Women in HVACR (WHVACR) continues to build its legacy, venturing into unchartered waters and hosting its first ever stand-alone conference at the Tarrant County College Center for Energy Excellence in Fort Worth, Texas. The event, scheduled for Sept. 27-29, will make an everlasting mark on the WHVACR timeline.

“It’s a major milestone in the evolution of the organization to be able to have the capacity and demand for our own event,” said Karen Lamy DeSousa, president, Advance Air & Heat Co. Inc. in East Freetown, Massachusetts, and WHVACR board member. “It’s a sign of the direction the industry is going — to be more inclusive of women.”

This year’s theme is ‘Discover Your Legacy.’

“We feel that the Women in HVACR organization is now well enough known to begin to establish its own legacy, and a great way to do this is by standing on our own,” said Mary Jo Gentry, marketing communications manager, Ritchie Engineering Co. Inc., Yellow Jacket products, and 2018 president of WHVACR.

And if that isn’t exciting enough, the WHVACR board has put a lot of thought and effort into creating a truly unique experience for all who attend. For starters, the venue itself is enticing.

“It’s a center for energy technology which houses working labs to diagnose HVAC equipment,” said Julie Decker, national sales manager, Atco Rubber Products, and current WHAVCR president. “They have a state-of-the-art LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Platinum facility and training center. The purpose is to provide a venue for women to collaborate, learn, and develop both personally and professionally.”

In addition to the venue, WHVACR has secured an outstanding lineup of speakers, including former U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot Elizabeth McCormick and the 2016 runner-up for The NEWS’ HVACR Instructor of the year, Rhonda Wiggins, from Hennepin Technical College. They will both speak on how they got to where they are and the legacy they are building for those to follow.

“The speakers’ topics are generally the highest priority, and I am confident our roster will encourage women to attend,” said Gentry.

“This year in particular, there will be more social interaction and networking opportunities,” said Danielle Putnam, president of The New Flat Rate and WHAVCR treasurer. “Attendees will bus together to and from the school, attend a cocktail reception the night before the conference and dinner the night of, and have optional ‘fun time’ on Friday that includes a tour of the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.”

The draw of the event is split equally between the educational value of the speakers and the opportunity to network with other women in the HVACR field, according to DeSousa. Because HVACR is such a male-dominated industry, attending other trade shows and conferences causes some women to feel overwhelmed or excluded.

“The WHVACR conference is a unique opportunity to network with female peers in a comfortable, casual, and relaxing environment,” DeSousa said.

Gentry agreed and pointed out that although the industry is male-dominated, and society tends to push four-year degrees over trade school certifications, the number of women in HVACR is growing.

“Our goal is to actively demonstrate that we are committed to welcoming and developing women in our industry,” she said. “What sets our meeting apart is that it is designed specifically for women and the industry issues that affect them, so 100 percent of the content is relevant.”

Though the upcoming conference says a lot about the WHVACR organization, its legacy began over a decade ago and will continue to grow for many more to come.  

“Women in HVACR began with the foresight of a few female contractors,” said Decker.

Fourteen years later, the organization has grown steadily, owing to the enthusiasm of its members, the generous support of its sponsors, and the selfless work of its volunteer board.

“We couldn’t have gotten to where we are without all of the support we have received from our industry partners,” said Gentry. “They are each a key to our legacy.

“Women certainly face barriers as we advance our careers in this industry,” she added. “The formation of formal membership groups allows us to participate and share experiences and ideas on how we, as women, can overcome many of these barriers. The number of women in this industry is growing as we help to get the message out there — I believe that our combined voices are being heard, and we are respected in the field.”

Putman said she is proud of the organization for taking the next step and hosting its own event.

“There are a lot of women who put their heart and soul into this organization,” she said. “The hard work has truly lifted WHVACR to the next level.”

Registration for the event is now open to members and nonmembers.  

“Our conference is different because it’s inclusive and consists of contractors, manufacturers, wholesale distributors, service providers, national affiliations, buying groups, etc.,” Decker said. “We focus on each aspect to improve our industry.”

“To any women who are on the fence about becoming involved, I would say, ‘There is no better time than now,’” said Gentry.

Attendance at the event is open to both women and men, so it’s a great opportunity to network with top individuals from all areas of the HVACR industry.

“I am honored to be in such a dynamic group that has such a passion for what it’s doing,” said Putnam. “I thank the men in the industry who have embraced and welcomed me, and I appreciate the challenges that continue to present themselves along the way.

“I don’t like making things about gender — it doesn’t need to be an issue,” she said. “Instead, let’s make it about who’s interested in a great opportunity for a fulfilling career where your growth potential is only capped off by your own desire to learn.”

The question to ask yourself is not, “Will I leave behind a legacy?” because the answer to that question is always, “Yes.” Whether we realize it or not, we all leave something behind, we all impact people with our actions, and we all make lasting impressions. The better question to ask is, “What legacy will I leave behind?”

“It’s about opportunity and a desire to learn and grow,” Putnam said. “Anyone, male or female, who has the dream, goal, ambition, and desire to pursue greatness…well — they can achieve greatness. Road blocks begin in the mind.”

So, whether you’re taking the first steps on your path to success or you have a marathon of miles behind you, consider making a stop in Fort Worth, Texas, to stand with the Women in HVACR — the organization aims to inspire and support conference attendees to both define and build its legacy.

“We all have faults, but our strengths are what we focus on — what we utilize to make this organization the best,” said Decker. “We are in a constant state of defining and building what we will be remembered by.”    

For more information or to register for the conference, visit www.womeninhvacr.org.

Publication date: 7/31/2017

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