In this edition of Women in Business, women were interviewed who are employed in typically male-dominated industries or in a position that was historically filled by a man.
These women share their stories of being underrepresented in their field and leadership roles – in the hope that their perseverance and success become the guiding light for the next generation of women in business, so they continue to break glass ceilings and meet their goals.
Women in Business shows who the movers and the shakers are in Kelowna and that there is always a space to share stories of successful women.
After 13 years of taking someone else’s lead in a male-dominated industry, Jennifer Kammonen was ready to launch out on her own, proving women are more than capable of accomplishing any goal.
In 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt, Kammonen started Eco Naturals Aquatics, pool and spa maintenance.
“When I was younger we lived in a small town and there were minimal jobs, but there as a really big pool company and if you were lucky you got to do the pool maintenance,” she said. “In the summer you got to clean pools, make really good money and life was great.”
Most teenagers move on from their high school summer jobs, and Kammonen did too, but years later the pool industry drew her back.
She studied at post-secondary for eight years, from becoming a paralegal to the completion of her art and design certificate. None of what she studied would apply to the pool maintenance industry. Instead, it was the years in the business learning as she worked that gave her the aptitude to start her own company.
“Pool maintenance basically starts off as pool cleaning, because everyone wants a clean pool. But, on a day-to-day basis, you’re not just cleaning pools, you’re making sure all the equipment is working right, from service to maintenance to checking the heater.”
Although she started cleaning pools, Kammonen quickly realized it was not what she wanted to do every day, she would rather do what the men in the industry are tasked with, from the mechanical to the electrical. After shadowing some of her colleagues she would later take on the roles and responsibilities of what she calls the dirty work.
“It really is dirty stuff and I can see why it doesn’t attract more women in the industry, but I truly enjoy it. To me [learning how to use] a computer is hard work, but I can look a green pool and put a smile on my face because I am eager to fix it,” she said.
In her many years in the business, Kammonen said she only came across one female pool and spa maintenance business owner that she looked to as a mentor. She watched her run a company, and showed her what is possible, despite the perception it’s a male-dominated industry.
And, two years ago that is exactly what she did. Moving to Kelowna, Kammonen worked for a different pool maintenance company before starting her own, with what she calls an eco-friendly, or Okanagan-friendly appeal.
On any given day, Kammonen will visit between 10 to 20 houses to clean the pools, check on the equipment or give an orientation about how to work the spa.
“I’ve shown that you don’t need two big guys to come up in a backyard to do the work that someone experienced and knowledgeable can do.”
Despite COVID-19 taking a toll on many businesses across the Okanagan, Kammonen n has grown hers much faster than anticipated. She said due to people staying home more to slow the spread of COVID-19, that meant they were outside and in their pools and hot tubs.
“Sometimes at first when I walk in the backyard they would be shocked that I am a woman; they would look to see if there was someone else with me and when there wasn’t they would offer help. Usually, they are used to seeing two people do the job. But, doing things the right way, the smart way pays off and they are impressed.”
She also credits the ability to build relationships with her clients, saying it’s a privilege to be allowed in other people’s homes to meet their family and pets.
While she doesn’t currently have any employees, this Kelowna business owner would like to mentor a young woman who is interested in the industry.
“I want women to know this is an option for them to work in this industry because the only skill you need is common sense,” Kammonen explained.