Kathleen Edge, EVP of Operations at Southwire, recently participated in a virtual event with Sonepar USA as a panelist, where she joined four other women who serve in Sonepar leadership roles to discuss best practices for women to navigate through the electrical industry. Sonepar USA is an independent family-owned company with global market leadership in the business-to-business distribution of electrical, industrial and safety products and related solutions.
The event was hosted by the company’s employee resource group (ERG) called Women Advocating Today for Tomorrow (WATT). This group is Sonepar USA’s first-ever ERG, which was created in 2019 in alignment with the company’s commitment to provide an atmosphere for inclusion, diversity and mentorship to its associates. Southwire has very similar values to Sonepar USA as it relates to inclusion and has six ERGs including: Women’s Network, Spectrum, NEXTgen, TEAM, Officium and ALLiED.
Prior to the event, the panelists were sent a series of questions to review and decide which they could best answer. Then, at the event, each panelist was chosen to respond in depth to one question, as well as listen to the other panelists and participate in Q&A at the end. The event was open to all Sonepar USA associates and that we had hundreds of participants from across the organization. Edge answered the question, “what mistakes have you made and how have you learned from them?”. By answering this question, she was able to provide her insight by sharing past experiences in the manufacturing industry, what has gone well and how she has learned from her mistakes.
Edge explained the theme surrounding her response to the question was revolved around, “that which is unsaid is unheard,” which she learned through a previous job experience before coming to Southwire.
“I was put in a new position where I was not the subject expert,” Edge said. “This allowed me to quickly realize, that if I wanted to be successful at that job, I needed to ask questions to learn quickly. And this is two-sided – both for the leaders and others throughout the organization. At the event, I told the audience not to assume your leaders and peers know everything that’s going on. Rather, all employees and leaders need to know how to speak up when something is wrong and ask the right questions, so that we can fix it together.”
Questions that other panelists answered included ‘what impact have mentors had on your career?’, ‘what are some of the key attributes that you have learned through your career that got you to where you are today?’, ‘have you experienced being the only woman at the table, and how did you get your voice to be heard?’ and ‘how do you steer clear of stereotypes and overcome female-profiling?’.
Additionally, each panelist was tasked to give a personal takeaway for the audience to remember for the future. This included advice such as, diversify your experience and learn within, be flexible about your development and movement in your company, reach out and develop a relationship with a mentor for personal and professional growth, find your voice and speak up and, Edge’s advice, be your true authentic-self.
Edge explained that this was the takeaway she wanted to give people because, from personal experience, she realized that when you spend energy trying to be something you are not – you are wasting energy.
“We talked a lot about the fact that, often times, women try to act in a certain way of how people believe we should act,” Edge said. “I realized prior to coming to Southwire that, when you are authentically yourself, it’s less stressful and you’re not wasting energy and time. I was tired of putting up a wall and not being me. So, when I decided to interview at Southwire, I chose to be myself, and it has truly been the best eight years of my career.”
Edge was the only non-Sonepar USA panelist at the event, which speaks to the company and Southwire’s more than 25-year relationship, dating back to when the company first entered the U.S. market. Winn Wise, Southwire SVP of electrical distribution and retail, explained that both Sonepar USA and Southwire are market leaders in the electrical industry and, through similarities around work and culture, the companies have developed a strong, mutually beneficial partnership over the years.
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“Kathleen has a proven history of successfully navigating through the intricacies of the workplace,” said Wise. “She is an advocate for not just women, but our entire workforce. The Sonepar management team knows Kathleen from her participation in top level meetings between our companies, and they recognize the inclusive culture we have at Southwire. Participating in events like this is an avenue to encourage networking, embrace collaboration and empower future and current leaders in our industry.”