Steve Pham

When I was growing up back in the ‘80s, feminism already was firmly entrenched in the zeitgeist. We were told that our generation of young women could “have it all” — our independence would set us free to have both a career and a family. It was an extension of the American Dream, and all we needed to do was work hard to have anything we wanted.

Well, as I grew into adulthood and faced certain realities, I learned that “having it all” meant you actually had less of everything — you sacrificed something on one side to have something on the other. (Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously said, “You can’t have it all all at once.”) Although these issues are universal to womankind, I felt mostly alone in my experience.

But something has happened to make me feel hopeful again, and in the pool industry, no less.

At this year’s PSP Expo, I attended the first-ever SWIMN event. The gathering was sparked by a run-in I had last year with the wonderful Teri Wiltshire, special projects coordinator at Master Pools Guild. I had remarked that it must be challenging to be a woman in the pool industry and wondered if there was a group or resources for women to turn to for help. She said, “No, there isn’t, but wouldn’t that be something?” She grew thoughtful for a moment. Then, she declared, “I’m going to do something about it — and I know just the person to contact.”

That person wound up being Pam Vinje, the dynamic CEO of Small Screen Producer. She invited 40 women across all aspects of the industry to meet during this years’ PSP Expo. We had dinner in a lovely dining space at Mulate’s in New Orleans. I found myself surrounded by industry stalwarts — some of whom I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of meeting (There was Debra Smith, president of Pulliam Aquatech Pools! And Kathleen Carlson, senior vice president of sales and marketing at AquaQuip!) and others who have already become true friends.

What followed next was one of the most engaging evenings of my career. Many of the ladies told stories of the hardships that came from being a woman in the construction field. I was appalled when one, the president of a pool building firm, said that homeowners will still ask to talk to a man instead of with her. What’s ironic is that she knows every detail there is to know about building pools, and yet she still faces this prejudice. “How is this possible in this day and age?” I wondered.

Pam Vinje, CEO of Small Screen Producer

The rest of the evening was dedicated to talk about the future. What did we want to gain from this event? The majority expressed concern for the next generation of women coming into the industry and how we, with our collective 858 years of experience, could help them. There were some big ideas: Perhaps a mentorship program was the answer. Or maybe creating a new association was in order. But everyone agreed that a small, strong start was essential. First and foremost, we had to create strong bonds within this small group, to be resources for one another in our very different areas of expertise. Only then, would we be able to grow.

So here’s to small beginnings! My hope is that, with the support and guidance from this core group of strong women, the next generation eventually can have it all, and all at once, no less.