A year after the coronavirus pandemic forced its conference to go virtual, Women in HVACR returned to an in-person event this past October 2021. A record crowd gathered on a Florida beach to network, talk shop, and share tips on succeeding in a male-dominated field.
The Sirata St. Pete Beach resort in St. Petersburg hosted some 260 women for the 18th annual WHVACR meeting, during which, as a precaution against the ongoing pandemic, many events were held in a 120- by 60-foot tent on the beach.
SUN AND SAND: A 120- by 60-foot tent on a Gulf beach was the site of the larger events at the 2021 Women in HVACR conference. “We made sure that we had Florida on our side,” said Colleen Keyworth, WHVACR president. (Photo by Colleen Keyworth / Courtesy of Women in HVACR, click to enlarge.)
“We decided to be a little bit flexible and try something new,” said Colleen Keyworth, WHVACR president. “Attendees actually got to have their toes in the sand.”
The conference theme this year — “Breaking the Surface” — was about regrouping, recharging, and pushing through to succeed during difficult times, Keyworth said.
Three keynote speakers, Betsy Allen Manning, Annette Comer, and Lisa Fey, all spoke to women’s empowerment, said Danielle Putnam, president of The New Flat Rate, a Georgia-based, trades-focused software company.
RESET, RECHARGE: Betsy Allen Manning, a leadership training consultant, speaks to conference attendees about helping workers overcome burnout and enjoy their jobs as a way of building stronger and more productive workplaces. (Photo by Peter Montana / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
SERIOUS LAUGHTER: Speaker Lisa Fey uses humor as she imparts lessons gleaned from years in the male-dominated corporate world. Her talk was called, “When There’s No Line at the Ladies Room.” (Photo by Jeff Schlichenmeyer / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
“They all brought a different perspective and a different vibe and atmosphere,” she said. Putnam said each speaker, in her own way, made the same point about women in the business world: Be the president of your own fan club.
“They all said quit taking a back seat as a woman and quit saying, ‘Oh, thank you so much. I’m so humbled,’” said Putnam. “Accept (recognition) with pride and quit taking the second seat.”
She added, “There’s a way to still be humble but still be bold in the work force and have your voice heard.”
STRETCH GOALS: Participants take time out for fitness during the WHVACR conference. (Photo by Jeff Schlichenmeyer / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
The conference also included several WHVACR member speakers, breakout professional development sessions, social hours, and — on the second night — a luau dinner party on the beach. “Food was delicious. Conversations were wonderful,” said Putnam, a member of the WHVACR advisory board.
LUAU DINNER: This trio of conference-goers is dressed up for a Hawaiian-style luau dinner party on the second night of the WHVACR conference. (Photo by Peter Montana / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
FLORIDA GOES HAWAIIAN: Steel Toe Flip Flop entertains conference-goers during a luau dinner on the second night of the WHVACR conference. (Photo by Jeff Schlichenmeyer / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
The event also featured the inaugural Top Women in HVAC awards, sponsored by WHVACR and The ACHR NEWS. Twenty professionals in the industry, including Putnam, were honored.
STEPPING UP: Lauren Roberts and Danielle Putnam show off their plaques as they’re honored with the inaugural Top Women in HVAC awards during the 18th annual WHVACR conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. From left: ACHR NEWS sales representative Kathy Janes; Roberts, president and CEO of cfm Distributors; Putnam, the president of The New Flat Rate; and Colleen Keyworth, director of sales and marketing at Online Access Inc., current WHVACR president. (Photo by Peter Montana / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
The camaraderie among WHVACR members, said Putnam, is exceptional. Oftentimes, women at professional gatherings will “come together with their guards up at first,” she said. But, she added, “In this group, there’s just friendship.”
AL FRESCO: Outdoor dining at the Sirata St. Pete Beach resort gave conference-goers more chances to get some sunshine. (Photo by Jeff Schlichenmeyer / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
Putnam met a fellow attendee who, as it turned out, lives near her in Georgia. “Now we plan to meet up and stay connected,” she said.
Keyworth, the director of sales and marketing at the Michigan-based Online Access Inc., a digital marketing company for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical firms, said WHVACR has seen explosive growth in recent years. The last in-person conference was in Boston in 2019 and saw about 200 participants, she said.
“It’s just continued to gain momentum,” said Putnam, who’s attended every WHVACR conference since 2012.
The conference, said Keyworth, gives members a chance to network with professionals from all verticals in the industry.
NETWORKING: New friendships were made and old once revived during the WHVACR conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Schlichenmeyer / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
“There are very few conferences you can walk into where you can talk to the CEO ... and a technician at the same time,” she said.
WHVACR members gave the event generally positive reviews in a post-conference survey.
LEADERSHIP TRAINING: Liz Patrick, vice president for strategic alliances for Service Nation Inc., talks about gender bias, power, and women in leadership. (Photo by Jeff Schlichenmeyer / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION: Thelma Tamaz speaks on avoiding bias and monoculture in the workplace. (Photo by Peter Montana / Courtesy of Women in HVACR)
“Loved the leadership and empowerment focus of many of the speakers,” wrote one woman. “I feel like I can incorporate many of those tips into my daily life/work.”
“After hearing from these amazing speakers, I can’t wait to be more confident,” said another. “I am determined to stand out and make my company great.”