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How 5 Women Have Found Success in the Construction Industry

Women in the building and remodeling sectors of the construction industry face a unique set of challenges. We interviewed five professional women on what they’ve done to be successful.

Here's what they have to say:

Anna Stern

Vice President, Tri-North Builders, a construction management company headquartered in Fitchburg, Wis.

What’s a challenge you’ve overcome?

Getting people to recognize that I have valuable insight that I bring to the table. I had to show them that I had knowledge and that I could assist in a number of ways.

What skills have helped you succeed?

I was never raised to believe that there were limits to what I could do because I was a female. Because I’ve never felt that way, I’ve never had a hard time voicing my opinion in a room full of men, even when it’s a group of men who have been doing this much longer than I have. If someone ignores my comments because I’m a female, I have the ability to speak louder or repeat myself. If you shrink away from providing your insight because you’re worried the men in the room will ignore you, you will not succeed in a male-dominated industry.

What recommendations do you have for other women in the industry?

If you are just starting out in your career, working both onsite and in the office environment will give you first-hand experience. A young lady who had just graduated high school reached out to us for an internship. She wanted to go into construction management in college and wanted some experience, so we hired her for the summer. She visited job trailers and worked in the office, and became even more excited about her chosen major by the end of the summer.

Mimi Kress

Co-owner, Sandy Spring Builders, a custom homebuilder in Washington, D.C.

How did you start out in the industry?

I grew up around construction since my dad was a builder. It was the ’60s and ’70s and there weren't a lot of women in the industry as builders, but after getting my liberal arts education, I wasn't sure what to do so I apprenticed with a local builder to learn all aspects of the residential construction business. He put me out on job sites and had me take classes at the local college. It didn't take me long to realize that I enjoyed being part of building something, and I've been doing it ever since.

What’s a challenge you’ve overcome?

Being confident in my own abilities and knowledge. I remember being out on a job site when I was working out in the field in my 20s and an inspector questioned me about the way something was installed. I was absolutely sure that we had done everything correctly, but rather than say that, I told him that I would ask my direct supervisor. If the same thing happened now, I would tell him that it was correct, and if he had an issue then it was up to him to show me what was wrong.

What skills have helped you succeed?

Accepting what I know and what I don’t know. My main strength is maintaining the operation end of things and keeping all the balls juggling, but I am not up on the latest, greatest construction technology. That’s why it’s important to have a great team and be able to delegate. No one person has it all.

Sharon Dillard

CEO, Get A Grip Inc., a kitchen and bathroom resurfacing company in Albuquerque, N.M.

What’s a challenge you’ve overcome?

Coming from the fashion industry, I had very feminine and sophisticated clothing. Early on, I was out calling on commercial accounts and I dressed like I was in the fashion industry. Going into a different-looking business, I knew I had to also look the part. I learned real quickly, because I wasn't getting business. The next day I bought a pair of jeans and cowboy boots, went back out and picked up several accounts.

What skills have helped you succeed?

One thing I didn't need to change was my sense of marketing and branding. I had been trained from the fashion industry that a professional, polished image mattered. The same thing holds true for any business. That's why we take such care to ensure that all our marketing materials and messages, including our newsletter, website and even the way our technicians dress, look great, are grammatically correct and convey the professionalism that we provide to our customers.

What’s an accomplishment you’re especially proud of?

Being able to resurface much of the existing housing at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. It's an honor to provide our service men and women with beautiful, elegant and durable kitchen and bathroom surfaces. They work so hard and sacrifice so much that they deserve a good place to live.

Lynn Gastineau

Owner and founder, Gastineau Log Homes, a producer of oak log homes in New Bloomfield, Mo. 

How did you start out in the industry?

I was very interested in construction during high school, but back then a girl couldn't get a job on a construction site, at least not in Central Missouri. I got a BFA in Fashion Design from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. In the design program at Stephens, there is a large emphasis on art history and other courses that are similar to classes required for architecture. So I feel like I had some educational training that has helped me in the construction field.

What skills have helped you succeed?

Having an open mind. At my company we are willing to try new things. For example, a screw was developed years ago that would make building log homes much easier and faster, and we were the first company in the U.S. to use it. It ended up being a big step forward in log home construction.

What recommendations do you have for other women in the industry?

You must be able to walk the walk and talk the talk and be able to answer any questions. You have to know more than anyone else. It’s the same as it would be in any industry. Learn to pay attention, read, attend classes, trade shows and educational seminars, and join your local homebuilders association. There are a lot of educational opportunities out there. 

Beverley Kruskol

Owner, M.Y. Pacific Building, Inc., a general contracting company in Los Angeles

What’s a challenge you’ve overcome?

As it is a male-dominated industry, occasionally a contractor on-site will address one of my guys, mistakenly thinking he is the owner. Over the years, I’ve accepted this as the nature of the beast, but it is always quickly clarified. I’m really comfortable in who I am and what I’ve accomplished. You just have to go in there and show them you are a professional and you know what you’re talking about.

What recommendations do you have for other women in the industry?

Don’t be intimidated. If you know what you’re doing, you won’t have a problem. You don’t need to be aggressive, but you do need to be assertive.

What’s an accomplishment you’re especially proud of?

I’ve successfully diversified my company so that we do painting, dry wall, special carpentry, lacquer, Venetian plaster, electrical work, etc. As a general contractor, I’ve slowly diversified and hired great people who specialize in the various construction crafts. I’m also proud of the fact that I have a lot of repeat business, as well as word-of-mouth referrals. Even in a hard economy, we’re busy due to our reputation and quality of work. 

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