See Through the Glass Ceiling . . . and Then Break It

After I graduated from The George Washington University, I joined my father in his electrical distribution business. My father’s early counsel was that neither the degree nor being his daughter would guarantee me respect among my male peers and customers. I was going to have to earn it.

From “You don’t understand my business” to “You don’t know anything about this”—I have heard it all. By entering a highly male-dominated industry, I recognized I was breaking a norm and that to do what I wanted to do, I had to show that I knew what I was talking about. Yes, I probably had to work twice as hard to prove myself. But I kept showing up with the knowledge and knowhow, and the approvals eventually followed.

When my father sold his business to Cooper Electric, a Sonepar company, I remained on staff. I’ve worked almost every job in electrical distribution, including warehouse inventory control, lighting, human resources, accounting, and sales over the course of my 20-year career. I was named vice president of operations in 2018.

I think of the glass ceiling as transparent: I see clearly what I am up against and strategize to break through it. The “ceiling” is not something I would ever let hold me back. I believe if you are competent, add value, and advocate for yourself and your team, you can continue to move upward. Study the people you interact with and prepare for the curveballs. Learn as much as you can about everything in your scope. You don’t have to know all the answers, but you need to know where to get the answers. I encourage my team to never simply repeat something someone told them. If that’s the case, you need to go back and find out more. It’s the only way to really learn, understand, and grow.

Surround yourself with people who think differently from you. I have a strong personality, but I invite debate because it helps us work out how to do things better. I find it enriching and fun to be challenged. When you cultivate that dynamic, great things happen.

My team did something amazing last year. We built the largest automated central distribution center (CDC) at Sonepar USA. To be the first electrical operating company in our organization that’s fully automated is a career milestone—and a dream come true for me. Our CDC will support the growth of Cooper Electric for years to come. And to that, I clink the glass and say cheers, because I know: the best is yet to come.