Whenever I hear it said that the “Boy’s Club” still rules and “women need not apply,” I feel compelled to share my experiences in this industry. It’s true, if you walk into most showrooms in High Point during the beginning of the Furniture Market, you will find a huge group of older men in their new market ties getting ready for the sales meetings. Soon the company leaders (mostly all men) will get up and address the sales force. He will tell them why these products will sell and give them the marching orders for the upcoming season. Some of those leaders will even talk about how more women are needed in influential positions in our industry. I’ve heard the same empty rhetoric for 30 years now! The problem is, some say it because they believe it, and some because they think it’s the right thing to say and it makes them look more progressive. However, they’re still saying this to a huge group of aging men. Some in really great ties, too. But the truth is there’s no plot against women or anyone else. The only plot is to desperately keep their jobs.
To begin to go to the core of the problem we have to back up and understand how this industry was built. I, myself, am a perfect example of how the industry has evolved. I’m a pure nepotistic traveler into the wide world of furniture. My father is a retired 50 year veteran of the industry, and he brought me in through the worm hole called “who you know.” Here’s the dirty little secret. In the good ole days, you didn’t have to possess the truly applicable talent nor education to make a lot of money in the furniture business. You needed to have a father in it! Then you needed to learn to talk the talk and take the right people to lunch without saying something stupid. And to this day, the same crop of individuals cultivated over the decades is still in many of the same positions. The only difference now is they are holding on for dear life! So few are there because of their training or deep connection to what really applies to today’s home or the real consumers’ design sensibilities.
Women of the industry please listen carefully. You are the primary consumers of our products. These jobs are there for your taking! The “Boys Club” is weak. Actually, it doesn’t really even exist at all. A club implies organization and a team working together for a cause. Trust me, most of their wives still pick their ties! They can’t compete with you head to head. You got this! The biggest obstacle today is the fear, insecurity, and the misunderstandings stemming from the years of the smoke and mirror show perfection.
The reality is, the industry is ripe for takeover on every level. And, it has to be on every single level. If we really look around, there are some amazing bright spots and real progress is happening. Take a look at Meredith Younger at Younger Furniture. She’s leading a great upholstery company and she’s kicking ass and taking names! Watch Julia Rosien leading the charge at Restonic. Take a look at “Mod Mom” Kiersten Hathcock, founder of Mod Mom Furniture. She went into her garage and taught herself carpentry (another traditional “man job”) and starting building furniture by hand. She’s now blazing a path for all women from the sawdust on her garage floor, to an internationally known brand that connects deeply and directly with how our consumers live.
Along with the obstacles to women (and just as lethal to our industry) is the complete disregard of real recruitment efforts. Only through interior design does this exist at all. Over the years I’ve been in hiring positions for meaningful jobs. Early at one point, I worked for a very well known furniture company and I advertised a very high paying sales position. I was flooded with resumes from those same men in ties and their sons from the same showrooms I mentioned earlier. Not one resume was from a woman. Not one from someone in retail or a design firm or anywhere else. In hindsight, I also did a terrible job of targeting my recruitment efforts towards a new and innovative direction. At the time I was young, scared, and inexperienced. I hired from the safe stack of resumes in front of me. And the list go on!
Wait it gets even worse! To even begin changing recruitment efforts we have to address another huge core problem. It’s the investment in Research and Design. When money goes into R&D, students and young talented women and men have something with which (and for) to work. But that’s a whole other critical subject. Bottom line is, the world has changed. We need a real gender, age, cultural, and investment balance. We need new talent and new blood in our industry and we better hurry! We’ve been behind for decades and the world is only moving faster and faster. So, women, men, gays, straights, and green Martians, let’s go to the core and make things happen one bite at a time. Because if we don’t our kids will soon be sitting on their new Apple and Samsung sofas!