, “magic happens,” says Al. When the masculine and the feminine can play off each other, they call up and support each other’s strengths. This kind of magic can do wonders for a team, a company, and even the entire industry.
How can it happen? How do we get teenage girls interested in the pool business as a career choice? There will be those who are naturally drawn to it and decide to pursue that course. But to truly make the pool industry a viable and fulfilling place for the women who seek it out, I believe it comes down to having solid role models. There are many women working in the trades that do have a calling for it; perhaps they just don’t see themselves as role models or change leaders. They are simply doing the work they love.
Much of our modern thinking about gender roles at work goes back to the end of World War 2. Think back to the 1940s in America; the men went off to war and the women went into the factories. Rosie the Riveter’s “can do” attitude made a huge difference in the U.S.’s role in the war. What a massive step forward that was for women who had a desire to work in skilled trades….suddenly they were not only “allowed,” but welcomed and encouraged. And then the men came home, and needed those jobs, and the women were shooed back into their aprons and kitchens. In spite of Women’s Lib and the ERA, cultural attitudes still hold tight more than 70 years later.
I believe we are ripe for change.
The Exponential Power of the Role Model
Several years ago we hired a young woman named Aly to work on our summer crew. She was on the small side, petite, with long blond hair and a decidedly feminine look. And she worked like nobody’s business, handling the requirements of the job with a truly womanly combination of grit and grace.
Al recalls the first day Aly was sent to a job site, and the crew chief called him up and said “What do you want me to do with her?” Al didn’t hesitate to answer: “Work her hard! Work her like anyone else on the crew!”
Aly took to it like a pro, often out-working the guys on her crew and refusing to take a break unless everyone else did. She became a role model for my daughter and Al’s two girls, all of them too young to work at the time but often at the job site. As those younger girls watched Aly work, the phrase “I want to be just like Aly” became their mantra.
Aly was willing to work and sweat with the best of them…mixing concrete, shoveling dirt, hauling supplies. She ended up inspiring all of us, men and women alike.
Aly has moved on to other things, and our three daughters are now highly valued members of our crew, taking after Aly and emulating her grit…and her grace. The next generation is being raised up, exponentially, by the leadership of the previous.
Aly pushed through the pain and pushed through the skepticism of some of her male counterparts, and we can all learn from her to push our own boundaries and the expectations of those we work with.
So how can we find and encourage this kind of leadership, in the hopes of inspiring even more growth for women in the industry in the future?
I believe all of us have a part to play; we can shine a light on them as role models, giving them the accolades and respect they deserve. Then other young women could see that and decide if a career in the trades might be right for them. This approach has worked well for educational institutions that have featured women in leadership roles in engineering, math and science, and it could work for us too.
We encourage these women to find their voices and share their stories with others. You never know who’s watching when you work…and the impact you are having can be tremendous.
Let’s share those stories, and spotlight those women who are totally kicking ass in this industry. By doing so we’ll surely see those leaders rise to the top and bring many more along with them.