The Electrical Industry’s Professional Recruiter

Egret’s 7th Annual Women in Industry Survey

By Ted Konnerth

Diversity: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety; especially: the inclusion of different types of people.
For 7 years, we’ve reviewed the number of women attendees as a small viewpoint into how the industry is changing. Albeit, this is not the most scientific survey but the results confirm the overall perception I’ve had of our industry for the past 25 years; we are a male-dominated industry, and worse; we’re not changing to meet the demands of the near future. There are elegant rationalizations for that; the distribution industry was launched in it’s current form from the end of World War II, when the returning soldiers represented an extraordinary influx of labor at a time of government sponsored construction projects; where the availability of materials was a major contributor to the efficiency of our re-birth from the War. The industry was virtually started by servicemen and has remained virtually male-only for 65+ years. Dad’s turned the business over to sons, and a handful of daughters, but a strategic process of attracting a diverse workforce into distribution and even electrical manufacturers simply never gained traction. Look at the results for 2011:

 Year Category # of females Total # Attendees  % female
2005 Distributors 20 322 6.2%
2006 Distributors 22 316 6.9%
2007 Distributors 21 323 6.5%
2008 Distributors 25 396 6.3%
2009 Distributors 9 159 5.7%
2010 Distributors 22 254 8.7%
2011 Distributors 15 243 6.2%
2005 Manufacturer 27 381 7.0%
2006 Manufacturer 17 358 4.7%
2007 Manufacturer 17 331 5.1%
2008 Manufacturer 23 348 6.6%
2009 Manufacturer 21 221 9.5%
2010 Manufacturer 23 289 8.0%
2011 Manufacturer 24 282 8.5%
2005 Total, above 47 703 6.7%
2006 Total, above 39 674 5.8%
2007 Total, above 38 654 5.8%
2008 Total, above 48 744 6.5%
2009 Total, above 30 380 7.9%
2010 Total, above 45 543 8.3%
2011 Total, above 39 525 7.4%

My professional interpretation? No significant changes in diversity. In fact, based on 7 years of reporting, 2011 just supports the bigger issue that NAED is losing relevance. The sheer total attendance numbers are practically a joke. Only 500 people in a $100B industry go to the National Leadership Summit?. The organization that welcomes ‘inclusive ideas’ is in fact formulaic and predictable; which is exactly why the same old white guys play golf and wine and dine all night with the same old distributors. It’s social, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, while the world is changing rapidly with the infusion of electronics into core ‘electrical’ realms, the changes that are roiling the industry are largely hidden from view. When will we talk about the fact that LED has the potential to disintermediate the second largest product segment from every ‘electrical’ distributor in the country, as can DC power distribution, ‘off-grid’ energy solutions, and smart building and smart grid solutions? 

12 years ago, when Egret first applied to join NAED, we were told that NAED’s goal was to add diversity to its membership and provide diverse content to its conferences. The quote from the President at the time was that “NAED strived to be an inclusive organization”. Sadly, over the past 3-4 years they’ve added only 3-4 new manufacturers who focus on Solar energy and/or LED lighting solutions; plus an additional 2-3 distributors from outside the US. Diversity should add strength to an organization, even if those diverse members provide services or ideas “to the detriment of other members”. (see NAED’s membership rules)

The regional conference program presentations have consistently provided information on how to effectively manage gross margins, maximize inventory turns, prevent theft, sell more effectively and figure out SPA’s. The National conference traditionally has content of global trends or political trends and a mélange of panel discussions on vendor/customer relationships.

NAED is simply a formula, the only significant changes in the past 10 years is that the hotels are no longer Marriott’s and they’ve stolen the ‘speed dating’ format of the buying groups to enhance ‘networking’

While the beer and cigars are flowing on the tee boxes, reality is that the game is no longer the same. And the need to attract people into the conference who actually see the future are largely ‘excluded’ within NAED. The program content never addresses the direct to end-user market for alternative energy products, or the lack of electronic training for electrical distributors, which will eventually move those trades and products away from the electrical distributors. I have not seen a program presentation on how to assess, isolate, attract and retain new innovative talent. Talent is the #1 issue facing every company in America, but the issue is also ‘excluded’ in NAED.

In short, do you want to grow and become more profitable? Then you need to attract people who look at this industry as a step into the future; where electronics and low voltage applications will dominate controls, lighting and all computer applications; including TV’s, sound, security, voice and all computing.

Diversity brings new ideas, new approaches and often a difference of opinions on how to proceed. It’s what made America strong. Let’s break down the barriers and promote real idea exchange, with women, minorities and consultants who view the industry from the sidelines. Some of these people play golf, too.