National Women in Roofing Taps Into a Powerful Force

Photos: National Women in Roofing

In 2014, an organization devoted to helping advance the careers of women in the roofing industry was just an idea. Since then, the idea has become a movement. National Women in Roofing (NWIR) was officially launched at the International Roofing Expo (IRE) in 2016. The volunteer-based organization focuses on connecting and empowering women, and it has the support of more than 1,000 members — many of them men — and nearly two dozen sponsors. They all share the goal of working together to raise the professionalism of the roofing industry, bring more people into the field, and provide the education and training necessary to ensure its future success.

This February, Heidi Ellsworth handed over the position of NWIR chair to Shari Carlozzi. The two women shared their insights on the founding of NWIR with Roofing, detailing its current initiatives and plans for the future.

A Movement Is Born

Carlozzi and Ellsworth first discussed the idea of an organization to support women during a break at a meeting of the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association in 2014. As they shared their thoughts about working in a male-dominated industry,

Officers and directors of National Women in Roofing include (from left) Jennifer Stone, vice chair, executive committee; Jennifer Ford-Smith, secretary; Ellen Thorp, executive director; Shari Carlozzi, chair, executive committee; and Heidi Ellsworth, past chair, executive committee. Photos: National Women in Roofing

a light bulb went on. “We started talking, and we realized there are a lot more women in this industry than people give it credit for,” Carlozzi says. “There’s a lot of women! And we said, ‘We should start an organization where women can gather to network, to learn from each other, to mentor one another, and to help empower each other’ — because we are in an industry that we love.”

Ellsworth and Carlozzi shared the concept with Steve Little of Dallas-based KPost, who was then MRCA president. “He said, ‘That’s a great idea! We’ll help incubate you.’ And that’s how we got started,” Carlozzi remembers. “It went viral.”

As they traveled the country in their respective work roles — Ellsworth as a partner in RoofersCoffeeShop.com and Carlozzi as national sales manager for HAPCO Inc. — they soon realized that a lot of other women had the same needs. Many were even exploring the same idea. “At every trade show we went to, both of us would hear this from so many women,” Ellsworth says. “They would say, ‘We need to spend time together. We need to network.’ And networking is a big one because it’s sometimes a lot easier for guys to get together to network and women are left out. It was something that a lot of women truly believed in.”

Shari Carlozzi thanks the founding sponsors of the organization at NWIR Day. Photos: National Women in Roofing

After talking to others in the industry, it became clear the organization had to have a national presence. “We looked ahead to the IRE in New Orleans in 2015 and decided to have a little get-together and see if people are truly interested,” Ellsworth recalls. “We had 75 women show up. It just grew from there.”

The group formed a leadership committee and held meetings at industry trade shows throughout 2015. “It was at IRE in 2016 that we officially launched National Women in Roofing,” Ellsworth says. “We realized very quickly that there was a tidal wave — a tsunami — of women behind us who really needed this. We realized we had to take this to a national level, and we did.”

The Four Pillars

Overarching goals of the organization are exemplified by its four pillars: networking, mentoring, education and recruitment.

Heidi Ellsworth welcomes attendees to the inaugural NWIR Day, held February 4, 2018. Photos: National Women in Roofing

“Our four pillars we started with — networking, mentoring, education and recruitment — have been the focus of what we’ve wanted to do from the start,” Carlozzi says. “Some people are a little bit more involved in education, some people are a little bit more involved in networking — it all depends on what works for you. We’ve stayed true to our four pillars, and that has been extremely helpful in giving women opportunities to engage in what’s most important to them.”

Ellsworth agrees, pointing out that networking events and mentoring initiatives developed hand in hand. “Our first events were networking events,” she says. “One of our themes is ‘from the rooftop to the boardroom,’ and we had top leaders at companies including GAF, ABC, Owens Corning, Johns Manville — all of these ladies showed up early and then stayed on and helped to drive this. We partnered with 28 founding sponsors that first year.”

Mentoring relationships seemed to blossom. “I wish we could all take credit for it, but it just happened so naturally,” Ellsworth says.

Kelly Wade, CEO of North American Roofing, gives the keynote address at the National Women in Roofing’s Mentor Reception during the 2018 International Roofing Expo. Photos: National Women in Roofing

NWIR is launching a mentoring program this year, under the leadership of Mallory Payne and Melissa Walker, who head up the mentoring committee. “Mentoring has always been a big part of what we do,” Carlozzi says. “Men have more mentors than women do, and we want to change that.”

The education committee, led by Shelly Duhaime and Jennifer Keegan, is working on a full slate of educational sessions at industry events, as well as a series of webinars on topics such as networking, safety and business management. “Our education committee is on fire this year,” says Carlozzi. “People crave information. The only way we can excel in what we do is to keep learning.”

Carlozzi points to the NRCA’s ProCertification program as a model for educating the industry’s workforce and boosting professionalism. “We have to elevate the perception of the roofing industry,” she says. “We share the same values as the NRCA, and we want to speak with one voice to get the message across to people that this is a viable career option for you, whether you are a man or a woman in the trade, or whether you are looking for a career as a chemist, or an engineer, or a salesperson, or in data entry. It is a solid, reputable industry.”

It’s also an industry facing a worker shortage, so recruiting a new generation of workers is essential. The recruitment committee, led by Michelle Boykin and Chelsea Welsh, is active at employment fairs and career days, and NWIR is reaching out to other trade groups across the country to increase the visibility of the industry.

Part of the recruitment effort includes a commitment to helping women in crisis find employment and pursue a true career path.

Memberships and Sponsorships

The organization might be national, but it is also active at the local level. NWIR is developing councils across the country to cater to local educational needs and reach out to area community service opportunities. There are 29 local councils now, with a goal of reaching 50 by the end of 2018.

NWIR members participate in a breakout session at a mentoring workshop. Photos: National Women in Roofing

“It’s the best of both worlds for everybody because they get that national input through our epicenter — our newsletter and our website — and they can apply the information to what they are doing locally,” Carlozzi says. “We give local councils a lot of latitude to put together what works for them as long as they stay true to our four pillars and our national outreach program with women in crisis.”

Carlozzi and Ellsworth encourage all women and men to join the association. The membership fee is $60 per year. Half of the membership fee goes to develop and support local councils. “We made a very conscious decision to keep our membership dues very reasonable, and they are owned by the member,” Ellsworth notes. “If your career path takes you to another company, the membership goes along with you.”

Companies can help NWIR as sponsors. There are four levels of sponsorships. “We are also in the middle of our sponsorship drive, and that is a great way to get involved as a company,” Ellsworth says. “The value to the company — and its employees — is incredible.”

A Bright Future

Looking back at her tenure as the first chair of the organization, Ellsworth is proud of the group’s achievements and thankful for the friendships she’s made along the way. “It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life,” she says. “The women I have met and the experiences we’ve had have been so empowering.”

Networking and mentoring have always been key areas of focus for NWIR members. Photos: National Women in Roofing

As Carlozzi takes the helm, she plans to lean on the talented team of women ready to take the organization into the future. “It’s a little overwhelming when you look at it at first because we came so far, so fast, and we have to keep that momentum going,” says Carlozzi. “In the process, we’ve had some exceptional, outstanding women who have stepped up and taken on the leadership roles that are needed to develop and maintain a national organization like this.”

When the industry taps into everyone’s talents, everyone wins. Carlozzi sees that spirit every day at NWIR. “Everyone comes up with new ideas of how to make things better,” she says. “Everyone is open to new ideas and assistance, and everyone is freely offering it. No one feels threatened — we’re all empowered. That’s the beauty of it.”

For more information about NWIR, visit www.nationalwomeninroofing.com.

About Chris King

Chris King is the editor in chief of Roofing magazine. He has covered the construction industry for 18 years, previously serving as editor of Roofing Contractor, managing editor of the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News, and associate editor of Plumbing & Mechanical. He can be reached by email at chris@roofingmagazine.com.

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