Kacy Erdelyi, VP of marketing at Spark Car Wash, was staring down at a list of 55 personal values and she needed to trim it down to just five. Working through the challenge, surrounded by 40 other women on the picturesque Villanova University campus, she was finding it challenging to narrow the list.
“It was nearly impossible,” Erdelyi said. “We were all experiencing so much anxiety crossing out values that we felt strongly about, but weren’t in our top five. Life is like that! If you want to be able invest your time and energy in the things that matter the most, you have to say no to other things that also have value. And saying no is going to hurt.”
Another participant, Amanda Williams, marketing director at Tagg-N-Go Car Wash, felt similarly about figuring out her five core values. “It was incredibly impactful to whittle my personal philosophy into a few words and shine a light on how I view my voice and value on this journey.”
This thought-inspiring exercise was one of many at the International Carwash Association’s Women’s Leadership Experience, which was held in partnership with the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership and College of Professional Studies at Villanova University, Oct. 18-19.
“The three tenets of our women’s program have always been focused around communication, culture and confidence. With this event, we wanted to create an experience that helped our attendees focus on their own personal leadership plan,” said ICA Chief Learning Officer Claire Moore. “That meant they had to take a look at the internal and external factors influencing them and prioritizing their values to create a structure in which they can thrive. Going through this exercise in a community setting — where a diverse range of women from throughout the industry had come together — really allowed those three tenets to shine.”
The closeness that the participants felt as they explored these three tenets didn’t just help with the program’s educational goals, it was a defining difference for this program.
“The fact that everyone present is a woman in a non-traditional industry creates an immediate bond that allows for more open discussion, immediate willingness to show vulnerability, and the acknowledgement of a shared experience from minute one,” Erdelyi said. “Anyone looking to meet more women in different roles and regions could benefit from the closeness a program like this creates.”
This type of interaction was appreciated by others, as well, as it made the program different.
ICA member Selena Easter, director of brand and franchise development at Hang 10 Car Wash, said, “Being able to role play and discuss our experiences in a safe space was so imperative to the program’s efficacy and provided a distinct experience from other learning programs I have attended.”
Williams concurred and added that the program differed from other ones she has participated in because the education was geared toward women. “We were able to talk as women about some of the things that we face that our male counterparts may not experience,” Williams said.
Another big difference with this program was that, upon completion, participants received a certificate from both Villanova University - College of Professional Studies and ICA.
The 2022 program provided an in-depth and all-immersive experience designed to help individuals build new skills, develop their own personal leadership plan, and explore ways to influence change. In addition, this curriculum and program format was intended to foster deeper connections and collaboration for women seeking to develop their leadership skills and advance their careers.
“The educational piece provided me with step-by-step instruction on how to better navigate common challenges faced in the workplace, while the networking aspect inspired me to take an introspective look at how I can grow, not only professionally, but personally,” said Easter.
Erdelyi said she found the section on negotiation useful and thought the role playing aspect was particularly helpful. “That exercise really helped me clarify some of my own thinking and see where I was using effective techniques and wasn’t. Negotiation training is such a key part of being an impactful leader and applies to so many other parts of our lives as well.”
Making hard decisions is just one part of learning how to become a good leader. It is also about learning how to connect with others, which was one of the aspects of the program that was priceless for many participants.
“I was moved by the vulnerability offered throughout my time at the conference and humbled by the adversities many of these women had to overcome to get to where they are today,” Easter said.
“My favorite parts of this program were the moments where we got to interact with different members of the group,” Erdelyi said. “I learned that there are a lot of powerful women bringing a new style of leadership to the car wash industry.”
She said that one of the speakers talked a lot about redefining the qualities that people automatically associate with the word “leader” to include qualities that women often excel at.
LEADERSHIP IS A PRACTICE, NOT A POSITION
One of the guiding principles of the program was that leadership is a practice, not a position. So, while the program was designed to give participants a primer in developing their leadership skills, much of the practicing part will be taking place now that the seminar has wrapped up.
“We had the opportunity to form a peer group that we will stay connected with for the next six months and will hold us accountable to our leadership goals,” Erdelyi said.
“This will give them the opportunity to coach and provide feedback on their personal leadership plans over the next six months as they take the skills learned at the event back into their professional and personal lives,” Moore said.
“Educating and finding allies in our male and female counterparts is vital to becoming agents of change for gender equity, organizational outcomes and, most importantly, making a positive impact in our world,” Easter said. “We can no longer deny that leadership development pays dividends in more ways than one and we have the data as support.”