At Top Women: Mentorship, hurdles, and advancement

At the Top Women in Hardware & Building Supply conference, leaders discuss finding the right mentor while overcoming diversity challenges.
Top Women Day 2 Mentors Career Advacement
Sunny Bowman, Carol Crystal, Amy Bass Messersmith, and Kimberly DeJesso discuss their careers at the Top Women in Harware & Building Supply conference.

CHICAGO - For women in the industry, rising up the ranks isn't without multiple challenges.

At the Top Women in Hardware & Building Supply Conference, a panel of industry leaders discussed how to overcome hurdles along with finding the right career mentor.

In a panel discussion moderated by Sunny Bowman, president and owner of Dakota County Lumber, a trio of executives shared their stories and the possibilities for other female leaders in the hardware and building supply industry.

Bowman opened the discussion by citing figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and noted that women make up just 11% of the construction industry compared to 46% of the overall workforce. 

"Obviously we have some catching up to do," Bowman said.

While discussing her own career in the industry, Carol Crystal, vice president, of merchandising, LBM at Home Hardware noted "you have to be open to opportunities and possibilities." 

Before arriving at Home Hardware, with nearly 1,100 dealer-owned hardware stores and lumberyards across Canada, Crystal had a rising career in fashion and beauty merchandising at Hudson Bay and Walmart Canada. 

She eventually left fashion and beauty behind for a hammer while buying and renovating homes in Toronto with her husband. 

"You never know where life is going to take you," Crystal said. "I never thought I would be walking lumberyards."

Given her prior experience in merchandising, combined with her knowledge of hardware and building materials, Crystal took a position with Lowe's Canada before moving up the LBM ranks.

Amy Bass Messersmith, chief people officer at Builders FirstSource, noted that women in the industry sometimes need to feel a sense of belonging and availability. “I need to look around and see other women that I can learn from and establish a sense of community,” she explained. 

Builders FirstSource is currently piloting a program in the Northeast where women can get together for discussions about their career experiences. Messersmith said the group recently had an "impressive" in-person meeting and the program is "well underway" for a national rollout. 

Home Depot launched a similar program, Women in Pro, that allows that provides a space for discussions, guest speakers, team-building events, and opportunities to learn about one another's hurdles. 

"With Women in Pro, it gives us a chance to share our experiences," said  Kimberly DeJesso, regional pro sales director, The Home Depot. 

DeJesso noted that while her career ascended at The Home Depot, it was not without challenges her male peers did not have to contend with. This included maintaining a household and parenting while working long hours. 

Messersmith suggested a remedy and said that women can outsource some jobs at home such as grocery shopping. "Outsource what doesn't bring you joy," she said.

The Builders FirstSource executive also noted that she is a "people studier," which has led her to success in finding mentors.

"I look at how they relate or demonstrate empathy or bring fine point to a discussion," Messersmith explained. "Go to that person and ask to learn about the person’s process; those are mentors."

"Sometimes we are overcomplicated," she added. "There are people who have mentored me and they never knew it."


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