The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council dedicated this week to not only highlight the achievements of the diverse, talented women in the industry but to encourage the next generation of women by raising awareness of the multitude of opportunities available in the field.
Women constitute only about 11% of the construction workforce in the United States, according to NAHB.
Roofing & Exteriors spoke to several women in the field about their experiences.
"Falling" into roofing
Michelle Boykin, the COO of Rackley Roofing Company, said she "fell into roofing by accident" 13 years ago.
"My husband is in real estate, and when the market crashed in 2008, I was looking in the newspaper—yes, back when people still read the actual newspaper—for a job for him," Boykin said. "I found an ad for an office position in roofing and it intrigued me. The rest is history."
The roofing industry has been welcoming and accepting of women, according to Boykin.
"I’ve always felt respected at work with great company culture," she said. "What I’ve seen is that anyone who is willing to try and work hard, regardless of gender, has a great career opportunity in roofing.
"Most of the discrimination I’ve seen has been from those who are outside of the roofing industry," Boykin continued. "A customer will call and want to speak to the 'man' in charge, or I tell someone I’m in roofing and they assume I’ve never been on a roof before.
"I use those opportunities to kindly teach that assumptions are not always right."
On the importance of recognizing other women in the field, Boykin is reminded of a saying: “Empowered women empower women."
". . .[I]t’s so true," she said. "When someone recognizes you for doing something awesome, you are more likely to do the same for the next person.
"It’s also great to feel like you are seen in an industry where you are the minority," she continued. "It’s like being part of a secret club when you can look at another woman and immediately bond just from being a woman in roofing. Many times it creates an instant friendship."
Nursing to roofing
Melissa Irons is the director of Administration at Irons Brothers Construction, a full-service design and build firm in Shoreline, Washington that focuses on custom residential remodeling.
Irons made the shift from the medical field—she was a registered nurse for a decade—to construction when she joined her husband's company in 2008.
"The barriers for women existing in all industries, and of course are a part of my business and construction career," she said. "Luckily I create and maintain the culture at our company in my position."
Irons added that she was proud of the fact that 40% of IBC's employees are female.
"Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, in my opinion, is easier than being in a female-dominated industry, which can at times be competitive and catty," she said. "In residential remodeling, the relationships I have built with men and women have helped me to lead and succeed. You have to put aside your gender and do your best to be the best you can be."
It is important to recognize women in the field because "women work tirelessly at work, at home, and for the betterment of their industry," Irons said. "That is why it is important to recognize us.
"Not only does our gender create a barrier for our work, but also it is synonymous with less pay than our male counterparts and fewer opportunities for career advancement," she explained. "Acknowledging and recognizing women in construction is important as it shares the difference that women have made for those who they work with, work for, and help to mentor and coach."
Studied to be a chef
Stacey Beers is the CFO of Pacific InterWest Building Consultants.
Her company performs the inspections in progress and warranty.
"I have worked for multiple builders and developers who performed both horizontal (land development) and vertical construction, as well as a GC that specialized in roadway repairs, boat slips, forestry work, etc." Beers said. "I also ran an architectural firm, a high-end woodshop and was GM for a chain of irrigation supply houses."
But before she got into the construction industry—where she's been for the last 25 years—Beers studied to become a chef. She worked in the restaurant industry for several years before taking a job as a project accountant for a local homebuilder.
"You can’t work with a better group of people than those in the construction industry," Beers said. "I have stayed ever since."
Being a female in a male-dominated industry never bothered Beers—but it hasn't always been easy, she noted.
"I was out in the field in my late 20s," Beers said. "There were not a lot of women in the field back then. But having that opportunity actually taught me a few things that have proved to be priceless throughout my career.
"I learned that it is OK to fail as long as you learn from it," she continued. "That not every battle is worth fighting. Sometimes the best solution is to just let it roll off your back and just keep doing the best you can do.
"I learned I had to be better at things than my male co-workers," Beers added. "My gender put my performance under a microscope frequently. So, I worked harder, listened more frequently, and learned a lot.
"But the most important thing I learned was don’t be afraid to ask for what you want."
On highlighting other women in the field, Beers said, "This industry isn’t just for men and being successful in the construction industry requires more than just physical strength.
"You must also be able to think cognitively, multi-task, exhibit sharp problem-solving skills and interact with a variety of different personalities and people," she added. "As women, we bring these skill sets to the table. Plus, we are nurturers at heart. We mentor, we teach and we place importance on sharing our successes with the next generation to promote interest in the construction industry."
"I enjoy bringing a different thought process to some of the ways things have always been done," she said.
Silver has owned her business since December 2019.
"I wanted to get into outside sales in a stable industry and construction seemed like a good fit, to learn the industry I took a job as an inside sales rep for SRS and went from there," she said of breaking into the roofing business in September 2017.
On the importance of highlighting other women in the field, Silver said, "Women typically are relationship-driven, and building strong relationships with others who can support you navigating in a traditionally male-dominated industry can be both empowering and necessary. If there are others who have already 'been there, done that,' why not learn from them, and save time and some potentially hard lessons."
On Tuesday, NAHB held a webinar, Breaking Down Barriers: Conversations on Leadership & Inclusivity in Construction, which shared stories from three professional women in building— Juli A. Bacon, founder and president, JB Consulting Systems; Charner Rodgers, Ph.D, MENGR and BS, associate professor/senior program director of Industry Relations, Department of Construction Science and Management, Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science and Management, Tuskegee University; and Angelica Rivera, president, Colmex Construction—that aim to inspire and motivate through anecdotes, techniques and strategies to support a growing industry that’s inclusive and open-minded.
On Sept. 16, the NAHB Shop Talk, Success in the Trades and Overcoming Industry Stereotypes, will be an informal, peer-to-peer discussion about overcoming gender stereotypes and debunking myths about women in homebuilding.
Stories of successful women in the industry and local PWB Council successes will be highlighted in blog posts throughout the week on NAHBNow.com.
What PWB means
"I am a member of two local HBA chapters," Silver said. "I love the education and local networking opportunities."
"Since I started with our firm, I have taken advantage of NAHB’s training and education programs for the construction industry and hold a CGR, CGP, and CAPS designations," Irons said. "Most recently I became a Certified Builder through our state building association, Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW)."
Irons is a member of the local and national building association’s PWB Council and the chair of the Awards Committee for the Master Builders of King & Snohomish Counties PWB Council.
"Involvement with the local PWB has provided me with mentorship opportunities, education, and enrichment," IBC's director of administration said. "These are all important even more so for women in construction as we work by banding together to better the industry for future women leaders.
"There are so many reasons why the PWB is special," Beers said. "PWB is the voice of women in the industry and its members work tirelessly to promote education, workforce diversity and provide a successful platform for mentoring by giving women and men the opportunity to communicate with one another, and with younger professionals, about the challenges and rewards of the construction industry.
"PWB provides so many sources of inspiration and opportunities for growth," the CFO continued. "PWB encourages networking and empowerment of its members. There are numerous professional development programs and opportunities abound to give something back to your communities and the industry through meaningful events and programs.
"I have strengthened existing business relationships, forged numerous new ones and developed so many invaluable friendships just being a part of PWB," she concluded.