power women

Power Women

For our second installment of Power Women, you’ll meet five more movers and shakers. From one-polers to managers to busy teachers, and whether they’ve been in the industry for a year or 20, each is making their way in an evolving pool industry. Here, they reflect on what has changed, share their proudest accomplishments and endeavor to inspire others to follow their lead. —Sarah Protzman Howlett

power women

Alexa Blanda

Service manager, Mill Bergen Pools

Brooklyn, New York

Alexa Blanda has lots of goals. As one of three kids, Blanda has been around the pool business since she was just a child when she’d come into the office with her father, who’d run a pool company since 1986. 

“Maybe it was just to give my mom a break,” she chuckles, “but I was always listening to his calls, his meetings and hearing him give estimates.”

Blanda has been full-time in the pool world for about 10 years and is excited about the ideas younger people like herself can offer the industry. And yet, when she was asked to chair the PHTA’s service council in 2021 after being a member of PHTA/NESPA since 2017, she wasn’t sure she had enough to offer.

“At first, I thought maybe I wasn’t the right person for the job, but they took a chance on me,” she says. The PHTA looks at service issues in the industry — things like workforce, labor or apprenticeship programs — and then forms task forces to brainstorm solutions. 

When she is not working, Blanda loves to see live music — like Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer and the Grateful Dead — go to the gym and relax on the beach. She lives in Long Beach, New York, with her boyfriend of three years, Stephen, who is a firefighter in midtown Manhattan.

Blanda is also on the NESPA membership committee but says it’s not always easy to find the time. Above all, Blanda would like to de-stress her busy season. She has an assistant to help with time-consuming, smaller tasks, but during the busy season, she has five to six teams in the field of two to three guys each — and often finds it hard to give them all the attention they deserve.

“I feel like I’m here for the long haul, and I see myself evolving, but I want to see this business streamlined and not so stressful in the summer,” she says. In particular, she is looking to other young people in the industry for ideas, whom she says are doing things faster, simpler and smarter.

 Despite regularly being pulled in many directions, Blanda says she feels in good company with the many other women who are carving out their careers in pools. “There are a lot of sharp, super inspiring women on all these committees,” she says. “I see more and more.”

Jules Passwater

Owner, Jules’ Pools

Orange County, California

Not everyone’s name rhymes with “pools,” so deciding what to call the business didn’t take long. But it wasn’t something Jules Passwater, who uses she/they pronouns, ever thought about as a career.

A couple of years ago, however, Passwater and their wife of 10 years, Veronique, moved to Orange County, California, and into a house with a pool. This was all new to Passwater who at the same time was looking to move away from a prior career as a legal investigator.

Once Passwater began maintaining their home pool, they started thinking about ways to get into the industry and out of the stressful office environments they’d known for years. It wasn’t the most likely path for Passwater, who says with a laugh that when it comes to home repairs, “I’m the first to call someone in.” 

After earning a law degree from Indiana University, Passwater worked many law-related jobs but always felt an alternative path calling her name. 

“I researched specifically service businesses for pools,” she says, mentioning that YouTube videos by David Van Brunt, plus a myriad of pool industry Facebook groups, provided a great running start. 

Now a self-described “pool nerd,” Passwater became a Certified Pool & Spa Operator in October 2022 and launched a single-poler service business the following month. 

After finding their first client thanks to a work colleague of Veronique’s, NextDoor provided more leads. “But they usually say ‘I’m looking for a pool guy,’ ” jokes Passwater, who quickly invested in Pool Service software, a WaterLink Spin Touch and a Riptide vacuum.

“You don’t have to have those, but I decided to do that to speed up the process for myself and have some good equipment,” she says.

At last count, Jules’ Pools had 20 residential pools on rotation, but she says doubling that would be ideal. Eventually, Passwater would like to hire more people. 

Passwater says many folks are surprised to learn that, yes, she’s the one who will be doing the work. “Just last week, a guy asked me, ‘Who’s going to be cleaning the pool?’ I said, ‘That’s me!’ ” 

Lauren Broom

CPO Instructor, Space Coast Pool School


Lauren Broom has always loved science. After 19 years in state government, including working for the Florida Department of Health since 2003, Broom went full-time with Space Coast Pool School in 2020. Space Coast is her company that she founded in 2012 as a side project when her kids — now 19, 15 and 5 — were young.

The company, which centers on education, is aptly named: Broom lives on the so-called Space Coast — a region in Florida around the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station — and has for her entire life. Even her city’s area code, 321, is a nod to the space shuttle.

Broom teaches the Certified Pool Operator course and is a certified instructor through the PHTA. She mostly helms commercial classes but also teaches for Orange County Parks and Recreation and conducts private virtual classes. Her favorite thing is receiving emails from students saying how much they learned from her. 

“I’m a one-man band, which makes my business really personable,” she says. “I want my courses to be approachable and avoid legalese, with pictures and examples.” 

Broom didn’t plan on pools: she always thought she’d go into wildlife biology, but there were no jobs when she was coming out of the University of Central Florida with a biology degree. 

“I didn’t get the dream job right out of college,” she says, “but it made me work harder.”

- Sponsor -

Though there are undoubtedly more women in the industry than when Broom started, she remembers most people were receptive to her expertise even 20 years ago. She says the increased presence of women in pool careers has made the industry better. 

“[Women are] very particular about what they do,” she says. “Being moms, we are different than the dads. We are the schedulers, the lunch makers; I see those attributes that women have coming into the industry: attention to detail.” 

Out of the 20 students in her CPO classes, there might be only two or three women, “but they are the ones raising their hands.”

 When she is not working, Broom enjoys being outdoors, camping in north Florida with her family in their pull-behind trailer. “It has A/C, a kitchen and a bathroom,” she says. “I’m glamping.”

Jana Auringer

Quality assurance manager, Pebble Technology

East Texas

In February, Jana Auringer was named Volunteer of the Year at the National Plasterers Council conference in San Diego. She has been on its board since 2004 and has served on several of its committees.

“I just try to be where I need to be to help, and I enjoy working with our members and staff at NPC,” she says. “They are wonderful and so supportive; it makes it easier to get your job done.”

For the past 10 years, Auringer has been the quality assurance manager at Pebble Technology. Much of her time is spent going to sites for Pebble applicators’ projects — some commercial but mostly residential.

“I’m the person they call when there’s somebody that’s not happy,” she says. 

For a time, Auringer attended Texas Tech University where she played basketball before the organization of any women’s athletic programs at the collegiate level. She later began her work journey in women’s retail clothing but eventually started a plaster company with a work colleague, which they ran for about 13 years. 

There are not many parts of the pool business Auringer has not touched. She’s started and sold two pool companies, worked with builders, performed pre-plaster cleanouts and renovation of pools, completed fresh fill startups, taught pool school, done water testing and worked service routes. In 1994, she started The Pool Lady, a third-party independent consulting company for solving plaster issues.

Auringer, who is a member of IPSSA, PHTA and NPC and is currently serving as a consultant on the PHTA Recreational Water & Air Quality Committee, has faced challenges as a woman in a male-dominated industry. 

“When it first hit me that I had to prove myself more [than a man] was when I had my plaster company and went to bid remodel jobs,” she says. “If I was meeting with a man, I had more of a challenge of letting him know I knew what I was talking about. Most of the time, the women were easier to get along with.”

Because Auringer enjoys the industry, retirement isn’t on her mind just yet — but she has planned well for when she does thanks to years of business experience. While The Pool Lady lies dormant for now, Auringer thinks she may dabble with it in her eventual retirement, taking work here and there as she pleases. 

Auringer’s interests outside work include bass fishing — she and her husband, Dan, live on a lake — gardening and being proud of her two grown children, a daughter who is a head volleyball coach and her son who works in insurance. 

“They both ran a pool route in high school for fun money, and they were both CPOs at one point,” Auringer says.

power women

Jody O’Grady

Director of customer technical support, taylor technologies


Jody O’Grady is coming up on 20 years at Taylor Technologies. Her pool industry career started by answering a classified ad in the “Baltimore Sun” in 1994, chemistry degree from Allegheny College in hand.

She’d moved to Maryland for greater job opportunities but did not land the initial job she applied for at Taylor — or the one after that, also at Taylor. O’Grady eventually found her way into its customer service department and since has held various job titles — eight, to be exact — honing her expertise in reagent manufacturing and water testing.

Since December, O’Grady has been the director of customer technical support. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, O’Grady has faced challenges, including being underestimated due to her gender. In the 1990s, O’Grady remembers taking customer service calls where a male customer would from time to time openly doubt O’Grady could answer a highly technical question. 

“There was a pause, and they’d say, ‘Are you sure?’ ” O’Grady recalls.

This year, O’Grady has taught 10 classes on water testing, chemistry and balance. She says she is constantly working to find more effective ways to explain the complexities of chemistry and water balance. 

“That means making sure I have a fresh set of eyes to look at things differently or to research additional ways of explaining something,” she says. “Our products are used by service professionals, residential users and in-store retailers doing water tests, and I talk to all of them.” 

Outside work, O’Grady enjoys scrapbooking; last year, she completed over 200 pages. She is a firm believer in working hard to achieve success, advice that she passes on to other women looking to follow in her footsteps. 

“I think it’s about having confidence,” she says. “If you get hired for the job, do the job well. I have a good work ethic, and I’ve stayed late many times to get the job done. It’s not just because I’m a woman.”

Request Media Kit

[contact-form-7 id="1975" title="Media Kit Inquiry"]