‘Use your voice’ SWOT panel tells Top Women

Five leaders discuss strengths, challenges at big Chicago event.
Margi Vagell, of Lowe’s, makes a point.

“Make miracles happen.”

“Never quit on your goals.”

Those were the opening words from Fran Monk, VP of marketing at LMC, moderating the SWOT panel at the recent Top Women in Hardware and Building Supply event hosted by HBSDealer.

At this discussion on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – or SWOT – five industry leaders talked about “using your voice to advocate for yourself and other women.”

“Speak up about the things you need,” said Stefanie Couch, director of sales for American Builders Supply.

Couch, who told the audience of about 300 women and men during the panel introductions that she was a trained opera singer, stood up at the crowd’s request and sang for onlookers – and got a standing ovation.

Her voice rose to fill the hall. The theme for the panel was certainly clear: “Use your voice.”

One example she gave was asking for, and getting, a separate women’s bathroom, with key access, out on a jobsite.

“Business tends to be old school,” said Emily Morgan, CEO Ashby Lumber. “Companies in the industry need to have better benefits, so that way your organization lifts you up.”

Margi Vagell, SVP and general merchandising manager at Lowes said women should be, “advocates for the balances in life we need.”

Another panelist added to that. “Be a proactive leader. Encourage young people to follow their paths. You can help them with meetings and calls,” said Brenda Nobleza, regional VP channel sales, for Epicor.

“We are engaging with the college scene more to get our software out there,” said Nobleza.

So much of your role is mentoring, said Vagell, looking out on the faces of the attendees. “Remember we’ve gotten so much help along the way. We must pay it forward.”

Stay curious

Moderator Fran Monk wanted to identify opportunities for the engaged audience.

To the panel she posed this: “How do women promote themselves?”

“Question things. Ask yourself, ‘can we do things better?’” said Couch, adding, “don’t be afraid to ask for help and support.”

The panel shared more of those thoughts, telling the audience to ask themselves: What do I love? What are my strengths? And to “find your calling,” then help others find theirs.

“Make sure people know your goals and where you want to go,” said Couch. “Use your voice.”

Stefanie Couch: “Use your voice.”

“Life is a journey. Keep learning and stay curious,” said Morgan.

Besides strengths and opportunities, the panel talked to attendees about weaknesses and threats.

“Don’t make assumptions,” said Vagell. “Build relationships with everyone; build that trust.”

In the evolution of a career, said Nobleza, “it takes time to move up.” But, she said, you can build credibility in your leadership group. “Absorb and learn first; that’s especially true being a woman.”

Vagell told the crowd that when you get a seat at the table – don’t waste it.

“You earned your seat. Project your voice and be heard.”

Nobleza said it was important to constantly gauge your audience. “Understand who you are talking to. Be succinct and direct.”

The audience applauded these messages.

Next, Morgan pointed out that, “contractors will walk straight to the male in a group.” That poignant observation was met with plenty of nods by attendees. “We need to keep advocating for each other.”

Support each other, said Vagell. “We can drive our business culture.”

And mentorship is key, said Monk.

Couch said you need mentors who will tell you the truth. Tell you things you need to improve on. “So, learn from that,” she said.

The message is to seek out mentorship; it can come from anywhere.

Morgan said to the audience: “My mom once said to me ‘if you want it – go get it.’ Mentorship can be life changing.”

One attendee summed up the feelings in the hall at the conclusion of the panel, “so much truth, right on.”

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