Women: Where we were and where we're at now in the funeral industry!
I spent the better part of the other day calling on funeral homes in Delaware and on the Maryland eastern shore. With about 275 miles of driving round trip, I had a lot of time to think about the latter half of my week in which I am cramming a trip to our manufacturing plant in Alabama, a couple hours walking the floor of the ICCFA convention, and finally NFDA’s Professional Women’s Conference in Franklin, Tennessee.
I have never attended the PWC before, and while I was pumping gas, I perused the attendee list. Names of women from funeral homes from all over were on the list – Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and more! I got to well over 100 attendees before my gas pump stopped and I stopped counting.
As I started to drive on, I began to think about how far women have come in this industry, but then also how far we still need to go.
Back in August of 2016, American Funeral Director wrote an article entitled, “A Matriarch Marks a Milestone” that featured my grandmother, Audrey Thacker, who came from humbling roots. She grew up in a coal-mining town of less than 5,000 people, and after graduation began working as an assistant at Casket Shells, Inc. (also known as CSI). It was through her time at CSI that she met my grandfather. She married my grandfather at 10 am on March 6, 1959 and was back at work at 2pm that same day.
My grandfather passed in 1981 of lung cancer and suddenly my grandmother was thrust into ownership of the business alongside my father, CJ Thacker. At that point, and for a while thereafter she was THE ONLY female owner of a casket company in the entire country. The headline of the article written by American Funeral Director highlighted, “In an industry dominated by men, Audrey Thacker was something of an anomaly when she took over the helm of Thacker Caskets in 1981. As the (then) only female owner of a casket company, Thacker was determined to grow the family-owned business and build upon her late husband’s legacy.”
Not only wasn't there female suppliers, but also female employees in the funeral home. In the 1970’s, just less than 10% of employees at funeral homes were female. By contrast, today women make up the majority enrolled in mortuary science programs throughout the country; and roughly half the staff at funeral homes across the country. Take SCI for example (simply because their numbers are publicly available), as of 2015 they had 2,033 women in senior management positions. What a transformation from the 1970’s until today. Fortune wrote an article in 2015 on the same topic. They quoted funeral director Kim Perry saying, “men really doubted that women could handle it (in 1986]”.
I truly believe that women entering the funeral industry is a breath of fresh air. Not to take away anything from my male friends in the industry, but the average woman tends to work in the gray area. They tend to be enthusiastic and creative when it comes to planning a personalized service – not just present the family the black and white options of planning a service.
Let me give you the fundamental difference using my husband and myself to exemplify what I am talking about. If it was up to my husband to plan my wedding, it would go like this: let’s get married, let’s drink some beer, let’s eat some food, let’s dance, and let’s cut some cake. God bless him (I am going to the South this weekend, right… getting my Southern lingo on).
How we ended up planning my wedding really went something like this: we got married at a venue right off the Chesapeake Bay and therefore I wanted to have a Maryland style wedding. We had little crabs on our invitations; we ate crab cakes for our appetizers; instead of table #’s, our tables were names of rivers that fed into the Chesapeake Bay; instead of favors we made a donation to a Baltimore special needs hockey team; and in our welcome baskets we gave out a little can of Old Bay. Get the point?!?
But guess what, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of these things at my wedding without the assistance of my vendors to make what I had dreamed up in my head… come alive.
This same concept applies to the funeral industry. Not only do you need the woman consumer who can dream up the personalized service that they want to plan for their loved one, but you also must have the funeral director who dives in, rolls up her sleeves and even feeds that woman consumer with additional ideas on how to make an exemplary, fully personalized funeral service.
So with that being said, I think we have only hit on the tip of what funeral services will look like in the future and I think we have only seen the tip of the impact women will have in the funeral industry.