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Leading Ladies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ashley Newport   


BRIGHTON, Ontario (31 January 2012) - When a commercial for a big box or boutique furniture store hits the air, the first person the first person the viewer will usually see standing before a bedroom suite or an elegant armoire, is a woman. She'll praise the item, saying it's just perfect for her bedroom. She, the woman of the house, is assumed to be every furniture brand's biggest customer. So why, then, are there are so few female head honchos in a business whose business is, well, women?

Christina Marzille
Dawn Rowe

Perhaps it's because women fill few top spots in Canada in general. According to a 2010 study conducted by business women's lobbying group Catalyst Inc., women account for less than 20 per cent of corporate officers in the country. The gains of women in the corporate world have remained almost stagnant for almost a decade, a trend that seems odd considering how much the roles of women - especially professional roles - have changed over the last 30 years alone.

From its home base in the High Point, North Carolina, WithIt (otherwise known as Professional Women in the Home and Furnishings Industries) has been hosting seminars and events for female industry insiders since 1997. This past September, the organization established an international arm that includes Canada.

This new international chapter, which is being led by a Canadian - Donna Bartlett, president of the Burlington, Ontario-based ViewIt Technologies - has slightly more than a dozen members at present and its participants hope to raise the profile of women throughout the Canadian furniture industry at all levels from manufacturing and distribution through retail. But what factors or conditions, if any, are holding back potential female executives right now?

Monia Lacasse
Valerie Stranix

Some executives interviewed by Home Goods Online - including Christina Marzilli, the executive vice-president and chief operating officer of upholstery specialist Décor Rest Furniture; and Jill Sadler, the director of operations of Lounsbury, a four-unit retailer based in Moncton, New Brunswick - suspect the strain of raising a family and juggling a high-ranking position might be a factor.

But all the women we spoke to said that the inherent difficulties of breaking into a male-dominated industry that were prevalent 20 years ago don't really exist today. The furniture industry, like most others in this country, has evolved to welcome women into its ranks, and though some more conservative clients may prefer male execs, the women say overt shows of discrimination - towards them and other women they work with - are ever fewer and further between.

There's no question the industry was once an old boy's club whose members were jarred when women suddenly started making sales calls and running retail operations. There's also no question that, gains aside, male execs still outnumber female ones.

Dawn Rowe, founding partner and vice president of value-added supplier Phoenix AMD International, says there are certainly enough female candidates, but few who make it to the top ranks. But whether it's family or old-fashioned values that hold women back, all the women we spoke to believe that the challenges they faced in the 80s and 90s - the difficulty scheduling appointments with buyers, the doubts of both male and female clients and the need to work much harder - have dissipated with time.

They're seeing more young women in the industry than ever before, and are encountering buyers who don't seem to notice or acknowledge their gender at all. For most, there's no need to work harder to compensate for being the fairer sex. There's simply the need to work hard, to grow, to stay passionate, and to show customers that they're savvy experts to be reckoned with.

Click here to download the Winter 2011 edition of the HGO Merchandiser and find out more about our industry's Leading Ladies.

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Picture of the Day

Three members of the Bluewater Wood Alliance will exhibit for the first time at this week's High Point Market. Crate Designs will show its Brant collection of youth furniture. Made from Southern Yellow Pine, this 10-piece group features space saving beds, dressers and night table as well as a desk and chair set.The top of each case piece is made from the same material as kitchen countertops, making them durable and easy-to-clean. Click here to read our report. 



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