How Women in Construction Pay It Forward

By Lynne Harris, HBI Vice President, Corporate Communications

Women in construction have been paving the way for others in a male-dominated industry for decades. They entered the field for many reasons and stayed to prove something to not only others, but also to themselves. Working harder than their male counterparts to get ahead and enduring resistance to their positions were only a few of the challenges that many women have encountered.
  

Whether faced with a personal opportunity to become a carpenter as HBI Instructor Lisa Burnett was or looking to supplement income as HBI Regional Program Manager Chloveta Caudill did early in her career, there are many reasons why women have responded to the calling for a career in construction. These women have embraced the opportunity to prove that they can supervise men in construction and demonstrate that they have credible skills. They have stepped up to meet their challenges with fervor. But what makes them persevere and encourage others? 

Gaining independence and confidence in an environment where men dominate can be a struggle for many women. However, Burnett found that she was just as capable as a man performing the same work. In fact, she endured her greatest challenge when she moved up into a supervisory position and had men who reported to her quit their jobs because “they refused to take orders from a woman.” And, 30 years later, she continues to share her skills and persuade other women to take a chance. She recognizes that a woman on a job has to be twice as good as a man just to look equal, but what she calls her greatest accomplishment made it all worthwhile. 

Today, Burnett is teaching young adults carpentry skills through the HBI Carpentry program at the Los Angeles Job Corps Center in California. Sharing her knowledge is her way of giving back to young adults and especially helping young females prepare for a career in the building industry. Burnett advises women entering the construction trades to not let anyone tell them that “it’s a man’s job or that you can’t do it. If construction is your passion, you can make it.” 

To counter the credibility gap that Caudill experienced, she says she just kept showing up to work to build on her skills as a painter, carpenter and plumber. While males were initially skeptical of her skills, she continued on and eventually, they saw she could perform. Her proudest moment came when she realized that she was making a successful living in the construction industry by gaining government contracts based on work performed. Learning and teaching others how to make basic repairs in their homes is how she gives back and encourages other women. She has also given tools to her daughters to empower them to make their own home repairs. 

Prior to her current position, Caudill was an HBI plumbing instructor. She urges women interested in construction to “go for it!” Caudill recommends that women search and seek employers willing to train. Working hard, arriving on time and being willing to do construction work that demonstrates abilities is also important. She points out that tenacity is part of the job. 

Calling all women in construction…how are you paying it forward?