IEC Women Build Up the Community

By IEC Staff

As the nation celebrates Women in Construction week in March, Insights thought it appropriate to check in on some of our celebrated women who run companies and chapters, share knowledge, lean on one another, and, above all, invite other women to join the industry and shine! 

A well-attended Women in Power session at SPARK 2023 in Dallas found panelists and attendees alike in awe of IEC women, seeking to better understand their challenges, and aware that there is much that can be done within our community to support women within a male-dominated field. 

Candy Branham, IEC’s first female National president, was the session moderator. She opened the SPARK session citing Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” 

“Obviously, the benefit of rubbing two pieces of iron together is that each edge sharpens the other, allowing both pieces to function more efficiently and be more productive,” Candy says. “As with iron, IEC offers its members the opportunity to sharpen each other’s electrical, business, and leadership skills through participation in local and national meetings, events, committees, training sessions, and forum groups. As iron sharpens iron, so one IEC contractor sharpens another!” 

That set the stage for open discussion of how best to be part of sharpening one another. SPARK panelists included: 

Susan Cox, owner, RKR, IEC of Kentucky & Southern Indiana 

Cara Herbstritt, co-owner, Electrical & Mechanical Systems, Inc., IEC Pennsylvania 

Janet Martin, vice president, Bret’s Electric LLC, IEC Rocky Mountain 

Gentry Roberts, executive director, IEC of Southern New Mexico 

The panelists felt encouraged by the session and its impact on SPARK attendees. Candy felt the session was well attended and well received. She had several people tell her how much they learned and benefited from the information covered. 

“I hope our panel awakened an awareness about the challenges that face women in this industry that others do not realize exist,” Susan offers. “I want to create a space for IEC women in power to feel comfortable having an honest dialogue about the things we have to deal with, as well as provide a fellowship for the up and comers to learn from the forerunners in this industry. Hopefully it will change the way women are treated, spoken to, and respected.”    

Women in Power Roundtable at 2024 Business Summit 

Following the successful SPARK panel, the 2024 Business Summit planners added the Women in Power Breakfast Roundtable to open the first day. Susan Cox took the lead, assisted by Kari Messenger and Lisa Crews from IEC National.

“My goals for the roundtable were basically twofold,” Susan says. “First, we wanted to give women a place for mentorship and safe honest discussion about the challenges we are faced within an industry that is predominantly male. Second, we wanted to help change expectations, attitude, and the climate toward women in the industry.”

Susan opened the program using the iconic America Ferrara ‘it is literally impossible to be a woman’ monologue from the Barbie movie. Discussion then moved to the tables where women and men alike, with volunteer moderators, tackled topics such as working with family; jobsite and meetings; finding a balance; and leadership. Then each table brought discussion highlights back to the group. 

The roundtable session went well and as Susan recalls, all discussions were intense. However, when each table reported to the full group, they offered “cookie cutter” responses. Susan encouraged them to open-up and share the tough ideas with the not so tough. “Our goal is to empower everyone in our industry and to do so, we need to stir it up in order to fix it, right?” 

Making these statements to the assembled group made an impact and opened doors for clear and honest discussion. Susan reports being stopped in the hallways by attendees offering ideas for the future — even by people who weren’t in the room that morning but had heard about the session. 

“Now we are working on what comes next,” Susan says. “This is boundless and we’re evaluating all the feedback obtained to determine how best to provide information and tools to move forward.” 

More sessions at IEC events, webinars, a forum group, role playing, open discussion panels, a dedicated space to talk at events, human resources sessions, podcasts, and an email group are among the future avenues under consideration. 

“We need people to help keep this going,” Susan says. “I’m not going to let this go until we’re well established.” 

Contact Kari Messenger with any ideas or to volunteer to help drive planning. 


As a woman in this industry, one of my biggest challenges was being taken seriously. My knowledge was underestimated. I started in 1993 and there was still a prevailing attitude that women didn’t belong in this industry unless they were a secretary. While we are more accepted and respected now, misogynistic treatment still exists whether consciously or subconsciously. — Susan Cox


I challenge our next generation of female leaders to jump in! Make the biggest splash you can to get involved in your local IEC chapter, National IEC, and join an IEC forum group. Also get involved in your community: chambers, code authority functions/boards, and other associations (especially women business groups). The more you get involved, the more you learn about your community, good business practices, yourself, and others. And the more you provide others an opportunity to know you and your business.— Candy Branham


I am a risk taker. Challenges I like! Challenges make you grow and give you a backbone for success. Don’t fear or run from challenges but educate yourself to be the best person you can be. Learning to negotiate and be a good listener is a skill all should learn to move forward harmoniously.— Janet Martin


My advice to the next generation of future leaders in the electrical industry is to refuse to let anyone hinder your progress or undermine your confidence. Take an active role, be present, and confidently express your opinions without fear.— Cara Herbstritt


The impact I feel IEC’s Women in Power sessions have on attendees is their ability to give face value, a voice, and a well needed platform to all women in our industry. In the future, my hope is that these sessions offer women more acknowledgement and empower them to share more of their own experiences, continue to encourage engagement, and build a sense of pride for women throughout our industry and trade.— Gentry Roberts