Darlene Gayler, Vice President of Gayler Construction, knows what it’s like to work in an industry where women are few and far between. In the U.S., less than 10% of the construction workforce is female.
The good news is that hiring in the construction industry is at its highest level since 2009, and Darlene sees this as a great time to get more women interested and informed about working in construction, particularly in management and ownership roles.
Darlene will share her thoughts and experience on running a construction company during a panel discussion on non-traditional careers for women being held by the Contra Costa Commission for Women on Saturday, June 7 in Pleasant Hill. You can learn more about the event and register to attend here.
Darlene joined Gayler Construction in 2000 after transitioning from working as an RN to medical equipment sales rep and finally owning a sales and marketing firm. When she partnered with her husband George at Gayler Construction, she immediately began introducing systems that have made the business more efficient, customer-service friendly, and profitable.
“I think that a lot of the attributes that many women possess make them ideal for management roles in construction,” says Darlene. “Women tend to be organized, oriented toward helping people and good at follow through. Many of these characteristics are lacking in the construction industry in general, which gives us a bad reputation overall.” She also points out in that the vast majority of the home remodeling projects managed by Gayler Construction, the woman of the house is often the one spearheading the remodel and handling the decision–making. Darlene has found that these female homeowners are quite happy to be dealing with another woman on the job.
Darlene highlights the many benefits that construction jobs can offer women. One of the most compelling is the pay scale, particularly in the trades such as electrician, plumber or cost estimator. Schedule is also important. When she worked as a hospital RN, Darlene spent many weekends and holidays on the job, which impacted the time she was able to spend with her son. Most construction projects are scheduled on weekdays, which can be beneficial for women who are juggling family responsibilities.
For women interested in construction, Darlene points out that there are a number of resources available today to help them. Organizations like Remodelers Advantage, which is owned and operated by a woman, and the National Association of Home Builders, provide educational, networking and other opportunities specifically for women. Trade schools and university construction management programs are also gearing more programs and outreach to women. Earlier this spring, CSU Sacramento held a forum on Women in Construction, and more than 80 firms were represented at the job fair looking for prospective interns and employees.
Darlene’s recommendation for women wanting to get into the industry is to focus on learning how to run a business. She explains that many business owners in construction started as carpenters, then became contractors and then went on to launch their own businesses. In this regard, they may know the building side of things, but they don’t necessarily understand what it means to run a successful business. “I think that if you want to start a business, knowing what’s involved on that end is critical,” she says. “You can hire always tradespeople, including other women.”
Darlene found inspiration for her own construction career trajectory in Iris Harrell, who more than 25 years ago started a remodeling business in San Jose, Harrell Remodeling. “She faced unbelievable challenges at the time,” says Darlene. “She was one of the few women in construction. She was actually building fences and decided to go out on her own and start a company.” Today, Harrell Remodeling is one of the most successful remodeling companies in the nation, and has created an employee stock ownership plan that makes many of the staff working owners in the company.
Darlene believes that the current climate for women in construction and other non-traditional careers will continue to evolve as perceptions about gender and roles change in society. The Contra Costa Commission for Women event is likely to draw women and men of all ages who will be instrumental in creating change in the workplace to the point that gender will no longer be a determining factor in the type of career that anyone may choose to pursue.