Women in Construction: Advice on Leading the Change

Kelley on a ladder at a construction site during a Habitat Home build


Celebrating Women in Construction

It’s Women in Construction Week! Each March, the National Association of Women In Construction (NAWIC) celebrate the achievements of women in the industry while raising awareness of the opportunities available and growing role of women in construction.

This year, we are excited to join the festivities by spotlighting the journeys, achievements, and advice of 9 phenomenal women. Each day from March 8-12, we’ll be releasing new stories from women at Southern Energy Management and women we work with. Be sure to bookmark this page and check back each day!

 Take a look back on our post from 2020 for more awesome women.

Maggie Leslie

Favorite Quote
I am inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. One of my favorite quotes about her, by her biographer, Jane Sharon DeHart sums up why — “She asked of her young admirers that they fight for things they care about, doing it in a way that leads others to join them and maintain a sense of humor. Progress is seldom linear. There are always new battles to fight and old ones to be revoked”.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the progress our industry has made over the last 20 years when I started working in this field. So many builders began certifying their homes at the base certified level and have used the Green Built checklist as the tool it is meant to b — to try out new strategies to improve their score and are now regularly building to silver and gold as their standard. So many products and services are now mainstream and, while we still have a long way to go, we have begun to be able to push the envelope even further towards net zero energy construction.

Profile photo of Nora Spencer, CEO and Founder of Hope Renovations

Nora Spencer

Quote to Live By
My favorite quote is by Nelson Henderson. I read it for the first time when I was in high school, and since then it’s been my motto. It’s the reason behind why I created Hope Renovations.  It goes, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not intend to sit.”
That’s what I want.  I want Hope Renovations to create real social change that will carry on and continue to grow, long after I’m gone.  

How do you see your field evolving? What would you most like to see?

I’m so happy that, not only are more women entering the skilled trades than ever before, our industry is welcoming them like never before! It’s a shame that it took a critical labor shortage for employers to realize that an entire gender was missing from the workforce… but they did, and things are changing. I get calls and emails every single week from men in our industry who want to meet our “Hope Gals” and, hopefully, hire them into their organizations. The comment I hear most frequently is, “Women make the best employees. We NEED them!” I feel like that is a major culture change that has just come about over the past ten years or so. 

I would bet that in ten years, it will no longer seem unusual to see a woman on a construction site. And my hope is that in 20 years, this industry is THE place that women want to work. I want us to build the skilled trades into a woman’s world!

What are you most proud of?

Without question, I’m most proud of the incredible women on my team. Every time I watch one of our trainees run a chop saw for the first time, or wire their first light fixture, or land their first trades interview, or confidently stroll up to accept their certificate at graduation, I’m so proud of our “S Team” that runs our training program, Sarah and Sandy.  And every time I see a beautifully completed job, or we get a sweet thank you note from a happy senior client, or we get a word-of-mouth referral asking for our services, I’m proud of our “K Team” that runs our construction program, Kate, Kat and Kate W. And of course, I’m constantly proud of Janel, our Ops Manager and “Mission Control”, who keeps things running and keeps me sane!

Our mission is big and we work SO hard at it, and these #badasswomen embody everything that Hope Renovations is about. I can’t explain what it feels like to be CONSTANTLY inspired, but that’s what every day is like for me. It’s like a big ray of sunshine endlessly pouring into my heart!

Profile picture of Gio Mollinedo, building performance field technician at Southern Energy Management

Gio Mollinedo

Building Performance Field Technician, Southern Energy Management

Fun Fact: Favorite Restaurant & Favorite Meal
Red Lotus, spicy duck!  My mom also taught me how to cook at a very early age, so I cook Peruvian dishes almost every day. My favorite dish is Causa Limena, which is typical from Peru. It is like a cake of potatoes, with yellow spicy pepper and lime and you can put chicken, seafood, or all of it inside!!!

Famous Woman I’d Like to Meet
Michelle Obama

Quote to Live By
Two heads think better than one

Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction. How did you get to where you are today? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

I grew up in a construction family business, around heavy equipment and a lot of dust. As the only woman of four brothers, my mom was my role model for how to grow in a conservative marriage, where the woman stays at home and the men go out to work. I am kind of a rebel, so that never went well with me. My dad was my role for how to be a strong and persuasive person, always with good energy. He showed me how to be a hard worker, how to be tough and resilient, and taught me how to deal with all kinds of situations on the street, like dealing with difficult people — while always keeping a smile through adversity. But, he also pushed me to be outside of construction because Peru has a very conservative culture. So I decided to study Psychology and went down the Organizational Psychology path. 

I worked in transnational companies in Peru, related to telecommunications, mines, and supermarkets. The most important experience for me was working in social services and therapy with the homeless. I decided to immigrate to the US in 2004 and started over with my own business relating to telecommunications. 

My family grew, with three kids, a cat, and a dog. But I always felt that I needed to complete my circle with something else, so I got my real estate license. I invested in properties without knowledge of how to remodel houses. I did some of the jobs by myself, and I also hired people, of course, with the skills that I did not have. So to get more expertise, I enrolled in Hope Renovations which opened the door to a different network and gave me the confidence to become a woman in construction — which for me, was something impossible to feel or believe. Now I can say that every woman has the capacity and power to do all that we want, get their goals, and if we can empower one another, that is a big impact in our society. 

Walk us through your typical day at work.

I’ve had in my own business since 2004, so working at SEM is a big challenge. My three kids are in an online school, plus we have a dog and a cat, it simply seems like a nightmare. LOL!  I love what I am doing. I can show my kids that working hard and being responsible for the future of others is not easy, but it brings a lot of joy and happiness, which for me is the balance of what life means at the end.

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

To pursue their dreams/goals, don’t be afraid to jump into something new, and that they are not the first ones and definitely they are not alone. 

What are you most proud of?

Proud of it all. I know that I have the capacity to create something from nothing, be a warrior in the face of adversity, and always get up. 

Carly Curtin, Building Performance Field Technician at Southern Energy Management

Carly Curtin

Building Performance Field Technician, Southern Energy Management

Fun Fact 
I’ve been racing bmx competitively for 16 years! I compete in the “21-30 women’s expert” class on the national level.

Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction. How did you get to where you are today? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

I never thought I’d end up in the construction sector. I always wanted to work in natural resources but in college I was pushed away from ecology and toward sustainability, and I’m glad I was. I was fortunate enough to go to a progressive university (shoutout U-Albany!) where my advisor was a woman and the head of our department. She helped me navigate being a woman in STEM from early on.

Walk us through your typical day at work.

A “typical” day is hard to define because every day is different, which is what I love about this position. Each day I’m going somewhere different and making different stops. I rely heavily on coffee and sunshine.

How do you see your field evolving? What would you most like to see?

I hope to see the housing market demand more energy efficient homes. I hope it becomes the standard.

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

Don’t be afraid to take up space in this field. At times it will feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, but you have an important job to do.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of being a first generation college graduate who is utilizing their degree.

Profile picture of Wanona Satcher, CEO & Founder of Makhers Studio

Wanona Satcher

Fun Fact: Favorite Restaurant
I love Thumbs Up Diner here in Atlanta. Great local spot and they have the best chicken sausage! I order it every time I go.

Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction. How did you get to where you are today? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

After attending architecture and planning school I worked in landscape architecture firms, architecture and planning firms and then local government. The private and public sector experiences have played critical roles in my current roles as an entrepreneur, from business development to project management. Being a woman and woman of color in two male-dominated industries, construction and manufacturing has been challenging. 

Walk us through your typical day at work.

As CEO I don’t have a typical work day. But the days range from site visits, helping to pour concrete, product deliveries, supply pickups, launching fundraising campaigns, subcontractor and client meetings. 

How do you see your field evolving? What would you most like to see?

The world of modular design and construction is growing because it’s needed. With rising material and land costs as well as more attention driven towards green building standards, we have to think differently about how we build, the materials we use and where we build. Our cities and regions are growing and so developing new and scalable building technologies is key. I would like to see more investment in green building design and modular construction.

Profile photo of Laurie Ford, managing director of Lomonaco Investments

Laurie Ford

Fun Fact: A famous woman you like to meet?
My childhood idol was Mary Tyler Moore.  Although a fictional character, she was the only woman I saw that had a real career – so I idolized her.  The theme song for the show still motivates me:  You’re gonna make it after all!

Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction. How did you get to where you are today? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

Throughout my life, I have always been ambitions and driven.  I strived to be the “best” at whatever I did.  Although not always successful at achieving the top spot, having this goal caused me to refine my ability to do honest self-assessments and learn the benefits of being self-driven, ambitious, and hard-working.  When successful, the experience grew my confidence and inspired me to take on new opportunities and challenges. When I started out in the construction industry some 25+ years ago, I was literally the only woman with a seat at the table. So, I felt I had a lot to prove and had to work that much harder to earn respect and opportunity.  So over the years I have worked at achieving the right blend of “speaking up” and “being patient”.  This is still a work in progress for me. 

Walk us through your typical day at work.

As an entrepreneur and business owner, I find that I can get pulled in so many different directions.  So I start early – around 5:30 am.  I spend the first 15 minutes getting my home environment organized and boil a pot of tea.  I turn on my laptop and begin thinking through my day and taking care of work that requires a lot of concentration. I try to get that “focused” work out of the way early. At about 7:30 am, my husband and I eat breakfast and do a bible study.  8:00 am the two of us go for a 45 – 60 minute walk. By 9:15 am, I am ready to start the “interactive” part of my work day.  I tend to set up Zoom calls in two blocks (11:00 – 12:30 pm and 2:30 – 4:00 pm).  I try to knock off of work by 5:30 so I can cook a good meal and do something relaxing for the rest of the day/evening.

How do you see your field evolving and what changes do you anticipate on the horizon?

I am passionate about fighting against the status quo by identifying strategic partnerships and opportunities and by implementing forward-thinking initiatives to enhance differentiation, increase market share, and improve profitability.  I am particularly excited about the increased momentum surrounding innovative products and practices that are moving the housing industry out of the dark ages – finally.

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

Step up and say yes!  In general (there are always exceptions), a woman feels the need to prove to herself and to decision-makers that she has the capability of taking on a new role or responsibility.  In comparison, men are oftentimes assumed to have the ability even if it is not proven and are not afraid to ask for the chance. I used to prepare, over prepare and prepare some more before I would seek out a new opportunity.  Meanwhile, men less capable were capitalizing on those opportunities.  I have learned to push myself to step up, and it has paid off.  Also, ignore the noise and negativity.  As is the case for men and women alike, you will encounter difficult people who, knowingly or unknowingly,  put obstacles in your way.  And, from time to time, you may find yourself dealing with the effects of someone who is determined to do harm to your career. My advice is to keep your head down and focus on doing your job so brilliantly that those standing in your way have no choice but to get out of the way or get run over.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the relationships I have forged in life and throughout my career.  My family, first and foremost.  Then the men and women I’ve worked along side, through thick and through thin, to create amazing communities.   

Rachel, Project Manager at Southern Energy Management, at construction site wearing ppe and mask

Rachel Della Valle

Multifamily & Commercial Project Manager, Southern Energy Management

Fun Fact: Favorite Local Restaurant 
We moved to Hillsborough in the fall, so we’re still checking out the local restaurants. Right now I’d say Vinny’s Pizzeria —  we order a white pizza and add pepperoni. And of course Weaver Street Market, we always get the cilantro hummus.

Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction. How did you get to where you are today? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

My journey as a woman in construction started early on learning to be hands on with home projects as young kid. I’m thankful my parents and family instilled in me the value of hard work and seeing a project through. During high school and college I volunteered with Appalachian Service Project and Habitat for Humanity gaining a greater understanding of construction and the need for safe affordable housing in the US and abroad. That’s when I also became pretty handy at painting houses (and comfortable with ladders!). During summer breaks that was how I earned money for the school year. 

My focus at school was Environmental Studies and after I graduated I spent a year as an AmeriCorps member at the Green Built Alliance in Asheville. This was where I really learned about, got hands on experience and fell in love with energy efficiency and green building. I loved the sustainability aspect but also the people aspect. Working with people to build (a better) home for someone has such a lasting impact.

Rachel and her family
Rachel and her family!

Walk us through your typical day at work.

One thing I love about my job and perhaps this industry is that every day is different. Some days I’m out on site doing inspections, some days I’m reviewing plans at my office and some days there a lot of Zoom meetings. Variety is the spice of life!

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

If you’re new to the industry or looking to get into it, learn as much as you can. Say ‘yes’ a lot. Ask all of your questions. You can do this!

Kelley Breslow, solar project manager at Southern Energy Management

Kelley Breslow

Solar Program Manager, Southern Energy Management

Quote to Live By
We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap – Kurt Vonnegut

Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction. How did you get to where you are today? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

After graduating with a degree in Environmental Science I moved from Northwest Illinois to Morgantown, WV where my husband was finishing his master’s degree. While in WV I witnessed first hand the environmental and social destruction caused by coal and natural gas. It was then I decided I wanted to seek a career in renewable energy. 

A couple of years later we had the opportunity to move to Raleigh, NC. Upon moving I sought out Southern Energy Management as I saw them as leaders in the solar industry (and they seemed like a cool company to work for). After applying for multiple install and other positions I wasn’t quite qualified for, I finally landed an interview and the job for an inside sales and marketing position (which I was qualified for). I quickly moved into an operations support seat as sales was, and is, not my unique talent. From there, as they say, all is history.

Overcoming any challenges: Being a woman in male-dominated industry has had its challenges but NEVER from within Southern Energy Management or our customers. Always with outside parties challenging my knowledge and not trusting it. I never minded the challenge, it was the trust that was disheartening. Over the years this has become less and less common I believe mostly due to the industry expanding and more women being in this field.

How do you see your field evolving and what changes do you anticipate on the horizon?

Solar and other renewable energies are the future. In my opinion, we will see an overhaul of the way our energy grids are designed to accommodate renewable energies and, hopefully, make it more affordable across the country. I hope to see the same innovations across the globe so every person can have the same quality of life we are fortunate to have here in America.

Profile photo of Tanya Matzen, VP of Operations at Newland

Tanya Matzen

Quote to Live By
No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up.

Tell us about your journey as a woman in construction. How did you get to where you are today? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?

As a little girl, I wanted to be a judge so I planned to go to law school after college, but life takes you in different directions.  I moved to NC from CA almost 20 years ago with a background in Finance and took a job with a homebuilder working on a property tax audit.  That position led me to land acquisition support roles as our VP identified that I was very analytical.  I jumped between Land and Finance roles much of my career, eventually becoming a project manager and working exclusively in land acquisition and development.  Those roles led me to my current role with Newland as VP of Operations for two of the best-selling mixed-use master plans in the Triangle market, Briar Chapel and Wendell Falls.   

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

As a female in a male dominated industry, it can be intimidating.  I’ve walked into a room surrounded by navy sportscoats and often been the only female.  I’ve been singled out for that reason in quite a few occasions.  It has taken time to earn the respect to be heard and to stand up and own that.  My advice would be to find your voice.  Don’t fear the unknown, step outside your comfort zone and even if you fall short, you’ll learn from those experiences.  I have had many women (and men for that matter) champion my contributions and finding those mentors has been critical to my success. 

What are you most proud of? 

First off, my family.  Being a working mother with a demanding job is very difficult to manage without feeling constantly guilty for falling short in one area or another.  I have a wonderful supportive husband and three beautiful children, ages 5, 10 and 11.  Life is hectic but I am proud that my children can witness my hard work and  dedication and the results that come from that perseverance.  Work ethic was instilled in me by my mother and I hope to pass that along to my children.

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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