This weeks’ guest blogger, Amber Beattie Randall is a Licensed Funeral Director, Embalmer and General Manager of Crestview Memorial Gardens and Funeral Home in Adamsville, Alabama. She is sharing her perspective on women in funeral service, particularly women in management. She provides a fresh and real perspective on the influence of women in funeral service and the future of funeral service with women at the helm. Happy reading!
As a funeral home manager, I see myself in much the same way my family sees me: a wife and mother who at some point saw herself as a strong, God-fearing, educated woman with aspirations to be a great funeral director. I did not want to do this for myself but for my family and community. My goal was to change the industry, but somewhere along the way, I actually fell in love with the idea of being a professional woman in funeral service.
During the Civil War, women would shroud the dead and dominated the death care field. We took great care spending hours on end so that families could have that one final rite. This trend slowly changed by the mid-1800s as death care needs evolved and the need for embalming became necessary. Women were not expected to work outside of the home, and men took over much of the responsibility for the care of the deceased. Fast forward to the twenty-first century where women now dominate mortuary colleges with more than 50 percent of students in mortuary colleges are women. Women are not only graduating from college and higher levels, growing in the profession, and playing important roles in serving family, but also we are assuming more managerial roles in successful firms around the country.
So what are the benefits of women in management? Women possess qualities that contribute to a distinctly different managerial style which allows us to serve families in a unique way. From acceptance and compassion to team building and virtue, women bring awe and possess great qualities. Whether you use these qualities to your advantage is up to you.
We become passionate about what we do, we value our employees, and we become loyal to them. Not only do we become loyal to our employees, we also find them becoming loyal to us. That loyalty becomes a commitment which then becomes a bond. That passion and loyalty shows when we are their example. When we aren’t afraid to become dedicated to our profession, whether cleaning toilets, embalming, waiting on a family, or even doing paperwork be the example! Let your leadership show, and they will follow. But with loyalty also comes those that take advantage of you, even as a manager. Be mindful of your relationship with your employees. As women, we sometimes become really close to our employees, especially when you work in a small firm. Remember that while being their leader and sometimes their friend, you have to make tough decisions. If a relationship with an employee clouds your decisions as a manager, you may find yourself in a sticky situation. So beware!
Which brings me to ethics: your moral principles, ethos, honesty, standards, so forth and so on. Sure we all heard it preached in school but do you practice it? Are you honest to your clients, their families, and your staff? Are you honest to the manager whom you hope to one day fill his/her shoes? Are you fair to each family and to each employee? You should not discriminate in any manner. You should not waiver from what is right. As a manager, you should be holding yourself to higher standards. I remember hearing a coworker many years back telling a family member he did something that he did not do. When I asked why he told them a lie, he informed me that what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Had he been my employee he may have found himself in an unemployment line. A lie is a lie, is a lie. When you lose sight of your own ethics, you can find yourself pushing limits and making bad decisions. And these decisions may cause you to find yourself in a court of law!
That leads me to communication. Aren’t we the verbal ones? When it comes to speaking, women average 20,000 words per day while men average a mere 7,000. As the saying goes, we tend to talk ninety miles per hour and never stop! At least, that’s the way my less talkative husband describes it. Of course, we are good listeners as well. These two forms of communication is what suits us to be good managers. The question you should ask yourself is: do you communicate well? Do you relay to your employees the tasks at hand and the most important ones? How and when to complete them? Do you relay the importance of accurate information when asking a family member for vitals? Do you listen carefully to the information being provided so that an error can be avoided? Whether you’re a manager or an employee, as a woman, you should be able to communicate effectively. And while we do talk more than men, most certainly we should slow our words and open our ears. Learning when to listen and when to talk is very important to the families you are serving.
As women, we have more patience and understanding. We aren’t as quick to judge or take immediate action. Don’t get me wrong. I know plenty of hot headed women as well as men! While women progress through problems, men are more problem solvers. We are more likely to give the family or even an employee the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean that we should overlook our gut instincts. If it feels wrong, it probably is. While progressing through problems, pay attention. In facial expressions, tone of voice, or body movements, we can sense the truth, or even a lie. Use this female instinct to your advantage. As a manager, be alert to what is going on around you. If a family comes in wanting you to have understanding for a financial need, it doesn’t mean you give them the bottom dollar. Use your skills and evaluate the true nature of the situation. At that point you come to not only a financial understanding of their needs but you also work on meeting the needs of your firm. Understanding one another leads to a good compromise. This in turn leaves both parties with respect for each other while building rapport and future business.
Personally, one of my strengths is my OCD. Sure it drives my staff nuts! But let me say that OCD or not, women are more detailed oriented. I’m going to claim that one as a fact. Our paperwork is complete; we follow through on death certificates, insurance assignments, etc. We check the deceased a bagillion, yes, I meant a bagillion, times to make sure the hair isn’t out of place, the make-up isn’t too light or dark, and the lint roller has been over all the clothes. We make sure floral arrangements and tributes are placed perfectly, and cards are legible. We even have pinning the boutonnieres on down to a science. And I bet I’m not the only woman that has the pall bearers sign the “bearer” page of the register book. The details are never ending. Women conform to each family as needed. We are less cookie cutter than men overall and seem to be a little less business like when speaking with families. We come across as nurturing and sympathetic, a bit softer.
However, don’t tend to all the details alone. My biggest mistake when I first became a managing director was being overwhelmed. I thought that I had to have my thumb on everything. A funeral home is not a one woman (or man) show. Learning to delegate was one of the hardest things I had to learn to do. I was always worried that it wouldn’t be right. That little things would get overlooked and families would notice. Would there be enough of this or too little of that? Building a staff that can take direction and follow through brings a whole new meaning to my level of stress in management. It is like that well-oiled machine with each part working together striving for the same outcome. It’s called team building. There’s no “I” in team!
Speaking about teams, be a team member in your community. Your community should at least know your face if not your name. Being connected with your community is just as important as being connected with your firm. We establish relationships with them at their worst times. Why not be there for them during the good times? For example, we participate in Trunk or Treat, two Christmas parades, Public Safety Day and many other local events. Funeral homes are everywhere, and you should want to stand above the rest. The time and effort getting to know you and your staff will bring about relationships that can last a lifetime. These relationships may one day be the glue that binds them to your firm and not your competitors.
Granted, everything I’ve mentioned have all been lessons. Have I always allowed my qualities to show? Absolutely not. I’m actually still working on fine tuning my own strengths and weaknesses. Something I hope I never quit doing. Have I always been passionate? Nope. My fire dwindles just as much as some of yours has at times. And talk about loyalty, I’ve thought about walking away in frustration at times. When my fire burned out that loyalty went right out the window with it. My ethics? Those have pretty much stayed intact. What I’m afraid of in that category is the devil. He tries planting things in my head that I know God didn’t put there. Makes me second guess myself sometimes. I’m still learning how to find God’s voice over the hustle and bustle of that white noise every now and then. And for the most part, I communicate well, verbally that is. I’m also trying to slow down and listen. I have more understanding than patience, but I’m getting there. I think I’m just an instant gratification type of girl, if you know what I mean. It’s that asking your husband to take out the trash, and it sits there for two days that lacks of patience. Details I can put in the bag… I LOVE DETAILS! But enough about me.
If you’re looking for personal growth or advancement, you need to find your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s not to say that you won’t encounter struggles and disadvantages along the way. There is still much prejudice in our field that makes our job a bit more challenging. Just this week, I saw a male manager post on social media the desire to hire a “man” for a position. I laughed to myself and moved on to the next feed. Please don’t let those types of managers discourage you from succeeding. Recognizing and fine-tuning your individual qualities allow for potential growth be it personal or professional. Advancement in our industry can bring about great reward. Women are continuing to grow in this industry, and barriers for advancement are being broken. Go break some glass ladies!