This week on the Bright Ideas series presented by Acuity Brands®, Catherine dives into the history of women from Lithonia Lighting®, as the company celebrates their 75th year in the industry. Her two guests are Tricia Foster, the Vice President of Marketing, and Vice President of Marketing Amra Boucher.
FINDING CAREERS IN THE LIGHTING INDUSTRY… BY ACCIDENT!
Amra Boucher was recruited by Lithonia Lighting on-campus at Auburn University seventeen years ago where she was pursuing a marketing major. Amra’s acceptance of the offer from Lithonia Lighting was in large part due to seeing the opportunities and career she saw one of her female interviewers had. “I thought that was super glamorous,” Amra explained. “I wanted to be her.”
Tricia Foster, a Conyers resident 22 years ago, joined Lithonia Lighting in a marketing position 22 years ago. Since then,, she’s been through a variety of roles from product to sales and marketing to training and education.
ADVICE FOR YOUNG WOMEN STARTING OUT ON THE JOB
When asked to imagine how they might have advised or encouraged their past selves, Tricia explained that her young age and feeling of inexperience in “a room full of engineers, probably mainly men at the time,” made her less likely to speak up… but confidence is king. “Let your viewpoint be known. They may not listen. It may not be the best viewpoint, but speak up and be confident in yourself.”
For Amra, she has found that networking is a major investment worth pursuing – building professional relationships both inside and outside of a company. It’s easy to get so busy with one’s day-to-day dealings that networking can fall by the wayside, but it needs to be a standard best practice. “I wish I would have done more of that early in my career,” Amra admitted. “I’m trying to do more of that now, and I’m looking forward to a time when the pandemic’s over so that we can do more of that face-to-face.”
Fortunately for Tricia and Amra, Acuity Brands offers a leadership and mentorship program that can help shape the careers of women entering the workforce.
THE VALUE OF MENTORSHIP
“I don’t think we have enough time for me to tell you how important that is,” Tricia laughed when Catherine asked about her past experiences with mentors. Her own mentor is a very successful and well-respected individual in the lighting industry. She is of course a good listener and a giver of sound advice. One of the most meaningful (and memorable) things she ever did for Tricia was to one day call her into a meeting room full of video cameras and announce, “ ‘Today, we’re going to work on your presentation skills and work on your presentation style.” Eight hours of intense work and brutal (but constructive) feedback later, Tricia’s career path was forever changed. “I didn’t speak to her for a few days after that,” Tricia added with a laugh. “But we’re friends now!”
Amra has had multiple people who helped to shape her both personally and professionally, as well as advocate for her. Early in her career, there weren’t a whole lot of women in leadership roles within the company and within the industry. That has certainly changed through the years, but having someone in your corner as a young woman can be a major linchpin in your career path. “I think that’s the key to any mentoring relationship… and really that’s the key to relationships in your personal life as well,” Amra shared. “You want relationships that make you better.”
She and Tricia have both tried to pass on that torch to their own mentees, as well as with any member of their staff or their leadership program.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TAKING RISKS
When asked about any major challenges or risky decisions she faced in her career, Tricia recalled switching to a new role over a decade ago: going from training and education into the sales department. There were only a few female sellers at Lithonia Lighting at the time, but it was unheard of to have a woman calling on contractors and distributors. Interviewing for a sales role in this man’s role was admittedly terrifying. And what’s more, there were even individuals within the company who didn’t think a woman should be in that role. “But he ended up hiring me,” she recalled with pride. “And then I had to build a lot of credibility, not only internally, but even with our agents and even our distributor and contractor customers as well. So that was a huge risk, but it ended up being great.” And that manager even went on to become one of the notable mentors of her career.
Amra took a similar path not long after Tricia, and was eventually promoted to Regional Vice President: one of the first ever female sales vice presidents. “Talk about a fish out of water at that time!” Amra recalled. “But I did learn a lot.” However, for her one of the biggest career risks she ever took was to leave the company– and then to come back later. Amra joined a new start-up agency in the marketplace, along with her manager and mentor at the time. She spent 2.5 years in that new position, gaining valuable experience along the way: everything from taking out the trash to setting up insurance plans to customer service. “It was a big risk, but a lot of reward for me in the end,” she shared.
ADVICE FOR YOUNG WOMEN CONSIDERING THE LIGHTING INDUSTRY
“I think the sky’s the limit,” Amra says to any young workers looking to enter the industry. Networking is still a major aid and opportunity to pursue, and there are many different industry networking events to help with that. “It’s an industry I’m passionate about, an industry I plan to spend my career in. And I think it’s a fun place to be, and I welcome anyone entering today or later.”
Tricia admitted that though the merging of science and art can sound cliche, it’s still a mergence worth embracing. Technology is always changing, but the lighting industry is also still about creating beautiful spaces, too. “One bit of advice I would say is, don’t become complacent,” she added. Young workers should always be willing to learn and grow and adapt – because the industry is doing so, and anyone who doesn’t change is likely to get left behind. Almost any professional experience is similar, in fact. She once asked her mentor after a year of public speaking, “Will I ever get to the point where I’m not nervous?” to which her mentor replied, “If you ever get to the point where you’re not nervous, then you probably should quit doing it, because that means you’re not looking for continuous improvement.” And, Tricia concluded, that could be applied to everything that people do in their professional life.
The impact of women like Tricia and Amra on the lighting profession is vast. Next week, tune in to hear the stories of two more women in the electrical industry. Until then, learn more about Acuity’s leadership program or career opportunities at careers.acuitybrands.com.
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