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Diversity: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety; especially: the inclusion of different types of people”.
For 9 consecutive years we reviewed the number of women attendees at the National NAED conference as a small viewpoint into how the industry is changing. Albeit this is not the most scientific survey, the results regularly confirmed the obvious; we remain a male-dominated industry. After 9 years and little to no change, the survey lost luster and became basically an annual dust-up on either the effectiveness of the conference management, or the inability of the industry to hire and promote women into levels of impact sufficient enough to invite to a gathering of top customers. The majority of responses we received were from men, complaining about the relevance of the issue.
So, for sheer curiosity purposes; we ran it once more. Now with 5 years of tumult in our politics, our discussions on race and diversity and inclusion; from positions on immigration to #MeToo, and the sheer daily din of protests in all facets of our lives.
Has 5 long years changed the landscape in the electrical industry?
Well…yes and no.
The percentage of women in distribution is basically the same, with the level of executive participation (VP of above) down from previous years.
Here are the results for the 2018 conference:
Manufacturing has made a noticeable improvement in the number of women attending this year. Compared to all the previous years of the study; the percentage of female executives has also risen.
Total Manufacturers and Distributors
My professional interpretation?
Manufacturing has shown a consistent increase in growth of women attendees; as a percentage. The percentage of women manufacturers, who are executives has grown to about half of all women attendees.
Keeping in mind that the sheer total of women executive attendees to a major conference of major customers is only 14 women out of 307 total attendees… it’s a pretty sad commentary on cultural diversity efforts over the past 14 years. The opportunity for women to interact with key customers would be beneficial in the long run; yet they’re just not included.
Distributors have displayed an entrenched adhesion to an all-male club. This isn’t a huge surprise to anyone, but it begs the question of why? Is the electrical industry not branding their career opportunities to women? Has NAED not developed outreach programs at the collegiate level to introduce the merits of a career in distribution? The comparisons above may be valuable if it could be replicated in other distribution channels: HVAC, Plumbing, Electronics, etc.
In a 2013 Harvard Business Review study by Zenger and Folkman* that compared leadership effectiveness of women vs. men, it concluded that women outscored men in 15 of 16 leadership competency variables they tested. They tested over 7,000 leaders across multiple industries and reported that the average number of women at senior executive levels is ‘only’ 22%. The NAED industry conference is arguably considered one of the top gatherings of industry senior executives and yet it has an executive representation of only 4.8% women?
The industry is experiencing rapid changes; unprecedented technological changes that have seriously challenged the boundaries of channel partnerships. The need for talent that understands technology and can envision new channel strategies is urgent. And that need is dwarfed by the impacts of the War for Talent which has dwindled the available ranks of experienced leadership.
Diversity is often conflated with a mis-guided concept that you must promote women or minorities ‘because they’re women or minority’. That’s not the point. The point is… you strive to hire and attract and develop, mentor and promote a diversity of people into your company; every year. Attracting different people gives your company a different perspective. The industry looks nothing like it looked in 2004… except for the attendance at the 2018 NAED National Conference.
Let’s break down the barriers and promote real idea exchange, with women, minorities and consultants who view the industry from multiple perspectives. If NAED members won’t change, then change the membership rules to attract diversity. We have over 19,000 distributor locations and over 7,500 electrical manufacturers in our database. NAED has been an exclusive old white guys club for decades; it’s time to change and expand the membership and encourage a diversity of ideas.
Need a better reason to change?
Review the attendance declines above…those old white guys are going away. As they leave, the relevance of NAED will diminish.
We all need to get better, faster.
Ted Konnerth, Egret Consulting Group’s founder and CEO, recruits on a retained basis, helping leaders in the electrical and lighting industry identify their next C and V-level hire. He is also the executive director for the International Retained Search Associates, allowing him to liaise with skilled recruiters around the globe. To learn more about how Ted can help your company attract talent view his biography, check him out on LinkedIn or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.