Women of Asphalt Mentorship Program Offers Opportunities for Women in Trades
BY Sandy Lender
As of the Feb. 9 kickoff call, the 2023 Women of Asphalt (WofA) mentorship program was set to officially launch. Executive Director Arpine Baghdasarian shared that the program has 165 participants this year with over 80 matches.
The program pairs experienced professionals in the industry with women who are just starting out or looking to advance in their careers. The mentors provide guidance, advice and support to help mentees navigate the industry and acquire the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. The program is designed to help women gain knowledge and experience in the field, as well as build a professional network and get exposure to different areas of the industry.
This year’s director of the mentorship program is Debbie Novak, who also serves on the WofA national board, and she shared that the seven women on the mentorship committee have put in copious amounts of time preparing the matches since registration opened in the last quarter of 2022.
“Matching isn’t done with an algorithm,” Novak said. “It’s time-consuming to match somebody the way they want to be matched. The application asks a lot of questions, including interests, hobbies, what the mentee’s goals are and what mentors want to give back. It’s a lot of information to scour to make the best possible matches.”
In the years Novak has participated as a mentor, she’s been matched with women who represent their companies in similar roles to hers. She started with Missouri Petroleum’s parent company, Lionmark Construction Cos. LLC, in September 1995. Novak is responsible for Missouri Petroleum’s asphalt purchasing, managing the company’s asphalt needs for emulsions and cutbacks. She also serves as the marketing director for Lionmark Construction Companies, managing social media and marketing content for several companies under their parent company, Lionmark.
One of her recent mentees, Molly Berry, is in marketing and business development for Asphalt Testing Solutions & Engineering (ATS) in Jacksonville, Florida. Berry shared, “The Women of Asphalt mentorship program presents a valuable opportunity for members of our industry to connect, share and grow, both personally and professionally. This program allowed me to expand my network and industry knowledge. There are so many different facets to this industry, and the Women of Asphalt mentorship program offers a platform to bring individuals from different backgrounds, regions and even different areas within the industry to collaborate and offer advice and insight.”
Another mentee Novak partnered with is Ally Glover with Irving Oil, in Chesapeake, Virginia. Glover described her positive experience with the program: “The guidance and support that Debbie provided was unmatched. The asphalt industry isn’t flooded with women, but she has been such a great resource to come to with questions. From the minute I met her, I knew she was someone great to have in your circle.
“A few things I have learned from her this past year is how important networking is,” Glover continued. “It is crucial in this industry to know a little of everything. It’s also important to go to all the industry events when you can. Networking and meeting people is one of the keys to success I feel like in this career.”
The networking Glover mentions is one of the primary goals of WofA overall. The organization’s website states: “Our mentorship program is designed to be a resource for you and other women in the industry to help encourage success.”
“It’s a reciprocal relationship where we were helping each other out,” Novak said.
Kierstin Janik, the chief talent officer for The Heritage Group in Indianapolis, participated as a mentor for the first time in 2022 and also saw the reciprocal nature of the relationship. “Mentorship programs aren’t a one-way learning opportunity,” Janik shared. “I believe both mentee and mentor benefit and learn from each other.
“Last year, I was lucky enough to be paired with a woman who has been in operations/management in the industry for nearly 15 years, Kristi Morrell. As a talent/HR/communication leader, it’s a great learning for me to hear about other companies’ cultures, what they are doing to attract and retain talent, or training programs they are implementing. Kristi was willing to provide her perspective on the things her company has tried and brainstorm.”
Janik also described the help she could offer as a mentor in that relationship. “Her organization is smaller and doesn’t have an internal HR team, so I was able to give her advice and perspective on employee/HR challenges.”
The group opens the mentorship program for registration in the fall, usually in late October, Novak shared. Matches are usually ready for mentors and mentees to connect by January. The Zoom meeting that launches the relationship is recorded and hosted on YouTube for those members who receive the private link. This makes the initial Zoom call one of a host of resources available to participants.
Tracy Richard, quality control technician at Aggregate Industries Northeast Region Inc., a division of Holcim, found value in the kickoff call. “They have a Zoom kickoff meeting and plenty of literature,” Richard said. “Then the Women of Asphalt encourages the mentee reaches out to the mentor she’s matched with.”
Richard’s participation stemmed from a desire to pay it forward. “I really want people to know about the program and take it seriously. I’m grateful for the people who have mentored me and continue to mentor me. My boss right now is a wonderful mentor to me. I want to pay it forward and encourage women to be involved in the asphalt industry.”
Janik shared that the communication within the program was of value, as well. “I genuinely enjoyed the monthly conversations I had through the Women of Asphalt program. Kristi’s insights from her 15 years in the industry are invaluable as she is intimately involved in the day-to-day operations at her company and the challenges her crews have. It helped me grow and gave me a new perspective as a function leader in this industry. Additionally, it was fun to chat because our organizations work together at times, allowing for shared connections and networking.”
Despite the value in mentoring, leadership at WofA found it necessary to reach out to the membership when the flood of participants wanting to be mentored started in late 2022. Sometimes, it’s difficult to convince someone she can bring her experience to the table and help someone else.
Novak shared the story of helping a past mentee gain the confidence to approach a company president with a request for time to be seen and heard. That woman’s decision to show her worth advanced her career. “I asked myself, ‘What can I give? Am I really a person who can give advice?’” Novak said. “My a-ha moment was when I helped this woman with her career. When she did go for it, she was almost giddy about it. That validated my decision for me.”
“I say jump right in,” Glover said. “This has been the best career move I could have ever made professionally as well as personally. It has opened up opportunities to meet new people, gain tremendous knowledge, and have experiences that have been some of the coolest things I have ever done. Being mentored by someone that is outside my company has given me a different view of how to do things, how to better communicate with customers, and how to market and sell my product to companies outside of my current territory.”
“If anyone is having hesitation about considering mentoring another woman through WofA, I would hope that they would consider the small time commitment it takes to connect once a month and how that will yield for them the opportunity to grow themselves,” Janik said.
The mentorship program is for WofA members only and the resources are located on the organization’s website under the membership tab. If you’re not a member yet, join for free at https://wofa.memberclicks.net/. And watch for the open enrollment for the 2024 mentorship program coming up this fall. Companies can encourage their female and male employees to participate at no cost in WofA’s Mentorship Program which connects experienced professionals with individuals looking to advance in their careers in the asphalt industry.