While attending the record-setting Inside Self-Storage World Expo last week in Las Vegas, I had the honor of participating in our inaugural Women in Storage Education (WISE), held on the first day of the show. The session was inspiring and empowering, and left the 140-plus women in the room feeling more confident than ever.
Much like many industries, self-storage is dominated by men. This is changing, of course, but we ladies still face a host of challenges, particularly in sales roles, when seeking executive positions and especially as business owners. It’s one of the reasons ISS introduced this powerful session this year. We wanted to give women a (bigger) voice, and provide a welcoming environment for them to share their stories, challenges and triumphs.
Anne Ballard, AKA “The Hat Lady” and president of marketing, training and developmental services for Universal Storage Group, emceed the two-hour conversation, which also featured a cocktail hour. Our six women panelists included Anne Mari DeCoster, chief operating officer for Storelocal; Theresa Gallas, director of corporate business development for Janus International; Sue Haviland, owner of Haviland Storage Services; Carol Mixon, owner of SkilCheck Services Inc.; Christina Rita, chief operating officer for StoragePro Management Inc.; and CJ Stratte, CEO and president of On The Move Inc.
As I sat at the back of the room and scribbled notes feverishly, I experienced a range of emotions. Proud of all the amazing things every woman in the room had accomplished. Anger that we’re still struggling to gain ground on so many levels including pay—in 2023! Inspired and encouraged that there are paths; we just need to find them. And connected to a group of powerful females.
As a woman in this industry (or just about any, really), you likely face a dozen challenges every day just because you’re female. Perhaps it’s a tenant who thinks he can bully you, a supervisor who doesn’t listen to your ideas, being passed over for a promotion that you’re totally qualified for, or harassed for any number of reasons. The truth is, women face so many difficulties that men don’t.
I’ll give you a few examples from the WISE discussion. A woman in a sales position for an industry builder sometimes finds male customers are reluctant to work with her at first. Another woman, who owns self-storage with male partners, is often called “too aggressive” because she’s working harder than them. And a property manager who was excelling in the position felt underpaid but lacked the confidence to approach the owner for a bump in her salary. This is just a sampling of the questions the audience directed to our esteemed panelists, who all shared the obstacles they’ve faced in their own careers. They also offered solutions and suggestions, which I’d like to pass on to you.
Build your confidence. Whether you’re looking for a raise or promotion, launching your own storage business, or seeking a new position or investment partners, you need confidence. How do you get it? You work on it. Challenge yourself, recognize the amazing achievements you’ve already made, practice positive affirmations and ban the negative self-talk. There are hundreds of resources available to guide you on this.
Network. If you’ve never attended an industry show before, plan to go. Same with local groups such as the chamber of commerce and other professional organizations. There are so many available! Join a committee or board. Get to know your competitors, vendors and other businesses in your area. You never know what connections you could make that might lead to a new job, business partner or even a loyal tenant.
The key is to find connections with others. It could be a hobby, background, career or something else. You’ll also learn from the people you meet. Moreover, women need to help other women! If you’re in a position to assist or mentor another woman, do it. Even words of encouragement count. One act of kindness can mean so much to another person.
Invest in yourself. This can be a variety of things. Maybe you need more education or a mentor. Perhaps you’ve outgrown your current position and it’s time to move on. It could be you want more time for interests outside your career.
The point is that you must be willing to make a move if you hope for your life to change. Find the balance that you seek. Ask “Why am I doing this.” What do you hope to gain? Never do something out of fear or guilt. Don’t say yes to something just because it’s expected. Rather, set boundaries in your personal and professional life. Above all, always stay true to yourself.
It’s estimated that women now make up more than half of the U.S. workforce. Half! We’re gaining ground and, hopefully, more respect and recognition. We might need to sometimes work and fight harder for it. But we can handle it because we’re powerful women.