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EMAIL INTERVIEW – Kimberly Brown and Ken Sinclair
Kimberly Brown is the Tech Services Manager at Cochrane Supply and has been with the company for over 11 years. She has worked in various positions for the company including Administration, Marketing & Training Coordination, Special Projects Management, and Business Development. She was responsible for implementing and coordinating energy efficiency efforts with multiple clients, including the State of Michigan, utilizing the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool. Currently she manages both the Cochrane Supply Tech Services and Training Teams, which includes day to day operations and project management for professional services. Kimberly previously worked as a National Account Manager with ICONMA, a national staffing and professional services firm. She was responsible for account management, reporting, and compliance documentation under the client’s specified standards.
Sinclair: Kim, you attended a number of sessions at AHR this year. What was your main takeaway?
Brown: This year there was one word that continued to stand out to me – evolution. There were many different education sessions that used this as part of their title, but the word continued to come up in other sessions as well. Some sessions focused on how technology is evolving and how bringing smarter building products to market is changing how some companies do business. This was discussed in both “Welcome to the Jungle - Building Systems Integration 101”, as well as in “The Extinction of the Temperature Controls Contractor and the Evolution of the MSI”. The key takeaway from those sessions was that system integration is becoming more prevalent as building owners and occupants want smarter BAS systems, and typical temperature control contractors will need to adapt in order to keep up.
Another way evolution was brought to our attention was how companies will need to evolve our business practices in order to recruit and attract talented people into the BAS industry. It’s no secret that the BAS industry is facing a labor shortage, and there are a few things we can do in order to broaden the talent pool. We need to change recruiting processes to be more inclusive to women and minorities. We need to take a good look at our own companies and make sure that we are flexible enough to make necessary changes to recruit people from younger generations. An example: when I started in this industry 15 years ago, working from home wasn’t an option. Nowadays this is brought up in almost every interview I conduct. People want the option to work from home if needed, and for some it is a dealbreaker. Evolution is a fact of life, and I’m glad to see the industry starting to have these conversations.
Sinclair: You also attended the session “Pulling More Women Into the Ranks of Smart Buildings Leadership,” correct?
Brown: I did, and I want to say that I am so glad that there was a panel put on by Automated Buildings talking about women in leadership. As someone that started their career in the BAS industry as a receptionist at 20 years old and is now in a senior management position, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I think the panel did a great job of pulling seasoned women in the industry together to start the conversation. But we aren’t done yet. We need to continue to push this topic into the spotlight. Hiring more women and elevating them into managerial and leadership positions is absolutely necessary and I thought the panel did a good job on highlighting some of the reasons why it’s beneficial to hire more women. One being that diversity leads to better problem solving.
Sinclair: What are your thoughts on how we can get more women into the industry?
Brown: An audience member during the women in leadership panel brought up a fantastic point. That hiring women in the industry needs to start off with the intent to do so. You have to make a conscious decision to alter your recruiting practices and overcoming you own biases in order to level the playing field. Monica McMahen from Optigo did a great job discussing this during the panel and goes into this further in her article “Why You should Hire Women and How to Get Started”. I find these tips helpful and ones that can be put into practice as long as you start with the intent to hire more women (and minorities as well). Cochrane Supply has been very successful in both hiring women and moving them into leadership roles. One of the key things we do is to promote from within whenever possible. We utilize entry level roles as a way to find capable people with the soft skills we find valuable, and teach them about the BAS industry and give them the additional skills they need to continue to advance through the company. Many people currently working here, a lot of them women, have come up through the ranks of the company because of this.
Sinclair: What challenges do you feel women in the BAS industry are still facing?
Brown: Women working in any male-dominated industry will find challenges and roadblocks along their career. We’ve all had to learn to adapt and toughen up a bit in order to make it as far as we have. There are still people out there that do not take women as seriously as our male counterparts. Women can work a tradeshow booth and be asked if they are the “booth babe,” or have someone say that they will wait until the male salesperson is done talking to someone else because they have a technical question. This is where that thick skin comes in handy. I’ve been in the industry for 15 years and it took many years to feel like people took me seriously, and I see younger men that are still very green automatically be respected. Us women who have been around for a while need to continue to push the boundaries and show people that we are smart, capable and strong and that we are not going anywhere. Hiring more women into the industry and mentoring them will also help diminish the challenges we face.
Sinclair: What would you like to see more of from educational sessions at AHR?
Brown: I thought the sessions this year were fantastic and informative. From the attendance in all of the sessions, I think we are on the right track with the topics covered. I like topics that challenge people to look at things from a new perspective. I’d really like to see more women leading sessions themselves. Of course we need to continue to have panels and sessions regarding women in the industry, because those are very necessary. But I’d like to see women leading sessions about integration, products, industry trends, hiring practices, etc. Having women discuss a topic as a subject matter expert will only continue to break down the barriers and normalize women in our industry.
Resource - The PDF of slides for "Welcome to the Jungle - Building Systems Integration 101”
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