Women have come a long way in the plumbing industry in the 40-plus-years of my career. I’m so proud of the progress we’ve made, but it wasn’t always easy.

When I graduated from Texas A&M in 1982 with a degree in Industrial Distribution, I became the first woman in the city of Houston to work for a plumbing manufacturer. And it was a very challenging first five to 10 years.  

At that time, I learned to deal with a wide range of situations thrown at me, and honestly, not everyone wanted to deal with me. But I buckled down, worked hard, earned my stripes, and sought out good mentors.

Now, 40 years later, I’ve worked on some of the most notable projects in Houston and across the state of Texas, from Minute Maid Park (home of the Houston Astros) and Exxon Mobil’s headquarters to Tesla’s gigaplant, the Zachary Engineering at Texas A&M, and several projects at the University of Texas — including the new Moody Center, as well as the football team’s locker rooms in Austin.

In those 40 years, women in the plumbing industry have gone from an oftentimes hostile environment to today where we are not only accepted, but we lead.


Mentorship matters

I was fortunate enough to have some great mentors as I began my career as a young woman in what was then a traditionally male-dominated industry. But two people really stand out as individuals who made the greatest impact on me and my career.

Alice McCullough, who unfortunately is no longer with us, really took me under her wing. She worked with her husband at McCullough Rep Agency, then later for Rheem Water Heaters, and she was wonderful.

Yet, I think the person who made the biggest difference for me was Marty Kamerbeek, who is still a friend of mine today. He was the manager of one of our wholesalers, and at the time, very few there wanted to deal with me—from the warehouse staff to salesmen.

But he held a meeting with some of them to tell them to give me a chance, and they did. I learned to go above and beyond. That’s how you gain respect. I’m a big believer in earning your stripes.

Subhead: Paying it Forward

It’s so important to foster the next generation of young women in this industry. And just like Alice and Marty did for me, I make it a priority to do so for others.

That’s why I’m so proud to be a mentor, whether it’s as part of the mentor-mentee program for the Society of Women in Industrial Distribution (SWID) at Texas A&M, or for my rep A&Ds.

Outside of my work life, I have three daughters who are in the middle of their careers and two granddaughters. I have always felt that it was my responsibility to pave the way for them so that they could have an easier professional career.

From a professional standpoint, I’m responsible for three A&D reps, and I very much enjoy working with them, helping them, watching them grow and preparing them for their next steps/advancements. These rep A&Ds are my daughters’ ages, so it’s personal to me, as well. I want to mother them and see them succeed.

I've been involved in the SWID mentor-mentee program around 10 years and have spoken to the group on campus several times. It’s very fulfilling. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a huge Texas A&M fan, and it’s a big part of my life. When there’s a young lady who has questions about getting her career path started, I always tell them, “You've got to find something that you enjoy doing. If you don't enjoy doing it, you're not going to like it, and you’re not going to be good at it.” I have several of them who still reach out to me and continue to ask for guidance or suggestions, and it’s been rewarding to see some of them advance their careers in the plumbing industry over the years.

I always tell the students in the mentor-mentee program that you have to earn your stripes. When you start your career, from the beginning, work hard, and learn as much as you can. Not just what your specific responsibilities are, but from those around you. Utilize their knowledge.

The future for young women in this industry is now as bright as anyone wants it to be. If a young woman wants to work her way all the way up to the C-suite, the opportunities are there, and that is so exciting to see.

Sloan has done an excellent job hiring, promoting, and providing mentorship opportunities for women in the industry. From our Strategic Account Management team made up of almost entirely women to the women in leadership at the corporate and product level, I’m proud to work for a company with so many women in leadership positions.