York distributor Virginia Air Distributors in Midlothian, Va., recently conducted the first all-women tour of Johnson Controls’ factories in Wichita, Kan., and Norman, Okla. Here, the group of 32 women walk through the Wichita manufacturing facility.

The Johnson Controls factories in Wichita, Kan., and Norman, Okla., held a first-of-its-kind event when the company held a factory tour for just women.

Maureen Baker, who owns Virginia Air Distributors in Midlothian, Va., with her husband, helped to organize the all-female tour.

“We’ve conducted twice annual trips to factories for the past 10 years, sending 20 to 30 people - and by ‘people’ I mean men - on each trip,” Baker said. “But it occurred to me that we had never sent a group of women, despite the fact that more and more women are working in the industry. So we gauged the interest among our dealers and got a tremendous response to our inquiry.”

Dana Marr from Wooldridge Heating, Air & Electrical in Lynchburg, Va., and Dawn Richards from Childress Heating & A/C Inc., in Fredericksburg, Va., helped to assemble the tour which included 32 women from different heating and cooling companies.

As a result, Baker reached out to representatives from the York brand of Johnson Controls, and together the women organized a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip for 32 women to the two Johnson Controls manufacturing facilities. In addition to plant tours, the trip included a tour of the Wichita lab, discussions of quality processes, market product demand and the York dealer intranet, and question and answer sessions.

The women visited the Wichita facility Oct. 18, 2010, and visited the Norman factory Oct. 19.

The tour attracted women representing a variety of positions within the HVAC industry, including secretaries and company treasurers, residential sales managers, co-owners, human resource managers and office managers.

“The goal of the trip was to expose women to the manufacturing process, to let them see how the products they sell are actually made, the quality that goes into them and the marketing initiatives and tools that are in place to support the sale of these products and ultimately, their businesses,” Baker said.

And according to many of the women, the tour was a success.

“I’ve always seen products from the outside,” Marr said. “This trip gave me a whole new perspective by helping me understand how products are built from the inside out - how all the various components come together to form one unit in a process that focuses on quality. It makes me feel good that I can explain the process to my customers and assure them that they are getting a quality product when they purchase a piece of York equipment.”

Richards agreed with Marr, saying that the tour helped her see how each product and its components go together

All three women agree they would recommend the tour to others, especially as they observe more women entering HVAC and greater acceptance of women in the industry.

“It used to be that when a customer called and I answered the phone, it quickly became obvious they preferred to speak with a man,” Marr said. “Today, however, with more women technicians, customer service reps, tune-up specialists, etc., that attitude is definitely changing. And the information I brought back from this trip will help our customers feel even more comfortable talking with a woman.”

With one factory tour under her belt, Baker is already thinking about the next one.

“The positive feedback we’ve received makes it not a matter of if we’ll organize another women’s factory tour, but when,” she said. “For women who deal with model numbers, warranties and billing processes, the tour provides a wonderful opportunity to see how equipment is constructed, understand how it works and instill confidence in the women who represent that equipment, in the office and in the field.”