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Female (Work)Force

February 27, 2017
Spring 2017
A version of this article appears in the Spring 2017 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Consider this scenario. A contractor pulls up to the house of prospective customer and knocks on the door.

Customer: (Opens door) “Hello?”

Contractor: “Hi, ma’am. I’m Jose from XYZ Cooling. I’m here to take a look at your air conditioner.”

Customer: “Right, I’ve been expecting you. Let me show you to the unit.”

Contractor: “Great. Question for you: Are all of the decision makers available today, in about an hour after I finish my assessment?”

Customer: “Yep, that’s me!”

Amy Beley Amy Beley has more than 12 years working in residential energy. She is an independent consultant and a yoga teacher in San Francisco, California.

Contractor: “I’d prefer to have you and your husband available, so we can make sure he understands what we need to do to solve the problem.”

Customer: (Sighs) “I am the decision maker. No need to include anyone else.”

Contractor: “It’s pretty complicated. I wouldn’t want to confuse you, and I want to make sure everyone involved understands.”

Customer: (Sigh)

We all have inherent biases. It’s human nature to try to quickly categorize people, or place a new situation in the same bucket as past experiences. In the above scenario—which is quite commonplace among many women I know—the contractor assumes that the customer is not equipped to understand the problem or the solution, and is not qualified to make final decisions about purchasing the services. The contractor may not be intentionally demeaning or belittling the intelligence of the woman in question; it’s likely inherent bias. And in the case of many of my female friends, the contractor loses the sale. So what can we do? How do we address inherent bias in a constructive, effective way?

I won’t pretend to have all of the answers. But first and foremost, we must talk about this. In the example above, XYZ Cooling will lose the sale for making a biased assumption. It’s good for business to be on the lookout for these biases. Women either make or influence 70% of purchasing decisions in the home. This means that, as an industry, we’re missing a big opportunity.

Untitled
Amanda Godward, owner of Ecotelligent Homes, performs an assessment of a customer’s home. (Ecotelligent Homes)

Consider another scenario. Last year, at Home Performance Coalition’s National Conference and Trade Show in Austin, Texas, the Women in Home Performance initiative held a working session on the last full day of the conference. I anticipated that this would be a brainstorming session where we would identify opportunities to build out the initiative. We did some of that, but so much more unfolded. The women who attended this session found a place to let down their guard and share personal experiences. This led to some intense discussions about incidents that had happened at the conference. Inappropriate comments about looks and sexuality. One woman was followed back to her hotel room at night, even after telling him to leave and attempting to lose him. Assumptions in group discussion that the woman was either the admin or office staff, when in fact the woman in question both runs the business and crawls through crawl spaces. The atmosphere in that session became a safe haven, one that nurtured cathartic conversation to let us all know that we’re in this together. The purpose of our initiative is not only to embody women, but to get the men to realize that more often than not, women are the decision makers.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the vast majority of men in this industry are good, kind, honest guys. It is a small percentage of men that commit the most egregious offenses; the majority of men have no idea that these things happen. Women have kept silent for fear of being judged, of confrontation, or of “causing a scene.” Many women believe that they should keep their heads down and get stuff done, sidestepping the inappropriate comments and dismissive attitudes that can impede their progress. We need to change that. We need to speak up, to offer our opinions, to shout out an answer. Be a vocal, active part of the conversation. Here’s how.

Hire women. Often the resumes that come across our desks are for male applicants. Dig deeper. Reach out to local high schools and vocational schools. Work with local community organizations to find young smart talent that looks different. Our industry is a complicated one; we need all the diverse thinking we can get.

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Contact Amy Beley at amy@beley.org.

Women in Building Performance will be meeting at HPC National in Nashville, Tennessee, March 19–22, 2017. Join us!

Join the conversation: Twitter: @WomeninBP and LinkedIn

Start a dialogue. These gender issues can be challenging to navigate. Ask questions; do research Come to these meetings and conferences with a list of questions that you want answered. Learn to speak publicly; start a conversation with someone you don’t know. Even if it’s with the person in the coffee line. And ladies, get used to hearing your voice; and realize that it’s time to speak up, often.

Support Women in Building Performance. The Women in Home Performance initiative has changed its name to Women in Building Performance in an effort to be more inclusive. We’re collaborating with other women’s organizations like Women in HVAC and Women in Solar Energy. We’re looking to bring more diversity to the industry, and to the conferences. Sponsor someone at the conference. Donate funds for a diversity scholarship. Come to our events. All are welcome!

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