Calling the Shots

Construction Executive editors asked successful women about mentors, motivation, breaking the glass ceiling and what, exactly, the future holds for women in construction. Here are their stories.
By Construction Executive
March 9, 2021

As of 2019, women accounted for 10% of the total construction workforce. That’s 1.2 million women in the field, sculpting the built environment and calling the shots. A smaller percentage of the industry’s population does not mean less ability to achieve success. According to The National Association of Women in Construction, 44% of women in construction serve in a professional and management capacity.

As the pandemic lingers on, sourcing qualified candidates is becoming more difficult, and finding nuanced methods of retaining valuable employees remains at the forefront of modern business. One estimate cites a loss of 600,000 women from the overall U.S. workforce in September 2020.

However, data suggest that construction employment for women has remained steady, compared with struggling sectors such as retail and hospitality. Plus, salary disparities are becoming less prominent in the construction sector where, according to NAWIC, women earn 99.1% of what men make, and the female population has seen steady growth since 2012.

With this in mind, Construction Executive editors asked successful women about mentors, motivation, breaking the glass ceiling and what, exactly, the future holds for women in construction. Here are their stories.

Tammy Corripio
HR Generalist
Primoris Services Corporation
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

As we know, this is a male-dominated industry. However, being heavily involved in workforce development, I have had the opportunity to see how women are evolving in construction. On our jobsites, I have worked with women who started as laborers and worked their way into journeyman craft positions and are nationally certified.

The reality is, there is always room for improvement, but it makes me proud to see women successfully going into craft positions, as well as leadership roles in project management, safety and site supervision and having the respect of their male counterparts. In my current role, I handle employee relations, advise management and provide support in dealing with employee issues within Primoris Services’ industrial, heavy civil, mechanical and design units. I also serve on the board of directors for the ABC Pelican Chapter.

Prior, I was the site HR supervisor for two major projects. On the first project, my office was directly onsite, and my presence was met with great resistance. The relationship between supervision and me lacked trust, making my job duties very difficult to perform. Over time, I was able to build those relationships and offer the support necessary, which changed the way we worked together. I had supervisors who had moved on to different projects calling me for advice, which was incredible. The experience I gained from being out in the field was invaluable. It offered me a hands-on perspective to the inner workings of our jobsites. Most importantly, it helped me develop and maintain a relationship with an integral part of our workforce.

My advice to women considering this industry is: Be prepared for anything. Like anything else, it comes with its challenges. What has helped me has been my willingness to adapt easily and to show confidence, even when I was feeling it the least. Honesty is also key—admit when you do not know something and work to get the answers. It garners respect and trust, which will enable you to build long-term working relationships. Ultimately, have patience. It takes time to develop skills and relationships, but when you are patient it gives you the ability to see opportunity at the right time.

Carolyn Ellison
Regional Director, Community and Citizenship
Turner Mid-Atlantic
Reston, Virginia
My job is to be the liaison who connects my company, our employees and our brand to the communities where we build, work and live. That means ensuring that we utilize and support people and companies, and that overall, our team members are conscientious and engaged neighbors.

What continues to motivate me in the construction industry is constant interaction with good people—I think it’s a “builder” mentality to just make things better.

I’ve always had female mentors who inspired my career, and I always will. There’s nothing more powerful than Black Girl Magic. One of my first female mentors in the construction industry was a seasoned industry professional who worked with a competitor. At one of the first industry events I attended, Linda Graves, now retired from Gilbane, reached out a welcoming hand and really supported me through my first few years. She has always been willing to take a phone call, share a meal and give an honest and frank perspective. I hope I am doing the same.

My specific journey with Turner Construction Company was nurtured by a relationship with a 50-year company employee who supported not only the mentor program I previously ran for the National Urban League, but also a commitment to help me be a better professional product. He and the fellow employees he brought to the program to mentor others truly inspired me, including my General Manager Darien Grant who spearheaded our work to build the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I think that many times women are hard-wired differently than our male counterparts (but not always), and this gives us a unique and distinctive advantage for problem-solving and negotiating, which is always a reality in construction.

My advice to women looking to join the industry is to talk to others, make friends—it’s a friendly industry, and people are willing to share their lessons learned, best practices and support.

Nova Hemmings
Executive Assistant
Sprinklermatic Fire Protection Systems, LLC 
Davie, Florida
While seeking a career path that would challenge my skill set and give me the opportunity to flourish, I stumbled across the construction industry. I continue to be motivated by the culture here at Sprinklermatic and the drive we have to succeed and grow as a team.

In my current role, I am involved in business development while providing support to our estimating/sales team. My team sees me as extremely approachable, driven and results-orientated. My key to success has been emphasizing to our team of both men and women that relentless follow-up gets the results.

After constantly being told I “could not,” I am most often inspired by the woman I see in the mirror on my most difficult days. The reality of being a woman in construction has many challenges and obstacles which can be overcome by lifting each other up and approaching each challenge as an opportunity to stand out.

A woman in construction is fearless, reliable, committed and has the tenacity to achieve her goals. I believe the future is very bright for women in construction and we will continue to break the glass ceiling in the industry. No longer do I overlook the industry that once seemed favorable only to men. The presence of women in an industry previously run by men has become more prevalent every day.

My advice to other women looking to make a career switch is: If you want to get the opportunity you deserve, never limit your options. The worst opportunity is the one you don’t take.

Lena Horton 
Assistant Project Manager
BELL Construction
Brentwood, Tennessee
I have always been interested in engineering and knew I wanted to build, but it wasn’t until finding the construction management program at Middle Tennessee State University that I realized I could make it a career.

While at MTSU, the director of the School of Construction Management was a woman named Heather Brown. She showed us women students that it is possible to be respected and rise to the top in this industry. We knew we could see a future for ourselves just by being in her presence.

Early on, I had to stand up to someone who could make or break my career. Showing that I was not going to back down or accept less than I deserve allowed me to earn respect in the end. This first experience made it easier to have similar conversations in future instances, and for that I am thankful.
Women looking to make a career switch should know that you will not regret it. There are many different jobs within the construction industry. If you are interested in one, try it, and if it doesn’t seem like the right fit, then try something else. In my experience, the women who find their home in construction never look back.

I love that this industry keeps us on our toes. There is always a challenge and every job is different. I also love the comradery with my colleagues. The work remains enjoyable, even in tough situations.

I would describe women in construction as the “tough-as-nails” type of women. You have to have thick skin and be willing to help when it is needed, regardless of the job. Construction isn’t glamorous, but if you don’t mind getting dirty from time-to-time, it is really fun to be a female in this industry. Muddy boots and dust-covered clothing is the norm!

Melanie Laird
Chief Strategy Officer
Field Control Analytics 
Exactly a year ago, I was offered a promotion as the first female to be part of the C-Suite. As the chief strategy officer, I spend time on strategic vision, planning and forging new business relationships, including responsibility for directing execution of the company’s strategy.

Early in my career, I recognized a need for our services in the construction industry. Fast forward 20 years, and FCA thrives exclusively in construction. I dug my heels in and became entrenched in the industry and soon developed a passion for construction safety/overall wellness and networking with other women in construction.

I did not have the privilege of having any female mentors who inspired my career. In recent years, however, I’ve been fortunate to know female industry colleagues who inspired me, elevated my strength and provided me candid feedback and advice. About 18 months ago, I started an FCA-internal female mentoring program.

The reality is that as an industry, we need to recruit women and create a safe environment for them. I worry, for example, that women on the jobsite may be more susceptible to injuries than males because of ill-fitting equipment. I would advise women to join associations such as NAWIC that provide networking, mentoring, training and other resources for women of all skill levels.

In my opinion, the future for a woman in construction has never been brighter, and job roles are becoming more gender fluid. What used to be considered a “man’s job” is now open to females. As more women join our field, there will be better support and inclusion.

The best women that I know are in construction. These women are wildly intelligent, driven and passionate. More and more top construction firms make recruiting women a priority. Given the dangerous shortage of craftsmen in our industry, one way to reduce the deficiency is by recruiting women.

Malindi Lankatilleke 
Project Manager
Southway Builders, Inc. 
As a construction project manager at Southway, I have been given the opportunity to thrive, be creative and advance my career, and for that I am grateful. I am sought after for my ideas and expertise equally to my male partners, and I believe that it is because of the quality of my ideas and not because of gender.

Over the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a variety of historic properties through adaptive reuse and managing the construction of a multitude of multifamily residential units throughout Baltimore City and the greater Baltimore metropolitan area.

It is no secret that construction is generally a male-dominated industry. Though it is becoming more progressive, the reality is that women like myself are often the subject of that bias—whether it be in simple interactions or career advances. To be successful or make progress in this industry, I have found that supportive connections are key.

A major challenge faced by women in this industry is finding work-life balance, especially as it pertains to raising a family. Careers in construction are not traditionally structured to allow for flexibility in balancing work and family life, but there is a way to be successful at both if you are truly motivated to make it work—and there is more opportunity now than ever to change that work structure as higher numbers of women enter this industry.

I do not believe that there is one “glass ceiling” to be broken. In fact, there are many, and when you break one, there might be another around the corner. I was once told that as a woman, I couldn’t be a project manager. Moving to an organization where I was immediately hired as a project manager was a moment that defied that bias. A few years later, I found myself on the stage receiving ABC Baltimore’s Project of the Year award for the City Arts II project. As a woman of color, to be acknowledged at that level was another step forward.

I see breaking through barriers or adversity not as glass ceilings, but as an evolution of my own growth. What I put into it is what I get out of it, despite the challenges I might face in the process.

Holly Loeffler 
Project Manager
Moss & Associates 
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
In my role, I work closely with the onsite project team to ensure the overall success of a project during the preconstruction, construction and closeout phases. I am also a liaison to our local ABC East Coast Chapter’s Legislative Committee and Young Professionals Committee.

My father and grandfathers have inspired my career in construction. Working alongside them instilled in me that, with hard work and grit, I could achieve whatever I set my mind to. My grandfather encouraged me to pursue a bachelor of science in civil engineering. He believed that knowledge is the key to making the world a better a place.

One philosophy on mentorship is creating a “personal board of directors.” This structure relies on finding a coach, mentor, sponsor, leader and reverse mentor in different people. This board creates a diversified support system, aids in identifying personal blind spots and helps to broaden perspectives in all aspects of career growth. Although I have not yet been fortunate to have had any female mentors, I have had phenomenal male sponsors and have also been given the opportunity to mentor other females.

The best advice I can offer to anyone, female or male, interested in a career in construction is “GO FOR IT!” In the construction industry, authenticity is essential. It takes courage to show up each day to the jobsite as an authentic leader, being true to yourself and bringing talents to the table in a way that works for you. Joining a predominantly male industry may be overwhelming, but the understanding that you are your true authentic self will prove to be instrumental in your success.

The industry is changing, and I am excited to be a part of the change. We are starting the conversation about diversity and inclusion, which, ultimately, is the key to breaking down barriers. I am proud to be a woman in construction, and I hope to continue to inspire others to join and stay in the industry I know and love.

Daniela Perez 
Account Manager
From an early age, I have always been drawn to construction. The feeling of starting a whole building from scratch and watching it grow and become this solid, long-lasting structure, and then to be able to drive by it and say, “I did that,” is amazing. It is a great feeling to go to a jobsite, put on my safety vest, get my boots dirty and watch the magic happen.

It is no secret that being a woman in the construction industry is difficult. Thanks to organizations like NAWIC, ABC and many inspiring, strong women, we have made some big headway into diversity and inclusion in the construction industry. I am surrounded by a multitude of women role models in the industry whom I look up to and admire. My biggest female mentor is my mother. She inspires me every day to be a better person.

As an account manager, my job is to take care of my contractor customers by overseeing every aspect of their account. I strive to grow my book of business through networking, attending industry events and making sure I am on top of the latest news and industry trends.

The moment I joined the Ozinga family, I felt like all the glass ceilings that were above me in the past disappeared. Ozinga has provided me with opportunities to grow and reach any goal I set for myself. As the first female account manager in the company, I don’t feel like I have any limitations, and don’t feel treated differently than my male counterparts. I am sought after not for my gender, but for my strong industry experience and knowledge, as well as my positive attitude and customer-oriented mentality.

My advice to women considering a career in construction is this: Do not let yourself get distracted with negative comments. Do not let anybody tell you that you cannot do something. Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality. This is not an industry for men. This is an industry for passionate and hard-working people. You may have an extra set of obstacles than your male counterparts, but once you overcome them, you will gain everyone’s respect. Believe in yourself.

Crystal Spoor 
Executive Vice President and Treasurer
Ref-Chem / A Burns & McDonnell Company 
I am fortunate to have multiple inspiring female mentors throughout my career who listened, challenged my perspectives and endorsed me for growth opportunities. Each served a special role in my journey, especially my high school accounting teacher, who inspired the start of my career path. The common advice among them was “don’t undervalue your experience.”

I currently lead Ref-Chem’s accounting, finance and IT operations, along with capital resources and craft workforce development. I am also a member of the Ref-Chem board of directors and serve as treasurer.

Strong relationships among my professional network are the foundation for my success and ultimately brought me into the construction industry. As a CPA with nearly 20 years of experience in financial management, I’ve led teams in North America, Europe and Asia for public companies—starting my career with one of the Big Four accounting firms. This experience brought opportunities to build relationships within the industry.

There is a general perception that the industry is “male-dominated”; however, my experience is that if you change your perspective, your reality and experience will change. Furthermore, it’s about making good choices in your career. Work hard with those who surround you, and you will build trust.

I would advise women considering construction to be curious. Ask questions. Get involved and gain education. I am a continuous learner and thrive on being curious to advance my professional development. Upon entering the industry, I advanced my education by obtaining a graduate certificate in construction management. This allowed me not only to solidify construction industry understanding and experience, but also to gain perspective when working with project teams.

A woman in construction makes a commitment to understand the industry and how her role relates and impacts. She is a team player and perseveres through a strong work ethic. We must continue to provide opportunities that will evolve the diversification of our workforce, ultimately changing the statistics and overall perception.

Yvette Stevens 
Vice President and Director of Economic Inclusion and Community Affairs
Gilbane Building Company 
Providence, Rhode Island
My father was a concrete foreman, and I loved the stories he would tell when he came home from work. I was in awe when he pointed out the buildings he worked on as we drove down the street. So, I knew I wanted to be like him, and he always encouraged me to be anything I wanted to be, although construction was a male-dominated field.

In my role, I ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are major factors in how we team with contractors on our projects and provide opportunities for a local and diverse workforce. I am a registered professional engineer and project management professional with over 20 years of international construction experience, most of it being on the jobsite managing projects.

In 2020, I became a vice president at Gilbane. I am not the first woman to be a vice president, but it is great to be another woman executive, and a Black woman leader, as we seek to diversify the industry. I believe it is a sign that we are claiming our place as leaders and influencers in construction and showing young women that there is opportunity for them to excel in the industry. Back when I was admiring the work that my dad did, I never saw any women on the jobsites. That is changing now, and is increasing the appeal of construction to girls and women who may have never considered the industry as an option.

The versatility and wide-ranging opportunities that I see in the construction industry continue to motivate me. Daily I interact with people who are carpenters, electricians, engineers, architects, project managers, superintendents, accountants, lawyers, graphic artists, business professionals, etc.

What other industry can you be a part of that has so many career opportunities under one umbrella? I feel like that gives me the opportunity to reinvent myself if I want to, but still utilize my experience to remain in the construction field. I can also, in good conscience, encourage young people and adults to get into construction and feel confident that they can be successful and have viable options for a lucrative and enjoyable career.

People may not automatically look at me and think I know anything about construction. So, I find myself identifying my credentials and working my experience into conversations. The good thing is that as I continue to meet more and more people, I don’t have to do all the talking. My experience starts to speak for itself, and I’ve got more people in my corner who will speak up on my behalf.

The future for women in construction is NOW! Though we still have hills to climb, we are here to stay, and it’s no longer unusual to see women on a construction site, so that makes it a little easier for more women to join the ranks.

Chandra Stroope 
Business Administration Manager
I think the future for a woman in construction is unlimited. I know so many female owners and executives, and there are more coming up the ranks all the time.

My first position in this industry was with an ABC member company in Dallas that did drug testing, background screening and badging for the construction industry. I became engaged in the local ABC chapter and got very involved on committees and attended all the events. In my role today, I handle HR responsibilities, marketing efforts and certification renewals, and I oversee pre-qualifications and also assist our president and CEO on a daily basis.

What continues to motivate me in this industry is the excitement a project brings to the community and our employees. We have been blessed with completing some very iconic projects in Dallas like the Cowboys Stadium (AT&T Stadium) and the new Texas Rangers Ballpark and Winspear Opera House, to name a few. Our employees love to brag that they got to actually work on these jobs. It is fun to drive down any highway in Dallas, Austin or Houston and point out our completed buildings to family and friends.

It was through a ladies in construction forum luncheon that I met Letitia Haley Barker, our president. She reached out and talked me into interviewing with Haley-Greer, and I immediately knew I wanted to join the company and work for her. She was—and is—my mentor on a daily basis. She is patient and kind but also stands firm when that is needed. She treats her employees like family, and that goes from our hourly shop employees to our top executives.

The reality of being a woman in our industry from my experience is that you can achieve and reach any goal you set for yourself. For example, when I first got involved on the ABC National Business Development Committee many years ago, I was the only female in the group. I saw that change in the next couple of years as more and more women got involved.

There are lots of opportunities for women who are strong, eager to work and are open to learning and growing. My advice would be: Find a contractor company that invests in their employees and encourages association involvement and continuing education.

by Construction Executive

Construction Executive, an award-winning magazine published by Associated Builders and Contractors, is the leading source for news, market developments and business issues impacting the construction industry. CE helps its more than 50,000 print readers understand and manage risk, technology, economics, legal challenges and more to run more profitable and productive businesses.

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