Good afternoon, I’m Tammy Caputi, it’s a pleasure to be here today. I’m the President and owner of Yale Electric West- a company I founded in 2001. Yale Electric West is an electrical materials supplier for commercial construction projects. I provide products like light fixtures, switchgear, pipe, wire, and dimming systems to electrical contractors.
Yale Electric West has been involved in the construction of hundreds of commercial projects in Greater Phoenix, including Cardinal Stadium, Phoenix Convention Center, Sky Harbor Terminal 4, Sun Devil Stadium, and many others. I am involved in all day-to-day operations of the business, including customer relationships, business development, quoting, sales, purchasing, and project management.
I’ve been married for 14 years and have three daughters who are students in the PV school district. I’ve been an advocate for women’s rights my whole life. It’s exciting to see so many women leaders here today who are making a difference.
I graduated from Wellesley College in 1990 with a degree in Economics and Women’s Studies. Attending a women’s college empowered me to become the person I am today. At Wellesley women were expected to be smart and capable. Women raised their hands in class and were called on; their voices were heard and their activities were supported and funded. Women made all the decisions, filled all the leadership positions, and supported each other. I had never experienced that before and it forever changed the way I viewed both myself and other women.
After college I went to work in my family business, an electrical supply company in Boston, with my father and two brothers. I won’t bore you with stories of sexual harassment in the construction industry- it was just part of my daily routine. Most days I made sales calls in front of degrading posters of scantily clad women grasping tools in suggestive positions. If you complained, you weren’t welcomed back; you had to just ignore it and suffer through the humiliation. Very empowering. There were so few women, it was hard to change things.
I later moved to Scottsdale to get experience outside the family business and worked for both an electrical distributor and a manufacturer, getting to know all facets of the business. After a few years I moved back to Boston to get an MBA.
I returned to the family business and when I asked for more money and responsibility, I was told by my father, “The business is for the boys- your mother and I will take care of you”. Amazing how low the glass ceiling was, even in my own family business! The only thing I’m grateful for is that the sexism was so clear- I didn’t have to wonder if it was some deficiency in me!
I had the contacts, tools, knowledge and most importantly confidence, so I moved back to Scottsdale and opened my own business. I didn’t have the capital to open a warehouse and stock materials at first. I concentrated on large projects, drop-shipped materials directly from the factory to the jobsite, and focused on service and product knowledge. Everyone said this wouldn’t work, but here I am 16 years later. My customers enjoy working with a small company who understands and is involved in every aspect of their projects. I’m grateful to be in business for myself, where I have more control over my destiny.
I’m certified as an SBE/DBE by the City of Phoenix. This city makes a requirement on some publicly funded projects that general contractors utilize a small percentage of diverse firms, if possible. This opened up doors that were firmly closed, where I wouldn’t have had the chance to even provide a quote. I was able to bid successfully on projects and prove to contractors who were at first only using me because they “had to” that I was good at what I do, and they often continued to use my services for other projects.
But it’s also used against me; I am constantly being told I’m not being given a project because there’s no requirement for SBE firms (“If you don’t force me to work with a woman I’m not going to do it!”) Or that I only got the job because of the requirement. I still have to be the low bidder and perform successfully on the job, so that makes no sense- the only benefit the program gives me is the opportunity to bid. (Can you call that a “benefit”?)
If you don’t mandate working with diverse firms, and make sure everyone understands the value of doing so, the men at these companies often stick to working with who they’re comfortable with. Mandating equality is necessary to start to level the playing field. Men have stacked the odds in their favor for years, so we are not starting from a similarly situated position to begin with. Women have been historically disadvantaged. The longest running affirmative action program in world history is called: world history. Inequality has been mandated for years, now it’s time for equality. It’s not zero sum, women win so men lose- there’s enough equality to go around; everyone wins.
Until women make up more of the decision makers for electrical and general contractors, I don’t see things changing much anytime soon.
This is unfortunate. When women are only one of a few, they are made to feel uncomfortable and try to conform and fit in by “outmanning” the men. Women leaders don’t always promote women’s interests. I’m sure you’ve all known women like this.
Studies show that once a critical mass of women in a group, (about 30%) is reached, this dynamic tends to go away and women can be themselves and contribute positively to the culture and the bottom line of an organization.
Women shouldn’t have to work in a model designed for and by men. The challenge for today’s women leaders is to re-create policies and systems and laws so we can be successful on terms that also include and value women.
American corporate life makes it very hard for women to be successful both at home and work. The expectation is that women will step aside at work when we have kids, so it seems rational to not advance us too far beforehand, or let us back in when we’re ready. Hence the gender pay and promotion gap (still 80/100 at best). Women and men should have equal rights to work and have children at the same time- this should not be a burden borne fully by women.
We have insufficient protections or mechanisms for equal pay or promotion, no legal provisions for pregnancy or maternity leave or child care, and no real protection from sexual harassment in the workplace. Our Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex, and women’s rights are not protected other than the right to vote. We still have no ERA (equality of rights under the law can’t be denied or abridged by the Unites States, or any State, on account of sex). Wow, that’s so controversial!
We need women leaders, and men too, who support these issues. Who will empower and improve other women’s lives, who will help get a critical mass of women at decision making tables and help make the world a better place for everyone. Study after study shows better outcomes when women are involved. Companies perform better if they recruit and retain women. It’s estimated that gender equality would add $12-$28T to global annual GDP. Equality is better for everyone.
Women are half the population. We need women leaders who will say, “The business is for the girls and the boys” and make it happen. Who’s with me?