Women Take Seat in STEM and HVAC Industries

Johnson Controls holds women-specific panal sessons during AHR 2017 Expo. 

There was so much to see, and do, at the AHR 2017 Expo as it related to trends and innovations in the industry, but Johnson Controls (JCI) took it a step further by hosting a variety of panel sessions addressing women-specific issues in the industry. 

“JCI recognized that the industry has not done a good job with attracting, or retaining, women,” said Renee J. Joseph, vice president of sales and marketing, North America. “With that kind of problem statement in front of us, we as a company decided to do something to address it.” 

Nazee Hoglund, vice president of data analytics and portfolio management at JCI, who lead the women in ASHRAE panel and speaker series said, “The main purpose of this event was to promote women in STEM careers and HVAC industry. Our industry is a hidden gem, and we need to change that.”

JCI did that it in a big way with four unique sessions where industry and academic leaders held daily thought-provoking talks and panel discussions during the company’s Rooftop Top Talk presentations. 

On Monday, Jan. 30, Romila Singh, associate professor at Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, gave a presentation titled, “Stemming the Tide: Why do Women Leave Engineering and Technical Roles?” 
Singh noted that research shows women are much more likely to leave an engineering career than their male counterparts. She discussed research from the National Science Foundation, and a study, “Stemming the Tide,” that she and three other professors conducted. More than 5,300 respondents from more than 200 universities participated in the study. 

For the last two decades, women comprised more than 20 percent of engineering school graduates, but only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women, which has not changed for more than 30 years. Women’s departure from engineering is four times higher than men. Why is that? 

Singh noted women who left the field of engineering, did so because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement, or low salary. Some left because they wanted to start a family, or completely change direction in career choice. 

Women engineers currently in the field who work in companies that value and recognize their contributions and invest substantially in their training and professional development, expressed greatest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers. 

Singh asked, “Do we need to fix women, or fix the work environment?” She answered with a quote from one of the participants: “We as women must be able to bring ourselves fully to the workplace — as ourselves, not by emulating men. Our future as a technical society depends on the kinds of leadership, insights and wisdom that women can bring to the workplace. To empower women to become and remain engineers in this way means overhauling our educational systems, as well as workplaces, changes that can be made by dedicated people over time.”  

On Monday afternoon, Vice President of Global Communications for JCI, Marta Newhart moderated a panel discussion titled, “Everyone’s Job: Men Mentoring Men on Diversity in HVAC.” 
Newhart started by asking the panelists, Tom Roberts, president of cfm Distributors; Jim Mangini, vice president of sales and channel operations, JCI; and Jerry Braun, president and CEO of Texas AirSystems, about their experience and what they have done to promote women in the industry. 

Each provided some insight as how they have been able to increase the number of women employees or create opportunities for women in their organization. The panelists suggested that the inclusive environment results in two great things: happy employees and better financial return, both of which are important to business owners. 

Newart closed with asking, “What if we look at companies with diversity and inclusiveness as companies for investment?”  

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, Cheryl Kern, global director of diversity and inclusion, JCI, moderated “Coolest Women in the World: Stories of Success in HVAC.” This was a great panel discussion addressing the uniqueness of three women’s journey into the industry, and their lessons learned along the way. Panelists included Ruth Ann Davis, vice president of Williams Products and past president of Women in HVACR Association; Nazanin Hoglund, vice president of data analytics and portfolio management, JCI; and Lauren Roberts, executive vice president, cfm Distributors. 

Kern jumped right in asking the women to discuss their thoughts on the industry as it related to a woman’s journey, and the challenges they each overcame.
“When I started,” Davis said, “there were no women in leadership in the HVAC industry.” Now, with more than 25 years of leadership experience, Davis encourages other women to “get involved and find ways to serve in all aspects of this industry.”

As a VP of sales and marketing for a manufacturer of residential, commercial and industrial heating and air-conditioning equipment, Davis chairs Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Institute’s Direct Heating Division; served as President of the Women in HVACR Board of Directors; Steering, Strategic Planning and Marketing Committees for Western HVAC Performance Alliance in California; Heating, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International’s Suppliers’ Board Member, Advocacy and Membership Councils and The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada.

“The thing that has served me best is curiosity,” Davis said. 

Nazee Hoglund joined JCI in January 2015 as vice president of data analytics and portfolio management, and is responsible for the global controls products strategy and roadmap, helping to ensure data, user experience and connectivity are driving product innovation. 

“The biggest changes I’ve seen is impact of millennials in the work force,” Hoglund noted. “This new generation of ‘global citizens’ looks to be more inclusive, and tend to do a better job at promoting our industry and diversity.” 
Hoglund was instrumental in coordinating the four Top Talks geared around women in the industry. When asked what advice she would give to other women, she said, “It’s okay to talk about what you’ve accomplished!”

Lauren Roberts has worked for cfm Distributors in various marketing and leadership roles for 12 years. As a passionate member of the HVAC industry, she is the chair of the HARDI Marketing Committee, and a past member of the HARDI Emerging Leaders Task Force, and vice president of the Board of Directors for HARDI’s philanthropic organization. 

“Perseverance has served me best as a woman in this industry,” Roberts said. Before the end of the 20-minute session, she reminded the attendees, “We need to do a better job in sharing our history and success stories.”
The last session, “Women in STEM: Barriers, Challenges and Successes,” was held on Wednesday, Feb. 1 and presented by Allison Sahl, research fellow of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

Sahl explored barriers to the success of women in occupations historically over-represented by men. She asked, “Why aren’t more women in STEM?” 
Three barriers were discussed: 

  • Societal: Socialization for kids places boys and girls into different career paths.  
  • Organizational: The ideal employee puts their job first and has no other obligations. Women have long been considered primary caregivers and therefore don’t fit into the “ideal employee” category 
  • Individual: These include self-imposed barriers such as confidence, harassment and discrimination. 

Sahl suggested representation, mentorship programs, supportive networks, improved family-related workplace policies and career re-entry are ways to counter the barriers. 
She concluded by saying these changes would benefit both women and men in the workplace. “We are better on the same team because of our differences, not in spite of them.” 
All four sessions served as a platform for women in the industry to share ideas and network, as well as a platform for men to be part of the process. In the end, a workplace that is equally beneficial for all can only help promote success for everyone. 

To find out more about JCI and its work with women in the industry, click here. On a related note, sign up today for the Women in PHCP newsletter. 

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