Twenty years ago, a Furniture Today market research report stated “women made over 94 % of home furnishing buying decisions. Another article stated that a large percentage of consumers’ disposal income was being diverted to other types of consumer products at an alarming rate. These reports became a wake up call to a networking group of self employed business women owners and a few corporate management women who saw a common theme and need from these reports; lost sales.
The women formed a group to explore why this was happening and how to re-capture lost business. They held a meeting to develop an action plan to help their own businesses and the Industry. The conclusion was simple; attract & provide more qualified women to join in the processes. Their vision was to help make our industry the best it could be, with the best leaders, male and female. The action plan included providing more women’s views points, opinions, dialogue and participation within the industry’s decision making process all the way into the board rooms.
The Plan called for a professional women’s organization and named it WithIt, an acronym for women in the home industries today. Their mission stated a clear vision to “provide leadership, networking, mentoring, scholarships, market events, and educational conferences.” It is hard to believe just twenty years ago, this simple idea was considered revolutionary and in some circles, even controversial.
To regain the declining market share and capture more of the 94 % female consumers, WithIt founders thought what was needed was more appealing products, marketing messages and a women’s perspective more involved in the major product related areas of the business. However, if the majority of products were conceived, designed, and marketed predominately by men without women part of the team, how could things change? Getting WithIt off the ground was a challenge in an industry where management was male dominated.
Even with all their planning, without seed money starting a new non profit organization to promote the inclusion of more women was going to be difficult, especially during a down turned business climate. WithIt needed a White Knight and I would be remise if I did not acknowledge the important role Furniture Today played, helping to get WithIt launched. When they heard about our mission and the need for sponsorships, they endorsed the cause and provided a platform for us to present the goals during FT’s annual leadership conference. The seed money was raised, thanks to Furniture Today’s gracious endorsement and WithIt became a reality.
Today, our industry has more women in leadership positions in many areas but we still need more. WithIt has helped provide new talent through our many on going programs, internships, networking, education and outreach projects. But are we keeping and promoting enough women into the executive suites for today’s fashion focused Markets? Can you count the numbers of senior positions held by women today?
Jena Hall- Founding President of WithIt
1996 to 1999
Reprint of Jena’s guest column for Furniture/Today