Whether they’re working on the manufacturing line, installing floors, managing company finances, selling products, marketing, or serving as the CEO, there are many women leading the way in the wood flooring industry. Hardwood Floors is honored to celebrate these women and share some of their stories.
The timing is no coincidence, as March is Women’s History Month in the United States. Additionally, March 8 is International Women’s Day, an annual day around the world designed to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
On the pages that follow, you will read about women who are part of this great industry and find out how their careers began, what they enjoy about working in wood flooring, who inspires them, and the ways they are contributing to improving the trade and their communities.
Dana Lee Cole
Dana Lee Cole spent 12 years working in the Michigan governor’s office, focusing on environmental and economic development policy. Then, she moved to Washington, D.C., to be the senior vice president of corporate affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers. Cole describes her current role as executive director of the Hardwood Federation as combining the best of those prior roles.
“The Hardwood Federation represents the Hardwood industry in Washington, D.C. on federal policy issues, including legislation, rules, and regulations,” says Cole. “I am responsible for communicating the policy positions established by our board of directors to members of Congress, the administration, federal agencies, and departments that impact the hardwood business economy. I also oversee communications with the industry, activate industry outreach to policymakers, and administer the Hardwood Political Action Committee.”
“I would give the same advice to anyone considering a career in any field. Don’t think you need to know everything before jumping in…learning is part of the fun, and no one expects you to be an expert right away.”
— Dana Lee Cole
Outside of the day-to-day tasks, Cole travels to industry events to share ways individuals and companies can be engaged in the political process. She believes it is essential for everyone to take the time to make their voices heard. In the D.C. community, she is a long-time contributor and supporter of the Central Union Mission, which provides numerous services to the homeless, including shelter and food programs, job training, and transition to permanent housing.
An inspiration to Cole has been her mother, a former high school math teacher who told stories of being the only woman in the math department of the university she attended. That made a big impression on her.
Cole says she has always felt as though she has a place in this industry and would advise others not to think they have to know everything before jumping in.
“The people in the wood products industry are wonderful,” notes Cole. “They are hardworking, family and community-focused, and many are running multi-generational companies with incredible histories. I also love the sustainability story of wood and wood products, including how the wood products industry contributes to the health and wellbeing of our forestlands.”
Somerset Wood Products Inc.
Growing up, Diana Gurley’s father owned a sawmill and built houses in the community. She enjoyed every facet of the wood business, ultimately being one of a few people hired by Steve Merrick in the startup of Somerset Wood Products Inc. In the beginning, Gurley was involved only in the lumber industry and cabinet parts manufacturing, but after the company began manufacturing hardwood flooring, she became their flooring salesperson. Today, she serves as sales manager of unfinished flooring.
Somerset is involved regularly in donations to organizations in their community and regularly donates material to NWFA and NOFMA training. Gurley has monitored several of those schools in Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri. She serves on the NWFA Manufacturer Standards Committee and is an NWFA Vanguard Award recipient.
Gurley says training and education are worthy investments for the industry’s future.
“I think it is wonderful that women are becoming more interested in the wood flooring industry… Be brave and work hard to be the best you can be and know everything there is to know about the product you will be working with. It is very rewarding.”
— Diana Gurley
“Read and learn everything you can about lumber,” she advises. “Go to all of the schools that are offered and start with the harvesting of the tree. Know lumber grades and how they react to weather conditions and the home environment.”
Gurley attributes her work ethic to her mother, who she says worked in sales at a clothing store, but also split wood with an ax well into her 70s and 80s. Reflecting on her own career, Gurley notes that the relationships she developed have been one of the most important things.
“What I like most about the wood flooring industry is the people I have made friends with, even in the labor and manufacturing side of it, the people in all realms of the flooring industry, and the places it takes you,” shares Gurley. “It was only later in my career that I started to understand the real value of those relationships I was developing and how much they impacted me and the work that I did.”
Earth City, Missouri
Though Kavita McCarthy originally planned to pursue a medical career, she gravitated toward business courses such as accounting and information technology and graduated with a marketing degree. Ultimately, she landed at CCA Global Partners, where she held progressive roles for nearly two decades.
McCarthy joined EJ Welch in 2020 as vice president of marketing. She redefined the brand, its competitive product positioning, and developed a strategic plan across customer service, pricing, procurement, marketing, and sales enablement. Last year, McCarthy was named president. In this role, she is responsible for all aspects of the brick-and-mortar business,
EJ Welch, as well as the eCommerce team running Tools4Flooring.com, both of the Merit Distribution Group.
“I am passionate about all things building-related and am most excited about the flooring industry. It’s a highly fragmented market, requiring a high-touch, design-led, and logistics-oriented model for a sustainable and competitive advantage,” explains McCarthy. “I’m extremely grateful to have found a career that allows me to do work that I love every day.”
“There are a growing number of women in strategic leadership roles, and it’s excellent to see this change accelerating.”
— Kavita McCarthy
In addition to involvement with the NWFA and the International Certified Flooring Installers Association, EJ Welch recently began supporting the Floor Covering Education Foundation. McCarthy says they want to play a meaningful role in attracting new flooring installers.
McCarthy also notes there are a growing number of women in strategic leadership roles in the flooring industry. One woman who has inspired her is Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, because she is driving diversity, innovation, and commitment to the environment. McCarthy says that Barra’s rise to leadership is relevant as she is operating in a traditionally male-dominated industry similar to ours.
“Opportunities in the flooring industry are vast, from sales and operations to business ownership,” says McCarthy. “My advice is to set yourself apart by diversifying your experience and skills across different flooring products, customer segments, and job roles. This will set you up for future success.”
Easy Groove Tooling LLC
In overseeing the daily operations of Easy Groove Tooling, Dana Osborn says, “you name it; she does it.”
“The personal relationships with my distributors for so many years have been the best, but I also love hearing from installers who use the router bits and are excited about how the product helps them save time and produce a quality installation. That was the whole reason for designing the router bits in the first place,” explains Osborn, co-owner of Easy Groove Tooling.
Though her college degree is in urban and regional planning, Osborn found her way to the wood flooring industry via her husband, Mike. She says he was always coming up with better ways to do the job, so Easy Groove Tooling began in 1993 with a floor repair tool called “The LaceCrafter.” After receiving feedback at their first NWFA Expo, it became apparent to the pair that there was a need to cut a groove to compliment the T&G fit.
“There are so many great women I have met in the wood flooring industry. I would encourage anyone to seek out a respected mentor.”
— Dana Osborn
Osborn credits her mother for instilling a work ethic in her and encouraging her to follow her passions. She notes that her family’s off-road jeep repair business exposed her to
solid business ethics, innovation, and the importance of customer service. All of which have served her well with Easy Groove Tooling.
Within the wood flooring industry, Gertrude Fuller from Harvester in New Jersey was a mentor, and Osborn says she provided a tremendous amount of encouragement and information over the years.
“My hope is that young women will consider the wood flooring industry as an occupation and share their valuable skill sets,” offers Osborn. “It takes all of us, women and men, manufacturers and distributors, contractors, dealers, and designers to keep wood flooring on the consumer’s ‘want list.’ Women are an important asset to the continued success of the wood flooring industry.”
Wadesboro, North Carolina
When Kelly Ragalie and her husband, Ovi, opened their own install and sand and finish company, she quickly found herself involved in all aspects of the business. She admits she initially fought the idea of working in the industry – even going back to school to graduate Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in Geography. Ultimately, she could not escape the pull of a career in wood flooring, so she embraced it and immersed herself in the family business.
Ragalie began taking NWFA courses in sales, installation, sand and finish, and inspection. She quickly found she was good at the technical aspects of wood flooring and loved the inspection process. Now, Ragalie is an NWFA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector, Sand and Finisher, and Sales Advisor. Her inspection company is Stafford Inspection Services, she still owns part of Treadline Construction, and is a technical sales representative for Loba-Wakol.
“I have been lucky enough to have my daughter watch me be successful in the wood flooring industry, and I hope other daughters out there see it as an opportunity.”
— Kelly Ragalie
“I love teaching, training, and helping people understand wood flooring and its quirks,” explains Ragalie. “I love that we are all a big family with similar concerns and daily challenges, and can understand what it’s like turning a tree into a work of art and something that people live on, use, and see every day.”
Outside of work, she enjoys volunteering with local contractors giving back to charities such as Providence House, the American Red Cross, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She looks up to her mother, who Ragalie says went back to school after being a stay-
at-home mom to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while working full time, taking care of her elderly parents, and being a mom and grandmother. Ragalie considers education a key to her own success.
“Having the knowledge to back you up about technical aspects of the industry, networking with other wood flooring or construction professionals, and being a source for others is really helpful in gaining success,” she notes.
As vice president of sales and operations for PurParket, a flooring manufacturer in Toronto, Ontario, Thalia Sieben manages operations, oversees a sales team across Canada, monitors markets, and handles staff recruiting and hiring. Initially, she attended school intending to become an economist. However, her prior sales and management experience led to an offer working at a showroom for a large retailer/installation firm.
Ending up in the wood flooring industry did not really surprise Sieben, though. Her father, a territory manager for Boa-Franc, has been in the industry for more than 20 years, and she would sometimes travel with him on client visits and to trade shows during the summers. She says she has been lucky to learn from her father, with one of the biggest takeaways being the lessons he taught her about having integrity in business.
“We have such a unique industry where everyone kind of knows everyone, a lot of people are generational; they have grown up in it and have family ties throughout the industry, and that has been the greatest part,” explains Sieben. “Once you’re in it, the sense of community and support you get is amazing.”
“I think the most important thing for women entering any sort of trade is to use your voice and always ask for what you want.”
— Thalia Sieben
Sieben is on the board of directors of the British Columbia Floor Covering Association, where she served as president for four years. She was the first female president of the association’s board and is proud of how the organization has grown. She notes that the group has accomplished a lot in recent years, from setting up schools and training to supporting a local animal rescue facility. Sieben believes mentorship is essential to growth.
“The industry is always changing; there is always something new to learn,” adds Sieben. “It is really good to have a strong base of people you trust to pick their brain or run a situation by them. It allows you to get a different perspective and learn from everyone around you.”
WOODWISE/Design Hardwood Products Inc.
In 1990, Monica Stell was working as an administrative assistant at a chemical company when she met John Goss and Gary Martin of WOODWISE. She joined the team there,
and 30 years later, serves as vice president, running manufacturing, supply chain, and marketing. As a manufacturer of wood fillers and maintenance products, and a supplier of
tools and accessories, she notes that each day brings new challenges and rewards.
Stell is responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations, including overseeing a team and assuring equipment is always working and regularly maintained. On top of that, she handles safety, purchasing, marketing, advertising, customer support, and oversees shipping, facility management, and anything else that pops up. Though the job has evolved continuously during the past three decades, Stell notes that work-life balance always has been important to her, and she always has been able to focus on her number one priority: her family.
“My advice to other women entering this industry is to watch and listen and be a sponge. Never stop learning from others or sharing your own experiences and knowledge with those coming behind you.”
— Monica Stell
“Without a doubt, the woman who has motivated me more than any other is my mother,” says Stell. “She was a loving, tireless mother of 11. She put herself through college, earned three degrees, and traveled the world, inspiring all who know her. She always made me believe in myself, which is the most important thing you can give your child.”
The relationships Stell has cultivated with customers, vendors, and employees are what she likes best about being in the wood flooring industry. She advises other women entering the industry to watch, listen, and be a sponge.
“Never stop learning from others or sharing your own experiences and knowledge with those coming behind you,” says Stell. “We all have so much to teach each other, so learn what works for you, never stop learning, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be vulnerable; you will never be sorry for your efforts to pick up knowledge and wisdom. Passing it on is the best part.”
QEP – Harris Flooring Group
Johnson City, Tennessee
After tackling home improvement projects with her dad and watching the process of how an addition to the family home came together, Renee Tester knew she wanted to be in the industry in some capacity. She obtained an undergraduate degree in interior design and construction management, and later earned her MBA. Both provided a strong foundation for her current role at QEP – Harris Flooring Group.
As vice president of marketing, eCommerce, and digital, Tester and her team oversee all marketing initiatives and strategies for wood flooring and the company’s other flooring segments. She also manages the eCommerce and digital team, which helps service their online-facing businesses, branding, and messaging. She serves on the NWFA’s Emerging Leaders Council and will move into the role of chair of the group later this year.
“I love being part of such an amazing ‘family.’ While we all may be competitors in some capacity, we have such a strong network of professionals that genuinely care about each other.”
— Renee Tester
Tester enjoys the “family” feel of the wood flooring industry, and enjoys presenting the “Truth About Trees,” a program offered by the North American Forest Foundation to make learning science-based facts about trees fun for kids in elementary school.
“As you present this interactive story, it is incredibly rewarding to hear the kids begin to understand the benefits of trees and, most importantly, that it is okay to cut down trees through responsible forestry management,” she explains.
Tester’s hero has been her mom, who she says took on everything with a “can-do” attitude and a smile.
“Her career path always seemed to land in very male-dominated industries, which during the late 70s and 80s was not always the most welcoming. She succeeded and had a way of always holding her own even in the most difficult of situations,” says Tester.
“There was never an instance throughout my life that she didn’t provide the encouragement and support I needed to succeed no matter what the endeavor was. She was known for her unique pieces of jewelry and extensive collection of genuine turquoise. After her passing in 2019, I proudly wear these pieces on a daily basis.”
Jennifer Zimmerman has worked in the flooring business for more than 13 years. Her first role in flooring was as senior counsel at Armstrong World Industries, then associate general counsel at Armstrong Flooring, and now general counsel at AHF Products. She spent six years at a traditional legal firm prior to joining the corporate world, and had increasing responsibility at Armstrong and its various entities before joining AHF Products after it split from Armstrong.
She describes herself as a student of the business, and the collaboration at AHF Products had her more engaged than ever in the sales, product, and operations components of the business. As general counsel, Zimmerman owns the large legal initiatives for AHF Products, including mergers and acquisitions, business counseling, international trade, and supplier relationships. She also serves as vice president of resilient, for both residential and commercial.
“Stay engaged with all parts of the business and gain exposure to those functions that are of interest to you.”
— Jennifer Zimmerman
“Wood flooring is the most aspirational type of flooring, and working for a company that takes quality and customer feedback so seriously has created an exciting dynamic with our customers,” says Zimmerman.
Zimmerman recalls that when she was working for a law firm, she was introduced to a woman who was a senior partner at a large law firm in Philadelphia. Though she had been the only woman in her class at law school, Zimmerman says the woman was known for elevating other women lawyers up through the ranks and helping them navigate their careers. Now, Zimmerman says she tries to support colleagues in their growth potential, and one of her key skills is the ability to listen.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for a seat at the table,” advises Zimmerman. “This industry is going to experience rapid growth over the next several years, and you can create a challenging and satisfying career path if you pursue your interests.”
To view past Women in the Industry, follow the links below:
- The 2021 Hardwood Floors Magazine Women in the Industry
- The 2020 Hardwood Floors Magazine Women in the Industry