It sometimes is difficult to remember a time when women weren’t a vital part of the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, there were 123 million women in the civilian noninstitutional population; 58.6 percent of them were working. Despite the number of women working today, it still is newsworthy when a woman excels to a position once considered a man’s job—think Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Janice Fedarcyk, the first woman to lead the FBI’s New York office; and Indra Nooyi, chief executive of PepsiCo. Women also have been blazing trails within the male-dominated construction industry, demonstrating traits often considered innately female (emoting, multitasking, nurturing) can be beneficial to running thriving businesses no matter the type.
Qualified Remodeler’s female editors spent time talking to some of the successful women of the remodeling industry and learned almost all of them wanted to work in construction since they were children. The editors also learned about the women’s families, pets, belief systems, neighborhoods, etc., illustrating women often make their businesses very personal. As all business owners struggle to attract leads and set themselves apart from their competition, these women provide insights into their methods.
What are some of the challenges of being a woman in remodeling?
Schwab: When I entered the housing construction industry 30 years ago, there was a stereotype that women were the bookkeepers for their husband’s company. I relied on experience from growing up in my parents’ “dirt construction” business and my previous career to offset that assumption by working with our employers, vendors and clients to show I was a principal decision maker in the company. It didn’t take long to learn a woman needed to know the industry jargon and specifications; that was how she earned respect. Today, our vendors and clients are used to working with women.
Hutter: I am not someone who thinks being a woman is a challenge. I think the challenges I’ve seen in my career had more to do with my age and experience level years ago. Since the day I opened my door, I get a lot of work and I think it’s because I’m good at what I do. I’m a firm believer that you create your own reality out of where your brain is.
Walters: When I first started in this industry 20 years ago, I would go out on sales calls and countless times customers would come to the door and say, “Oh my gosh, they sent a woman?” Now the challenge is vendors who call don’t recognize a woman is in a management role. I think you have to know your stuff more because people don’t expect a woman to know much in this industry.
Davis: The main challenge has been the assumption I’m not the boss because I’m a woman. I’ve dealt with it by taking the initiative in conversations and setting the proper expectations. I have learned to communicate my role more clearly as it impacts final decision making to emphasize the importance of including me in CG&S conversations.
Do you think there are enough women in the construction field?
Hsu: I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on the trades in general. I think I heard a statistic that the average carpenter is 55 years old. Everyone wants to go to college right now, which is good, but we need more people to go to trade school. I think women are just as qualified to do this work. Our electrician doesn’t need to be able to bench press 150 pounds; he or she needs to be detail-oriented and connect A to B.
Harrell: Unfortunately, there aren’t any guidance counselors saying to women, “You can make good money and have an enjoyable career in construction.” To offset that, we’re having the Girl Scouts work on getting their Ms. Fix-It badges here. We have four events per year with two different programs to get them excited about plumbing, audio-visual, sheetrock, framing and design. We’ve been doing this for at least 10 years. We want girls to realize this is an option for them, and we’ve heard they are checking things at their homes.