This article appeared in Home Accents Today April 2022 issue.
Amy Van Dorp is the executive director of WithIt (Women in the Home Industry Today), a leadership development network for women in the home furnishings industry that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Van Dorp, who began her career as a graphic designer, began working for WithIt in 2006 and was promoted to executive director in 2015. Prior to her role as executive director, she spent 18 years working with many companies, including WithIt, to create professional-looking marketing materials, newsletters and directories She has found every job through her network.
Congratulations on 15+ years of being involved with WithIt. What made you decide to get involved with the organization?
I was working as a freelance graphic designer and I had worked with Jackie Hirschhaut at Elegant Bride. She needed some freelance work done for WithIt and they hired me. I met with [previous WithIt executive director] Sara Lyke. I loved the organization’s feel and the energy. I especially connected with the fact that all of these women were networking and working together. Lyke hired me in 2006 to do freelance work and then to help her with administrative work. I feel very called to what I do.
How have things changed over the years?
Well, the industry has changed a lot and very little at the same time. If you take a broad stroke of how many women are in the industry today, there are so many women who are doing incredible work. Many of these women are being recognized and promoted. But on the other hand, at the top levels of companies there are still very few women. There are women in the C-suite who are doing a wonderful job. I believe it’s important for them to be seen and be visible. But, it is still very rare to find women at the top of many companies.
You began your career as an art director at Elegant Bride. What experiences there helped to inform what you are doing today?
Honestly, Elegant Bride was very informative in crafting how I see the world and has influenced the marketing and the visual design for WithIt. I also worked in the admissions office at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., where I worked on the database system. That’s where I learned about the back end. This really helped when I first came to work with WithIt since I understood how non-profit organizations worked.
Then, in 2015, I became the executive director and I’m proud that I’ve been able to keep the organization moving forward in a consistent way. I have always believed in the importance of having a strong network. One of the first things that I learned as a freelancer is that my network would help me to find my next project. I took those contacts that I had from Elegant Bride who are now in the home furnishings industry, and relied on that network to help propel me forward. If I didn’t know how to do something or how to answer a question, I had an entire network of women who likely knew the answer or at least where to start looking. That’s one of the most powerful things about being a part of WithIt.
What effect do you think WithIt has had on the furniture industry?
WithIt has had a very positive effect on how women are now viewed in the industry. When I think back on it, some of the first meetings for WithIt members were a lot about being confident and taking charge of your career. Honestly, those women were already confident. Women weren’t struggling with that, they were ready to network and move forward in their careers. Our leadership training has helped many of these women be better managers. We are currently building a digital library of content for our members to access. It’s a very important part of what we are creating. So it felt very natural at during the pandemic to take all of our programs to a virtual stage. It wasn’t easy and we did a ton of research on the best way to help our members to access the material. Being member focused is critical to what we do. I am so very proud of the fact that we pivoted early.
How far do you think the industry has come over the years as far as promoting women to leadership roles?
I have a story that can illustrate this. It happened seven or eight years ago but I went to a conference and we had two ladies who came for the first time. Both women were at the vice president level in a manufacturing company but both did not have the budget authority to send themselves to the conference. We held discussions at that conference so they were able to go back and change their roles so that they had the necessary authority that came along with the title. We have many legacy companies that need that type of shake up.
What are you most looking forward to when it comes to the future of WithIt?
Our membership is growing. We still have the need for WithIt and for the network it creates and offers for women as a place to come together. It’s just as important now as it’s ever been. We will continue to offer both digital and in-person events. We are looking into building on the education offered and possibly having some type of leadership certification for women. This will show they have the skills to take advantage of promotions and advancements when they come along. If they attend a certain number of trainings, employers would know that they are ready to move into the C-suite.
AT A GLANCE:
What was your first job?
Actually, my first job was working at a cabinet manufacturer called Custom Wood Products in Roanoke, VA. It was a full-service custom cabinet manufacturer and I worked there during high school where I typed labels and did office work. So in a way I was in the furniture industry from the start.
What did you want to do for a living when you were a child?
I thought I was to be an architect but it turns out that math was a problem. So, I had to reconsider. When I was in ninth grade, I wanted to be a graphic designer and that’s what I ended up doing.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading the book Pay Up: the Future of Women and Work by Reshma Saujani. She is the founder of Girls Who Code.
Tell us something about yourself that most people in the industry don’t know.
My daughter is a young adult with special needs who I have helped to navigate the education system. She now works at High Point Regional Hospital in the food service department. I’m so proud of her persistence and her positive energy and spirit.
How do you spend your free time?
I love to cook and I also love to scrapbook because it gives me that hands-on creative piece and I am able to highlight my family since I am very proud of all of them.