A trip to Toronto and the women who inspired me!
This last week, I was honored to attend the Professional Women’s Conference (PWC) sponsored by the Funeral Service Association of Canada (FSAC) and National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) in Toronto, ON. I had the pleasure of presenting the Funeral Service Foundation scholarships to some amazing women. I was honored to join with other women leaders to give a short talk sharing my story about growing up as a woman in funeral service and some of the lessons I learned along the way.
The attendees were from private and public companies, several provinces, cities, and towns around the greater Toronto area. Their ages appeared to be mostly from the Gen X and Millennial generations, with a few of us Baby Boomers added in. My impression was that funeral service is in great hands in Canada for the future. These women were professionally dressed, stylish, well-spoken, and fluent in both English and French. I wanted to bring them all back to MO to work for us at Baue’s. lol!
In visiting with these incredible women over two days, I discovered in them an eagerness to learn, a willingness to share their thoughts and ideas, and a strong desire to care for others with compassion. This was evident as they spoke about who they are and what they are most passionate about.
They gave me a renewed sense of hope that funeral service will not just survive but thrive very well in their professional and caring hands in Canada. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know them and spend time in their beautiful country.
I also want to commend the employers who sent their women to this conference and encourage them to continue to support their desire to gather and learn from each other as often and frequently as possible.
This leads me to share a few additional thoughts about the current state of women in our profession and where we need to go from today. I have been asked over the years, “Why do we need a women’s conference?” I have also been part of conversations in the last several years with both men and women, who tell me that they do not understand why having a separate gender program is necessary. Their opinion is that women need to integrate and become part of our profession, not separate themselves into gender-related programs.
Well, dear readers, while this statement holds some merit, I disagree. Let me tell you why.
To say that women have special needs in funeral service is an understatement. Our profession is still a male-dominated one. Yes, there are more and more women coming in than ever before, evident by the increase in numbers of women enrolling and graduating from mortuary schools.
If you want to have a thriving and successful funeral, cremation, or cemetery service business, you will benefit threefold from supporting more women’s programs by sending your women licensees and apprentices to women’s conferences as often as you are able. You will find more loyalty and respect given by you as their employer by supporting them as often as possible.
Women want to spend time together in groups of others like them. They are seeking support and sharing their stories both good and not so good. Women like to be together. We like to hang out with our women friends and talk about our lives, our loves, our passions, and yes, our profession. It helps us feel better and realize we are not alone. We go home feeling inspired, renewed, and re-energized! It’s important to us to hang out and just be together. We also want to talk about the challenges we are having working with men—from bosses to those that we manage. Women, overall, are seeking guidance on how to improve their management and leadership skills so they may better succeed in their roles. Being with other women of “like-kind” helps them feel comfortable finding the advice they seek. Knowing that we have things in common, helps us feel not so alone and that we are in a safe place where we can ask questions on how to improve ourselves.
I was hoping, because this is 2021 and not 1989, when I bought our family business after my dad died, that these challenges were becoming less for women than when I was first licensed in 1979. I was assuming that it’s gotten better for women as far as how they are treated in the workplace and the profession from how I experienced it back in the 1980s and 90s. When I owned Baue’s from 1989 until 2019, I had a strong women workforce of licensees and women in middle and upper management. I thought that most employers, especially in 2000 and beyond, were like me. Unfortunately, I am still hearing that even though we are making some progress, there continues to be way too many women in our profession still feeling unsupported.
I am still hearing that discrimination exists, that pay scales are not equitable, comments are being made about women’s bodies, and that sexual harassment continues to exist. These stories are real even in 2021. As I hear some of them, I am saddened and feel we can and need to do better as a profession to provide support and mentoring for the women working in and entering our profession going forward.
These women are our future, they deserve to be treated with respect. All women, after their many years of hard work, deserve an equitable pay scale and the chance to be promoted. Most of all, they deserve to be mentored, trained, and prepared for future leadership. Thus, there is a need for those of us in funeral service that are seasoned leaders, (both men and women) to support and create more programs for women in all of our national, regional, and state associations and organizations.
As a profession, learning to understand women better takes leadership—female leadership, that in most cases does not exist yet on a national level. I can count on two hands the number of women we have had elected to serve on the board of our national associations in the U.S. in the history of our profession. That is a fact and is simply no longer acceptable as a profession in my opinion. We need to work harder to fix this. The women coming into our profession seek and need role models. We can and must do better. We must continue to have more and more programs for women in our profession, not just one time a year or once every couple of years, but on a continuous and frequent basis.
I founded Your Funeral Coach this last year for a few reasons and one of those is, I believe that women need to be heard, to be mentored, and to be supported. Part of my goal is to expose them to other successful women as role models. If you follow my podcast, Your Funeral Coach Talks you will find a series called “Elevating Women in Funeral Service”. There, beginning in 2022, you will find interviews with top women serving our profession who will share their insights on becoming successful as a woman, a business owner, and a leader.
To my Canadian sisters in funeral service that I met at this year’s Professional Women’s Conference, to the incredible women that I have mentored and continue to support, and to any of you reading this blog: thank you for sharing your stories, your hearts, your frustrations, your challenges, your joys, and your victories. You have inspired me to tell your stories, to do everything I can as a funeral director, as a funeral coach and as a mentor to support you both now, and in the future.
Stay in touch and hope to see you again soon.