Having been in this industry for more than 30 years, I have seen many amazing changes. There’ve been technological improvements in equipment. Technology changes have improved interactions with customers such as instant billing from a hand-held computers, and programs that allow a customer to schedule a service call on-line. There have also been improvements in business processes — recognition of the value of maintenance agreements for the customer and the business, the importance of maximizing the return from labor through pricing methodology, and pay for performance systems.

With all these changes why is it that there are still so few women in the industry? Whenever, I ask this question, I’m often told: “I want to hire a woman, but I can’t find one who has the technical expertise.”

My answer: “So all the men you hire for the field have technical expertise or technical experience?”

The best companies in our industry find young people and provide them the expertise they need. So while looking for a bright, clean-cut, well-spoken young person with technical aptitude to add to your technical ranks, why not look specifically for a woman?

I recently conversed with Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter and a U.S. Marine for eight years, who says the Marines taught her there are two kinds of leaders: “those who are people users and those who are people builders.” She chooses to be the latter. I asked her what women bring to an industry dominated by men. She said: “Women bring a different perspective to a company. Without women in its ranks, a company doesn’t have a complete point of view.” Men and women approach things differently and we see and hear things differently.

Thompson also said, “Our customer is generally a woman and if you have a female technician interacting with her, the dynamics are different.” Whether nature or nurture, women listen differently than men. We generally seem to be better at hearing the underlying connotation behind what others are saying. We seem to ask more questions and are better at clarifying what the customer is saying. Isn’t that one of the most important characteristics of a field person? So why wouldn’t you want someone more naturally inclined to use those skills in the field?

Another reason given for not hiring a woman: “They don’t want to deal with attics and crawlspaces.”

My answer: “And men do?”

Siobhan Edington of Johnson Air Conditioning in San Antonio, TX, recently attended our class on how to educate the customer — not sell the customer. She could have taught the class. Presently, she is a lead installer for her company. We asked her to describe how she approaches an installation and how she interacts with the customer.

When she arrives at the home, she introduces herself and her helper to the homeowner. While her helper is setting up for the installation, Siobhan sits down and describes the installation process to the homeowner. Siobhan makes sure that the homeowner understands what access to the house the installers will need, determines how the installers should enter the home, and verifies the location of all new equipment and new thermostats. Most importantly, she offers the homeowner add-ons such as indoor air quality upgrades, humidifiers, line hides, maintenance agreements etc.

Next, Siobhan goes outside, puts on her overalls for the installation and gets to work. Halfway through the installation, she stops, finds the homeowner, and informs him/her of progress and reassures the customer about the installation.

At the completion of the job, Siobhan reviews her company’s checklist of installation procedures with the customer to demonstrate that all steps have been followed. She shows the customer the new equipment, on her camera phone if necessary, and has the homeowner demonstrate how to change the filter in a new furnace. In other words, Siobhan doesn’t just show the customer how to do it; she actually has the customer do it. And she has the customer program his/her new thermostat.

Siobhan has recently been asked to conduct customer service training for all her male counterparts in the installation and service department. If the men follow Siobhan’s processes, systems, and advice, Johnson Air Conditioning will be a company to be reckoned with.

Okay, no more excuses. A woman should be the next addition made to your field force. Prove to me that in 30 years innovation hasn’t just happened in equipment, technology, and processes. Show me that innovation and out-of-the-box thinking is happening in the minds and attitudes of our male-dominated industry.

Vicki LaPlant has been working with HVAC contractors for the past 30 years as a trainer and consultant. She is expert in helping people work better together for greater success. She is a Contracting Business.com editorial advisory board member and can be reached by email at vicki@vleishvac.com, or by phone at 903/786-6262.