Trailblazing, as Robyn Boling sees it, requires a combination of determination, opportunity, and support.
Boling was recently honored by a Manufacturing Institute with a STEP Ahead Award for her own trailblazing career. She is the first female ductless HVAC technical specialist in her region for Trane — by Trane Technologies (NYSE:TT), a global climate innovator.
Becoming the first woman in a particular role is only one step towards parity, explains Boling. “I was at a conference a few weeks ago, and I was asked multiple times, ‘You do the same thing that the others do?’ And I say, ‘Yes, yes I do.’ It's just having to constantly validate yourself and reaffirm that you belong here.”
As a specialist who handles all technical support for ductless products in her region, Boling’s first priority is excellence. But she recognizes that she’s also shifting perspectives and breaking down assumptions along the way. “I work with contractors who are almost all, if not entirely, male. They’re seeing a woman who is essentially a subject matter expert. I'm the go-to person. I think it has had to change some of the perspectives of the men I work with because they are not used to going to women for the answer. But on this topic, I happen to know more than they do, and so they're just having to learn that that's OK.”
The Importance of Visibility
Because of the day-to-day impact of her own visibility, Boling sees very clearly the importance of representation. “I see Trane actively trying to increase female representation in leadership, and that's valuable. Women can bring a different perspective with respect to policies and inclusivity, from sales to service to internal dynamics.” Continues Boling, “Having leadership, particularly female leadership, committed to growing the women underneath them is also a way to get more women into the industry, because we have visible role models.”
Boling is quick to address the false assumption that prioritizing gender equity means hiring lesser-qualified candidates. “Some people might question whether a woman is the most qualified for a position. The answer is usually yes; we just haven’t had the same opportunities.”
Taking and Making Opportunities
Opportunities, Boling says, can be found and created. And, she adds, they don’t have to be along traditional paths. She reiterates this message to younger colleagues and to her nieces, who are 12 and 15 years old. “They are my beneficiaries,” she explains, “and I have told my brother very clearly, under no uncertain terms, that they would not have to use that money to go to college. They can go to a vocational school,” she continues. “Women can go to vocational schools!”
Sometimes, Boling adds, the path doesn’t even exist. “Don't not do something just because there are no women doing it. You can be the leader. Or if you want to follow another woman, that's fine. You can be the first follower.”
Robyn Boling’s final piece of advice to women blazing their own trails? “Don’t give up. It sounds very cliche, but there will be many times when you might feel like giving up. When you do, go find your network of people who are powerful and supportive and ask them to give you a pep talk.”
That network can be made up of other women, Boling says, but it doesn’t have to be. “There are men supporting this work, too. My counterparts are very supportive of my being on the service side, which is invaluable. I would not be here if I did not have their support and encouragement.” Men can see double standards even when they may benefit from them, adds Boling, so “it's not just women that you need to have a network. You need allies across the industry.”
Embracing Diverse Perspectives
As a part of the STEP Ahead program, Boling’s circle of allies is expanding even further. Within the network, honorees can sign up to serve as mentors or mentees. Boling has signed up to be both. “I think at this point, I have sufficient experience to mentor somebody. But I can always use more mentoring, myself!” She notes that even without a formal program, though, mentorship is readily available. “Just interacting with women every day is an opportunity to mentor or be mentored by other women.”
Whether engaging with customers or working as a court-appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system, Boling knows that in addition to technical know-how, empathy matters. Her work within the court system, especially, “has given me a new level of patience and understanding and the ability to look at things from somebody else's perspective. You cannot put your personal biases on someone, because you don't know their story.”
That understanding helps her stay the course as a pioneering woman in a changing industry. And for Robyn Boling, the future is bright.
“I am so proud to see my nieces growing up into the women that they are becoming.
And I look forward to the day when they might decide that they can go into manufacturing or any form of STEM. It excites me to see women entering industries that are not historically ours.”
In Her Words is a three-part series highlighting the Manufacturing Institute’s 2022 STEP Ahead Award Honorees and Emerging Leaders. The STEP Ahead Awards “recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies. This national honor identifies top talent in the manufacturing industry and further encourages award winners to mentor and support the next generation of female talent to pursue modern manufacturing careers. The STEP Ahead Awards give women across the country a platform to showcase the incredible opportunities the industry has to offer, whether they are running the company, designing the next big product or testing innovations on the shop floor.”
Trane is a strategic business of Trane Technologies, a global climate innovator. Trane Technologies brings bold thinking to our customers to advance the conversation on sustainability and achieve more through sustainable climate solutions for buildings, homes, and transportation. We're leading the way to a better future, and we boldly go.