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Why one famous sign company is adding more women to its workforce

Sign company leads way in hiring women
Sign company leads way in hiring women 01:33

While their name may not ring a bell, it's hard to walk through the nation's capital without seeing their work. Gelberg Signs, just named the 2021 Chamber of Commerce's Business of the Year, has been creating historical landmarks throughout the district for the past eight decades — including signs for the Verizon Center, the Washington Post building and both Dulles and BWI airports. 

But while the sign company has decades of history, it's also looking for a change: more women in leadership roles. 

That initiative is being led by Sasha Clarke, who was hired as the executive facilitator in 2020. 

"When I walked in, there were four men on the executive team and me," Clarke told CBS News. "And I said, 'OK, we're going to mix this up a little bit. We're going to start bringing on more women.'"

"It's a different thought process," Clarke added. "It's a way of managing and learning and teaching, and women are teachers." 

When the pandemic hit, many small businesses shut their doors and cut down on workers. Gelberg did the opposite, donating free signage to local businesses and hiring 15 new employees — almost 20% of their total workforce.  

"We found a way to flourish," Clarke said. "We took our business that we had, we were giving out free COVID signage to essential businesses, we were helping our partners survive." 

Gelberg also promoted a handful of women to management positions and convinced some to try on a hard hat.

"Women are often innate teachers, they want the people around them to understand," Clarke said. "They want the people around them to feel capable to rise to the next level. So we have been doing a lot more trainings, a lot more one-on-one capacity building, and a lot more implementation of new software and methodologies." 

For Lenor Vocal, that decision was life-changing. In the past year, the single mother from Bolivia was promoted to a management position and purchased her first home. 

"I like the way they treat me here and with respect," said Vocal, who manages the vinyl department. "Always listening to your ideas, always asking you, 'What do you think?' That makes me feel like I'm important when they hear my opinion." 

For Sasha Clarke, who is the only woman on the board's executive committee, diversity is key to building a better future. 

"I see women feeling more empowered to enter into the construction industry. And I think that it's something that we have to recognize. It's essential to have that diversity on the workforce," she said.   

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