Milwaukee—In 1974, Penny Yonan Padgett was asked by a friend to fill in for her as a receptionist at an HVAC company. Forty-four years later, she is still in the industry, having worked her way up to territory manager for YORK® and another manufacturing division of U.S. Air Conditioning Distributors. “I was one of the pioneers,” said Yonan Padgett. “HVAC is my life and my passion.”
Lisa Connors started her career as a mechanical engineer in the electrical field, but after learning about her father-in-law’s business in refrigeration, she decided HVAC was her true calling. Connors is now a project manager for ACCO Engineered Systems. “My job can be high stress, but it is very rewarding,” said Connors. “It’s a tough field in general and can be even tougher for women.”
Lauren Roberts was born into the HVAC business, although she hadn’t planned to enter it at first. She is now president and CEO of cfm Distributors. “When I was in college I was asked to join the family business,” said Roberts. “I worked my way up for 14 years and was named CEO in January.”
Although they didn’t initially consider HVAC as a career choice, these women discovered it was their true professional calling after being exposed to the business. They recently joined 35 other women in HVAC, spanning all four corners of the country, to learn about Johnson Control products and programs, share stories, passion and vision for the HVAC industry.
The inaugural Ducted Systems Women in HVAC event, held in early April, provided women with knowledge, networking and inspiration to serve as leaders in the HVAC industry. The two-day event included visits to Johnson Controls plants in Norman, Oklahoma, and Wichita, Kansas, where they toured the training, testing and manufacturing facilities.
Attendees were given an overview of Johnson Controls’ residential and commercial HVAC equipment and controls, including detailed walk-throughs of the residential products. They also participated in sessions on warranties, technical services, business and technical training programs.
“This event was particularly rewarding for me. One of our company goals is to reach out to women currently working in HVAC and introduce them to the various roles within our industry and provide them with the tools they need to be successful,” said Liz Haggerty, vice president and general manager, Ducted Systems, Johnson Controls. “We wanted to provide attendees with an opportunity to not only learn more about our products and programs, but also to provide both peer and mentor support. It is my hope that this network continues to grow and that we can all support one another.”
Teresa Wadsworth, residential product manager at Johnson Controls, served as one of the presenters. “The event was a total success,” said Wadsworth. “Seeing the women come to our facility made me proud to represent my division, offer my knowledge, showcase our products and provide a bigger picture of our position in the industry.”
Johnson Controls has been at the forefront of recruiting women to pursue careers in the HVAC industry. The company created a Women’s Resource Network nearly a decade ago, and it has since grown into a global organization with mentors and groups worldwide.
According to Wadsworth, the network has evolved over the years from a recruitment tool for women in management into a support system for women in both professional and personal development. “It’s about giving women more visibility in their leadership roles and making a difference in their community,” said Wadsworth. “We want to make others aware of their accomplishments and their value.”
Jessica Gulla, regional account manager at Johnson Controls, served as a host for the event. “This event was empowering. There are a lot of changes going on in the industry both politically and economically,” said Gulla. “This event allowed us to build an additional network with other women going through the same things.”
“Johnson Controls has a strong push to bring more women into HVAC,” said Gulla. “Sometimes they don’t feel there is a place for them and that they are the only woman in this field.”
The Women in HVAC event helped attendees realize they are not alone.
“When I started, most of the women in HVAC were in administrative roles,” said Roberts, who noted that 30 percent of the employees in her company are women. “It was amazing to see the diverse backgrounds of the women who attended and hear their stories.”
Yonan Padgett, who had toured the facilities about 10 years ago, was impressed with the innovation Johnson Controls has achieved in just a decade. “It was amazing to see how far the facility had come in terms of automation,” said Yonan Padgett. “The testing and training labs have changed so much. I already have contractors that I’d like to take to the facility.”
The inaugural event was so popular Johnson Controls plans to make it a biannual event. The second Women in HVAC event is scheduled to take place in September 2018. “When the invitation came out, I jumped on it and promoted it to our customers,” said Roberts. “It was a great educational experience and helped us create our own network. I highly recommend it for any woman in HVAC.”
Invitations for the September event will be sent to the Johnson Controls distributor and contractor community. Those who were wait-listed for the April event will be given first consideration to attend the September event.