By now, you probably know that it’s day three of Women in Construction (WIC) week. But did you know that this is the 61st annual WIC week? It’s true. The inaugural WIC week dates back to 1960 in Amarillo, Texas, which was a mere seven years after the Women in Construction organization was founded in Fort Worth. In 1953, 16 women got together to start the organization, seeking a support network. Today, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) includes 120 chapters and more than 4,000 members. While the supportive element remains strong, the organization has shifted its focus to include raising awareness for the inclusion and influence of women in the industry.
Even though women represent only about 9% of the construction industry’s workforce, women have come a long way in the past 68 years. At the time the NAWIC was founded, opportunities for women were limited. The 16 inaugural members were primarily secretaries and office personnel, which are valuable roles in any business, but were pretty much the only roles available to women at the time. These days, however, women can be seen across the industry, from engineering and equipment operation to sales and leadership roles.
In honor of this important week, we wanted to hear first-hand what it’s like to be a WIC. We sat down with one of our favorite women, Kim Myers, an owner of Ironpeddlers, a $27 million parts and equipment company with locations throughout the Southeast. Kim oversees the company’s operations, accounting, HR, and parts sales and branches. It’s a role she loves, but one that she never expected to find herself in. As we talked to Kim about her career, it became clear that while her path wasn’t traditional, it might seem somewhat normal to other women in the industry.
The Casual Career Path
Many women in construction don’t start out with the industry in mind. Certainly, Kim Myers didn’t set out to run a construction equipment business. Her exposure to the industry, however, was unavoidable, extensive and overwhelmingly positive. Ironpeddlers was founded by her father and two other men in 1974 when Kim was a kid. In her teens, she worked part-time for the company. When the time came to think about her future, she chose to study Psychology at UNC with plans to attend law school. After graduation, she came home for a break. She began filling in at Ironpeddlers again, delivering and picking up parts.
Quickly, a pattern emerged. Whenever someone left, Kim would jump in, learn their role and fill it. Even though her father was the managing owner of the company, Kim recalls that she never really got promoted. She simply saw opportunities and took them. One thing led to another and, 31 years later, she’s still there. Looking back, she has zero regrets. “There was always a need, always an opportunity to learn something new and to grow.”
Attitude and Aptitude
Construction is a male-dominated industry and although it’s evolving, the male influence is still significant. For Kim, this is simply a fact. She’s neither offended nor hindered by being in the minority. Like so many individuals who find themselves in the minority, Kim has learned to adapt to her environment, finding it easier to change the environment through influence rather than by resistance.
She’s careful to be direct, responsive, assertive and fair in her role, balancing strength with compassion. Likewise, she points out that there’s no shortcut or substitute for knowing your “stuff,” so she’s been patient with her expectations for respect. “Listening and learning are part of the job, no matter what role you’re in,” says Kim. But it also helps to know when to step back from a conversation, and when thick skin comes in handy. “This isn’t what I’d call a progressive, politically correct industry, so it’s not a place I’d recommend for anyone who’s easily offended.”
When asked about her fellow women in construction, Kim beams and lists over a dozen names quickly and fondly. The nice thing about being in the minority is the support and fellowship. “Women identify with each other,” she says. “They really connect and look out for one another.” Because of this, industry events are a big draw for women. While work travel can be tricky as a woman, it’s also a chance to meet other women, and those connections are almost always positive. “I don’t know another industry like that.”
So Much Opportunity
When asked what the future looks like for WIC, Kim quickly pivots to education, citing a need for educational institutions to do more to encourage careers in construction. “We make the country grow. We need more investment in building careers.” In particular, she cites the technicians in the equipment industry as a pivotal role, one without enough qualified candidates. “This is an easy gap for women to fill. Salaries are rising and continuing to go up.” Kim points out that it’s a perfect career for anyone who wants to avoid college debt, as many technical schools offer work exchanges.
In an industry that has long been homogenous, the presence of women is simply the first step towards a more inclusive field. This is only good news for the industry notes Kim. “Women are more flexible and open to change, and our industry needs those qualities to evolve.” She adds that she’s always looking for young women to mentor and experienced colleagues to connect with. “We’re all learning together. If you’ve got the right personality, it’s a great time to be a woman in construction.”
So Much to Celebrate
To all the Women in Construction, SANY America would like to extend our thanks for your commitment and your positive influence. To celebrate you and to honor the role you play in our industry, SANY America is giving away 40 customized Tervis Tumblers. Want to win one? Click on the link below to register. While you’re at it, if you’re a woman in construction, and you work with SANY equipment, tag us on social media @sanyamerica and the hashtag #WIC all year-long.