The Home Furnishings industry has been established in our society since the birth of this great nation. North Carolina, one of the 13 original colonies, started to emerge as a hub of local furniture production.
Fast forward more than 240 years and the industry that began in small towns maintained by the patriarchs of the colonies is a billion-dollar sector of American industry. While many things have changed (read: most everything), many things stayed the same.
The Home Furnishings industry has been pegged as a “traditional” sector of the American–and even global–economy. With a long-standing history of family-owned brands and sourcing local goods to manufacture furniture, traditional isn’t always a negative label.
When it comes to the leading innovators, creators, and industry tycoons, that is where the “traditional” element to the Home Furnishings industry hit a snag.
It goes without saying that the glass ceiling for women in the furniture industry has definitely had its cracks embedded through the last 30 years. Inspiring women have spent decades blazing trails in a historically male-dominant industry, and they’ve had their work cut out for them.
WithIt’s VP of Social Media, MicroD Business Development Executive, and a real supporter of women in the industry, Dana Helms, spoke about challenges she’s witnessed for women in this sector.
It’s no secret our industry has been predominantly male-driven for many years and, in that environment, women will be treated differently. As a professional woman, I don’t dwell on the differences.
In October 1997, to further enable the growth of women in the Home Furnishings industry, WithIt was born from a powerful group of successful women. Jena Hall, Kimberley Wray, and Margaret Traub launched this initiative that was welcomed with open arms by the hundreds of eager women ready to make their way to the top.
From the organization’s website, WithIt is:
[Withit…] a women’s leadership development network, is the one organization in the home and furnishings industries that champions the advancement of women. WithIt creates an encouraging environment for female leaders to grow by recognizing excellence, promoting leadership and positioning our members at the forefront of our evolving industries.
WithIt has over 400 members, with about 10% representing students who’ve joined the organization. Each year, this powerhouse of females mentors rising leaders, provides networking opportunities for women in the industry, hosts seminars and conferences to develop new leaders, and awards excellence to outstanding women.
MicroD has been a strong supporter and sponsor of WithIt since it’s inauguration in 1997. Propelling new women into leadership opportunities is just one of the outstanding objectives that are shared between WithIt and MicroD.
Manoj Nigam, CEO and President of MicroD, received the WOW Award for Mentoring; an award that is presented to an executive or organization that has fostered the development or promotion of women in their company. It’s not the first time MicroD team members have had such recognition from the organization.
WithIt offers incredible leadership and networking opportunities for driven women. MicroD’s Jessica Norby joined WithIt’s Committee as VP of Connections for 2017. She joins other incredible leading ladies from MicroD, like Dana Helms who is WithIt’s Social Media Manager of 16+ years. MicroD isn’t the only business that encourages membership among their employees. The list of inspiring women from year-to-year on the board and committees shows a collaboration effort between companies and women who share a common goal: growing women in the industry.
Dana’s experience as a committee member and strong advocate for WithIt and women in the industry is one that mirrors many in her shoes across our sector.
“No matter what stage I’ve been in my career, having a good mentor has been extremely valuable. I never stop learning and am constantly faced with new challenges. As I started being more involved in WithIt, putting myself out there and officially mentoring others there were new aspects I needed guidance on. The educational conferences I attended with special speakers from other corp companies was invaluable. The connections being made through every event I attend are priceless. Each having its own role in my career and growth.
If I had to sum it up into three key aspects to how my mentors have helped and continue to help me I would say that it’s by listening, guiding, and directing. Whatever the stage you’re in your career you can always benefit with someone who can do just that.”
Find a Mentor. Be a Mentor
To excel in any professional industry, mentoring is essential. This isn’t exclusive to women or even in the home furnishings industry. A mentor can help you grow by offering his or her expertise and experience in your field. Finding a mentor is critical to success and being a mentor is as critical to maintaining success. You’re never too old, too experienced, or too green to have a mentor. When women empower other women at every stage in the professional growth paths, we build longer bridges and taller ladders to reach a common goal.
Qualities of a Great Mentor
>> Listen to you talk through work, explain a problem or situation that you are faced with.
>> Guide you in the right direction with work, decisions, your career, suitable training, contacts, and how to deal with work-related situations.
>> Direct you by being honest with advice and feedback, be it about your work, decisions, ideas, management, leadership, or other business skills.
Dana Helms talked with us about how mentoring has molded her professional career.
Having a mentor should never be something negative and if someone suggests that you should have one, take it as a positive. It means that they want to help and invest in you. I try to encourage others if their work doesn’t provide a mentor, to ask for one, or try to find one on their own. A mentor can come in so many different forms. A key fact to remember is, it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who’s been assigned to be your mentor. They are all around! You don’t even have to have just one! But make sure you have one and that you use them. If you keep your mind open there is so much to learn from others. You will learn as much from the person you are mentoring as that person will learn from you.
Mentoring Opportunities in the Home Furnishings Industry
Here are some excellent mentoring programs available right in our sector!
>> WithIt offers a mentorship program for students aspiring to lead the furniture industry to a new level.
>> HFA’s organization, Next Generation Now, is a program to help all young professionals in our industry learn the ropes and excel in this business.
>> American Home Furnishings Alliance opens many educational and networking opportunities for newly-minted professionals as well as the veterans in transition.
Don’t Call it a Dream, Call it a Plan
There is room at the top for women in Home Furnishings. Just looking at the leadership roles among the industry’s leading manufacturers, retailers, designers, vendors, and organizations, it is clear that women are making their way to the boardrooms.
From one successful dreamer, planner, and rockstar professional in the industry, Dana Helms: To move ahead, leave gender aside and focus on your strengths. Be comfortable with yourself. Don’t try to change who you are to fit into a man’s world.
No matter where you are in the industry, your age, your gender, or your experience level, we can all agree that women in the workplace–specifically, in the home furnishings industry–is a reality we can get on board with.