Meet the Women Paving New Roads to Construction in NC and Beyond!

Laurie Colwander onsite during multifamily construction

We are excited to join women across the country and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in celebrating Women in Construction Week. From March 1-8, we will highlight the stories and achievements of several women at Southern Energy Management as well as the women we partner with. Check back for new profiles each day!

Maria Kingery

Chief Impact Officer & Co-Founder, Southern Energy Management

  • Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction.

So I am an accidental woman in the construction industry, I was brought into this field by my husband. So in the beginning, actually for quite a long time, I didn’t feel like I legitimately “belonged” in the industry — it felt like it was Bob’s thing and I was just tagging along. I’ve had to overcome my own head trash for years about that, and it wasn’t until I was moving some stuff in the office a while back and noticed how many of the awards on the shelf had my name on them that I really allowed myself to own the contributions I’ve made to our company’s success.

 

 

It sounds cliche, but a related challenge I’ve had to overcome was finding my voice and having it heard and respected. In the early days in particular, I think a lot of my ideas were dismissed as being impractical or impossible to do, and I heard a lot of ‘we can’t do that’, or ‘we shouldn’t do that’, or ‘why are we doing this?’ and then years later some “expert” would advise the same thing and everyone would think it was genius (laughs).

 

 

Conventional wisdom is male in the business world in general, and in the construction industry in particular. There’s quite a bit of explicit and implicit sexism that women get to deal with that isn’t an issue for men. One colleague of mine shared a story about being invited to speak to a group of builders. When she was about to begin her talk, one of the men in the audience yelled out, “Take it off” and laughter ensued among the predominantly male audience. She was so rattled she could barely talk – tough when you’re accountable for delivering your company’s message. Now that’s an extreme example and don’t get me wrong, most of the men are caring, and as respectful as they can be. But overall there’s a strong resistance to change and that makes it hard for women to be effective on the job site at times.

  • What advice would you give to other women entering the industry now?

Understand the unique value that you bring with your life experiences and the privilege of having been born a woman. We have different skills and talents and the things that many men struggle with in terms of leadership, vision, and what’s possible come naturally to us. There’s real power in that and it’s critical to help us navigate the rapid change we’re experiencing at all levels of our society now. And, above all, have the courage to speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.

Amanda Urbina

Quote to live by: “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

  • What are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be a part of a great company that is willing to support women like me in achieving our goals.

  • What are you most proud of?

There is no typical day. Each day is different. That’s why I love construction so much. We are always progressing. Always moving towards our end goal of project turnover. However, I will say, each day is all about communication. It’s important to talk with your subs and make sure they have what they need to be successful and in turn make you successful. We wouldn’t be anywhere without our subs. It’s about motivating each trade, and always coming in with a positive attitude despite the tough days.

Jennifer Hoffman

Fun Fact: What is your favorite local restaurant? Favorite hometown restaurants are the Carrboro taco trucks, Al’s Burgers and Kitchen.

  • Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction.

I worked in construction while in college between semesters, while college hopping, and working while waiting to establish residency in a new state. I cold-called construction companies out of the yellow pages and offered to work on the cheap to learn the ropes. I found a couple of great companies that taught me the basics, and I prided myself on carrying as much weight in lumber and plywood as the guys did. 

 

I went to grad school for architecture and worked in the field for a short time before staying home to raise my 3 kids for 12 years. When I wanted to re-enter the workforce, I didn’t want the commitment of a 40 hour architecture firm job because I knew with three kids, they’d always be my priority and I didn’t want to feel like a slacker at work. I eventually became a general contractor and crafted my own design-build company so I could work for myself and weave family and work life together in a way that made sense for me. It’s an evolving and growing business. I’ve got two great employees now and a host of awesome subs. We work on small scale development projects, and we build new construction and renovation projects for clients. 

 

Challenges? Sure. Men are often surprised that I’m a builder. They say, “well, good for you!”, something they’d never say to a man in his late 40’s in the same profession. There’s no shortage of man-splaining. Men on jobsites who don’t know me yet usually first assume I’m someone’s wife, the interior designer, the realtor or the homeowner. It’s understandable because the reality is that women make up less that 10% of the construction workforce, but it’s always just a little disheartening to have the same conversation over and over again. But as I’ve grown to be at home in the construction world, it’s my favorite place to be. I love construction culture and the great independent spirits of so many of the yes, guys, I work with most days. The few women I have the privilege of rubbing elbows with in the construction world are super smart, strong and often are quick to share their exasperating or hysterical stories of daily work life. I’m proud that my kids get to see me work in this profession, and I’m grateful that they can tagalong to job sites and sit next to me when I’m working on a new design, offering their input on space planning.

  • Is there a woman (from past or present) that you would like to meet?

I’d love to have been friends with Amelia Erhardt, because come on, she was 100% badass.

Maddie O'Beirne

Solar Project Manager, Southern Energy Management

Fun Fact: What is your favorite local restaurant? My favorite local restaurant is tied between Fiction Kitchen and David’s Dumplings and Noodle Bar. I am a vegetarian and Fiction Kitchen has some of the best vegetarian/vegan food I have ever had!

  • Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction.

At the University of Delaware I studied Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environment, Society, and Sustainability. I knew I’ve always wanted to find a job working with people to protect our natural environment. You could say I am a pretty big tree hugger. I thought that teaching was my best chance at making the biggest impact on the most amount of people. I taught for about 2 years and realized I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for the planet.

 

I was always interested in renewable energy but was intimidated applying for a job in a field that is male dominated. I never thought I could work in the renewable energy sector since I hadn’t graduated with an engineering degree. I took a shot and applied at Southern Energy Management and I’m happier than ever! I’ve found a job I am so passionate about where I have the opportunity to combine my love for the environment and working with others. It is an incredible feeling to see firsthand how our work is making it possible to create affordable clean energy for the Southeast. I love working for a company that is leading the fight to provide renewable energy to thousands of families and businesses across North Carolina!

  • Walk us through your typical day at work.

Well I eat a lot…

  • Is there a woman (from past or present) that you would like to meet?

I would love to meet Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish environmental activist. She was just voted the youngest Time Person of the Year. She has created a youth-led global movement to reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions. I am in awe of her because she is a 16 year old that is educating our world leaders and advocating for science-based policy making. I absolutely look up to her and am so inspired when I think of how much change one girl can make!

  • Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction.

The hardest thing in construction is actually taking a break from it! And I love building houses. As a woman, I am still mistaken for one of the homeowners on the site, but that quickly gets resolved once I start giving directions. I’ve only been in construction 24 years! I just tell other women to be the most knowledgeable person on the job site and not worry about the stereotyping!

Sara Collier

Lead Building Performance Technician

Fun Fact: What is your favorite local restaurant? Not a restaurant, but I get a weekly delivery from Haw River Mushrooms, and I really enjoy incorporating the different varieties of wild and gourmet mushrooms into my cooking.  

  • Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction.

I arrived here in such a meandering way – I like to say I just put myself on a path and this is where it led me. After 10 years as an organic farmer, I decided to branch out and learn about renewable energy. My local community college has a great sustainability technologies program which I enrolled in, and found myself in love with energy use analysis and building science. I have always wanted to have a career that will contribute to greater good, and now I have had two – one focused on food and one on shelter – two things everyone needs!

  • Walk us through your typical day at work.

I enjoy the fact that no day is really typical. Variety is the spice of life, and you might find me supporting new team members with training, analyzing building plans, talking to builders, or out in the field collecting data!

  • How do you see your field evolving and what changes do you anticipate on the horizon? What would you most like to see?

I am really excited about net zero, and the possibilities with using our technical know how to make an even bigger impact.

  • Which woman (from past or present) would you like to meet and why?

As a fellow shark lover, Eugenie Clark. Amy Sedaris, for home decor advice.

Sara Marston

Residential Solar Specialist, Southern Energy Management

Fun Fact: What is your favorite local restaurant? Gocciolina in Durham. Incredible, authentic, locally-sourced Italian cuisine. My boyfriend is a 2nd generation Italian from San Francisco and it is his favorite. And he is selective to put it kindly.  

  • Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction.
 In Fall 2018, I was working as a fine wine sales rep. I was listening to lots of political and environmental podcasts which gave me an overwhelming sense that I wasn’t doing enough to mitigate the effects of climate change. I decided to consult with the career counselor at my alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill. She helped me leverage my sales skills and craft a resume geared towards the renewable industry.  I networked with a fellow UNC alum at Southern Energy and got an interview for the burgeoning new construction solar sales field. 

The challenge for me was the learning curve. Historically I had been in industries where I had tons of knowledge. This new position gave me an opportunity to grow and learn a whole new field.
  • Walk us through your typical day at work.

 I spend a lot of time educating home buyers, builders, and realtors/sales agents on how to incorporate solar into their build process. I work in solar, but rely heavily on our talented building science team to provide a home’s projected electricity usage using our energy modeling software. That gives me the confidence to recommend a solar system that is sized right for the buyer’s needs.

  • What advice would you give to other women entering the industry now?

 I find the word “networking” outdated and off putting. In my experience, talking to people in my immediate circle (friends, gym buddies, family members) helped me to shape my vision for a career change. I found that route to be much easier to network and find other women in the industry to mentor me and make connections. You never know who might know someone…

  • Is there a quote you live by?

I am not religious, but I love the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Laurie Colwander

Director of Multifamily Services, Southern Energy Management

Fun Fact: What is your favorite local restaurant? Fiction Kitchen 

  • Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction.

I always wanted to be a carpenter and a mechanic. I started my journey in construction as an Americorp member at Wake County Habitat for Humanity. I got to work with great volunteers and do everything from framing to trim. There, I was able to go to Alabama, Florida, and Honduras to learn new types of construction and techniques and found my love of energy efficiency.

  • Walk us through your typical day at work.​

I work with multifamily and commercial project teams from owners to site superintendents and subcontractors to integrate energy efficiency and sustainability into their projects. On a typical day I can be found reviewing plans and submittals or on site for inspections to ensure insulation and air sealing is done right.  

  • What advice would you give to other women entering the industry now? ​

Do work you are passionate about and ask all your questions. You will find the others who are passionate about what they do. Everyone benefits when we all work together. 

  • Is there a quote you live by?

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ – MLK

About the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)

NAWIC was originally founded as Women in Construction of Fort Worth, Texas in 1953 with 16 members. Since then, NAWIC has grown to more than 150 chapters across the country. NAWIC’s mission is to strengthen and amplify the success of women in the construction industry through providing members with opportunities for professional development, education, networking, public service, and more.

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