Since its establishment, the signage industry has been male-dominated; however, in recent years, women have started to climb the corporate ladder and are entering all areas of the industry. To explore this empowering trend, we sat down with Lori Anderson, CEO and President of the International Sign Association (ISA), to talk about the ISA’s recently launched initiative, Women Leading the Industry, the importance of allyship within the industry, and how we can empower marginalized groups so they can succeed in their personal and professional lives.
What is Women Leading the Industry?
As the first female executive of the organization, Anderson was excited about seeing more women enter and thrive within the signage industry. However, there was no official program or group to help build these women into industry leaders. This lack of support led Anderson to launch Women Leading the Industry (WLI), an ISA initiative in partnership with Sign Builder Illustrated. “When Sign Builder Illustrated had the opportunity to launch Women Leading the Industry together with ISA, I jumped at the chance… It’s been a personal goal of mine to create a community that supports women in this field,” said Ashley Bray, SBI Managing Editor.
WLI offers wellness and educational sessions, peer roundtables, and other ongoing events to encourage women to speak up about their experiences, explore new paths to leadership, build connections, and develop their professional and personal goals. “WLI seeks to empower and educate but also to foster networking and the sharing of ideas between women from across the sign industry,” Bray added.
Looking to the post-pandemic future, WLI plans to have increased participation from women and minorities in leadership and more programs to reach out and give women more opportunities to make contributions for them and the industry to prosper.
The WLI will be getting more involved with a new segment called Titan Talks. In this segment, industry leaders discuss their own experiences navigating the industry and leading in tumultuous times. Some of these leaders include Guayente Sanmartin, General Manager of HP Large Format Business; Denise Rutherford, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at 3M; Matthew Shay, the President and CEO of the National Retail Federation; and Harry Patz, the Senior Vice President of Samsung. Anderson encourages those who are interested in taking part in the signage industry to join these events for educational and networking opportunities.
The Industry Has Changed For The Better
According to Anderson, between 60 to 70% of CEOs in the signage industry say that the biggest problem in the industry is that there are not enough qualified workers. “It is a business imperative that executives broaden their outreach to find qualified workers by giving women and minorities the opportunity to join the industry,” Anderson stated.
Previously, it was uncommon to see a woman leading a signage company. However, nowadays, daughters and granddaughters of men in the industry are now leading their family businesses and companies. Additionally, young women are getting more degrees in business and interning in sign companies. They are exploring the possibilities. “I’m happy to see more and more women stepping into the signage industry. You can love the sign industry and not know anything about it. It’s about navigating the industry, and having that women-supporting-women mindset.” This is why WLI offers tailor-made programs, education opportunities, and networking for people of all sorts.
Anderson notes that it is important to have male allies within WLI to really make advancements. “We need to expand our circle so that everyone can understand the importance of women in the industry.” She is pleased that more men have been signing up for WLI sessions and recognizing that a collaborative approach is needed to solve the future problems and feats that the industry will go through. “A minority or woman shouldn’t have to defend him or herself. If you learn more about how to be an ally, it can really mean the world.” Having male allyship in the industry is a great sign of solidarity as it demonstrates their interest in helping women succeed in leadership roles.
Advice for Women and Young Professionals
Anderson believes that women and young professionals should focus on two soft skills: public speaking and facilitation. Although public speaking may be frightening for most people, once you own your public speaking skills, you will gain the ability to speak with confidence – in any type of situation. “I urge everyone to join a local Toastmasters organization or take public speaking classes because you use those skills in one-on-one meetings and when speaking to an audience,” says Anderson.
Facilitation is a skill that can boost your confidence and your career. Anderson encourages young professionals to take facilitation courses because it is important to know how to lead a team. “When I realized I had more power for good to make a change when I could help others make decisions, my career really took off.” For Anderson, facilitation is needed in a business to be successful. If you are able to lead your team with confidence and efficiency, you will be seen as someone integral to the business.
The last piece of advice from Anderson was for young professionals and women to be joiners in the industry. They should become members of local committees and organizations to gain new connections and meet new people, which will expand their business and networks. These organizations and committees, such as ISA and WLI, also offer the opportunity for these young professionals and women to nurture their skills in leadership and teamwork.
There is so much that the sign industry can offer to women and young professionals. The WLI Initiative opens many of those doors by offering networking and educational opportunities to women and young professionals who want to make a difference. Having more women professionals in the industry allows for increased productivity and efficiency, not only on the operational back-end but for the whole industry in general. For more information about WLI, email them at [email protected] and connect with them on Linkedin.