Changing the Playing Field

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Why we need to hire more women, and how to attract them.

Early one evening, my husband and I loaded the wagon with some drinks, snacks, and our beautiful daughters and began the short walk around the block to the park. Our neighborhood park isn’t a playground; it’s simply a green space with trees…the kind that are sponsored and have a “donated by” plaque underneath them, and some picnic benches.

Our neighborhood park is perfect for snacks, drinks, and playing tag. However, on this day, it wasn’t a game of tag, it was an obstacle course race. Palmer, our four-year-old, is a runner. All she wants to do is run, so we set the course and aimed down the field, around the tree, and back to the start/finish line.

Naturally, for the first few races, my husband let Palmer win…I even let Palmer win. But then, my husband turned around and whispered to me, “This time, I’m going to win. I want to see how she responds to losing.”

“Oh, shoot,” I thought to myself. “If I know my daughter, this is not going to end well.”

The race began and quickly ended. Palmer boldly expressed her feelings and unenjoyment from losing, but her response…well, her response surprised us. Instead of sitting down and crying in a pool of self-pity, she proclaimed, “Again! I’m going to race again! But this time, you can’t race with me; I’m racing alone.”

She took off running.

She simply changed the playing field.

As you can imagine, she won that race, the race of running alone—but who’s to say she cheated? There was no rule book; a family evening in the park doesn’t mean you can’t be the only runner. She thought outside of the box, changed the playing field, and adjusted the course so she could guarantee the outcome. She wanted to win, so she changed the game, and she won.

Attracting Women to the Trades

Nationwide, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a hiring crisis within the trades, specifically contracting. There are not enough skilled workers, technicians, and tradesmen.

But the trades consist of more than contracting; it’s skilled labor, which also includes surgeons, dentists, veterinarians, HVAC contractors, service technicians, pest control specialists. So if there is a hiring crisis, a natural progression would be to look beyond the current labor pool and look outside of the norm, which is why attracting women is the obvious next step.

The diversity quotient proves a profit increase of 33 percent within a company by diversifying—new talent, new ideas, new skills. Women are already in the workforce, but too often, they’re performing roles bordered by society: “Oh, that’s a women’s job,” or, “Oh, that’s a man’s job.”

The trades are an excellent place for women who like to work outside of an office. I recently got the chance to talk one-on-one with HVAC installer Melissa Yarb from Clearwater, FL. At the Women in HVAC conference in Boston back in September, she won the hearts of the conference attendees with her quick wit and relatability as one of the technician panelists, and she has quickly become a celebrity within the group. She provided some great insight into the perks of working in a so-called “man’s world.”

She commented, “It’s not just air conditioning!” This field has helped her do things she never thought she’d be able to do. Thanks to her AC career, she has honed her overall handywoman skills. She now can change out her own hot water heater; she can do wood working; she has a strong mechanical inclination. “When the AC busts at my own house, I don’t have to rely on anyone else to come and fix it. I love the personal benefits,” she remarked. “This field is expensive! If you know how to do it yourself, think of the cost savings in your home alone!”

These are invaluable skills to know, especially when something goes wrong in the middle of the night, when you’re all alone, or just simply when you don’t have it in your budget to pay someone else to do it.

Melissa and I also talked about how often people talk about the flexibility of the contractor’s world. Melissa commented that this field is not flexible in terms of what people usually mean when they say flexible, so let’s not paint the wrong picture. “The thing most appealing to me is that I don’t have to sit at a desk all day—I can go on rooftops, see beaches, go in a van every day…”

There is flexibility in the workspace, but it isn’t necessarily flexible in terms of its hours. But it has the amazing benefit of meeting different people and seeing new spaces. Melissa loves the social aspect.

As we continued chatting, I asked Melissa what her top piece of advice would be to the women considering entering the trades. She wisely said, “Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do it—because you can; I do it every day. Don’t worry about what naysayers say—do what you want to do. Do what you enjoy!”

Give Your Messaging a Makeover

At the end of the day, we are all in it to help people and to utilize our hard-earned skills and crafts(wo)manship.

But payroll is a nasty mistress, and the dues are owed every Friday. An entrepreneur knows this all too well. And, boy, don’t we need good help in order to run the service calls on our board, so we can earn revenue, so we can help those people like we wanted to do in the beginning? It’s time to change the playing field. Take a look at your messaging and give it a makeover—update it so it’s inviting and inclusive of women; the same goes for your company image. Make your company a place that appeals to women—from your branding to your overall business model. Make your company the only runner in the race.

Danielle Putnam is president of The New Flat Rate, a home service menu-selling system designed to put profit directly into the hands of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors. She is also president of Women in HVACR, a nonprofit, member-based organization providing professional avenues for networking and educating women while encouraging more women to enter the trades. For more information, e-mail or visit and