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10 women role models of remodeling

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | January 8, 2014

Women contractors were scarce when a group of 16 women founded the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in 1953. Almost 60 years later, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2011 figures show that 9 percent of construction industry employees in the U.S. -- approximately 828,000 workers -- are women. While men still dominate the construction trades by a wide margin, women in construction are becoming highly visible in the media, including social media.

For women in construction and remodeling, there has never been a better time to make their presence known than now. Recent studies by the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) have shown that women, not men, take the lead on making decisions about home improvement projects and "that the woman is not only the purchaser, but also the 'doer'" when it comes to home improvements. It stands to reason they might very well look to professional women contractors for assistance and advice.

Marketers and advertisers are paying attention to the studies. A number of TV remodeling shows no longer feature just women actors or interior designers as hosts but actual licensed women contractors. And there are other signs that remodeling marketing efforts are aimed at women: Women DIYers and professional contractors are blogging, and retail outfits like The Home Depot offer workshops specifically for women who want to do their own repairs and remodeling.

These 10 women have been changing the stereotype of women in construction and remodeling, and they are no more afraid of being in the public eye than they are of breaking a nail to hammer nails:

10 who's who of women contractors and DIY remodelers

  1. Lenore Janis, president of Professional Women in Construction (PWC). Janis could be considered the grand dame of women in construction. She attended college in the 1950s, graduated with a bachelor's degree from a prestigious school, and pursued acting -- because her family thought joining their steel construction business wasn't a proper career for a young lady. Eventually she changed their minds, and by 1980 she had her own successful steel erection company. That year she also founded Professional Women in Construction (PWC). Through the organization, Janis continues to promote careers in construction for women.
  2. Linda G. Alvarado, founder and owner of Alvarado Construction. No list would be complete without Alvarado, another pioneer of women in the construction industry. Alvarado grew up in a family of six children with few financial resources. Like many women in the industry, she faced harassment on construction sites. She also dealt with discrimination as a Latina. In 1976 she started her own commercial construction firm with a $2,500 loan from her parents. Today she sits on the boards of several public companies and is the first Hispanic to own a major league baseball team. In 2003 she was named to the National Women's Hall of Fame.
  3. Mina Fies, founder and CEO of Synergy Design & Construction. Fies and her Reston, Va.-based architectural design-build remodeling firm appear favorably in the news media with increasing regularity. She's been in design and real estate since 1994, and her experience has given her insight into the frustration homeowners often have with remodels. Together with her husband, Mark, she developed the Synergy D&C Renovation Roadmap™ approach from design through construction. Clients attest again and again to the firm's ability to communicate and manage details, one of the primary concerns most homeowners have when working with contractors.
  4. Lakshmi Jackman, president and owner of Transformations Building and Remodeling. Jackman began her career as a carpenter, and twenty years later, now the owner of a Texas-based remodeling/new-construction firm, she still considers carpentry her art. She serves as a board member for the Austin chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, and has also served as the chair for the Women in Remodeling committee. Her impressive accomplishments do not end at the professional level: in her free time, Jackson volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.
  5. Alexandra Whiteside, the "Lady Contractor" and owner of Chelsea Custom Contracting. A twenty-seven year veteran of the construction industry, Whiteside is a Class A Virginia building contractor and professional interior designer who has owned and operated her design-build firm since 1999. She writes the popular Lady Contractor's blog and provides remodeling information on her Chelsea Design-Build Services Facebook page.
  6. Amy Matthews, licensed contractor, HGTV and DIY Network host. Matthews spent her teen years volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, the organization that builds homes for families in need, and that's where she first became passionate about residential remodeling. She was able to combine her college training in dramatics with her career in home improvement and now hosts five shows for two networks.
  7. Dawn Steimer Robison, CEO of Master Custom Home Remodeling and Master Home Medic. Robison was an optician who became a licensed remodeling contractor after chaperoning a high school group that was doing repairs to help an elderly couple. Now, in addition to owning the custom remodeling firm and home improvement companies in Knoxville, Tenn., she has a local radio show every Saturday: "Around the House."
  8. Kit Stansley, licensed contractor and "DIYdiva" blogger. Stansley holds a full-time corporate job but became addicted to DIY remodeling and renovation when she bought her first house a decade ago. Three houses later her humorous blog, which features her DIY projects and penchant for power tools, helps keep her motivated while entertaining and inspiring her readers. In 2011 she added the credential of licensed Michigan contractor to her tool belt.
  9. Kayleen McCabe, licensed contractor and host of DIY Network's Rescue Renovation. McCabe loves a challenge, and she finds plenty of them on this show where DIYers in trouble with their projects turn to her for help. What could be most contractors' nightmare scenarios becomes her moment to shine when she turns the project around.
  10. Sandra Powell, DIY remodeler, carpenter, and "Sawdust Girl" blogger. Powell is the only remodeler on the list who is not a licensed contractor, but she trained to be an interior designer and found she enjoyed building what she designed. She's been at it for 12 years and has remodeled five of the homes she's lived in. Her "Sawdust Girl" blog features project portfolios, house tours of her renovated homes, and videos of her doing some of her projects.

If you're a woman with the same passion these women have for building or construction, they've blazed the trail. You don't have to host your own TV show or start a blog -- but if you want to, don't let anyone stop you.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.