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Wonder Women

Three women who excel at the family business

Women Who Wow

In 2015, the number of women working in construction was only 1.3 percent of the entire U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of Dec. 31, 2016, BLS counted approximately 939,000 women working within the various sectors of the construction industry, out of a total of 10,328,000 workers in construction. And that number has gone down significantly from a high of 1,131,000 women in 2006.

While working in construction is historically considered a man’s job, we talked to three women who are all working and making a living in construction. After getting their starts outside of the industry, each of the women has gone on to join the family business, where they don’t let gender hinder their success.

Monica Murphy, MBA, RRO, director of operations at Ray Nolan Roofing Co., Louisville, Ky. 

Monica Murphy, MBA, RRO, is the director of operations at Ray Nolan Roofing Co., Louisville, Ky. The family-owned company was started by her great uncle over 50 years ago, and her father is currently president. Murphy has been involved in the business for more than seven years, but prior to joining Nolan Roofing, she worked a corporate job in real estate development. “That’s really where I became excited about the industry, but knew the corporate world wasn’t for me,” she says. “Once I completed my MBA, I began meeting with my parents about making the switch to the family business. We took several months to develop a business plan that involved me transitioning into the company. We had a lot of tough conversations up front so when I finally did come onboard we were all on the same page.”

Sherri Miles, president of Miles Roofing Inc. and vice president of J.D. Miles & Sons Inc., Chesapeake, Va.

Sherri Miles is president of Miles Roofing Inc. and vice president of J.D. Miles & Sons Inc. in Chesapeake, Va. Miles began working in the roofing industry when she was in high school, working for her grandfather and father in the office, answering the phones, filing, writing accounts receivable and payables by hand, and just helping around the office. After graduating from Georgetown with a degree in American studies and theology, Miles worked for a law firm in Washington, D.C. for a few years. “When my grandfather became ill, my dad suggested I come home and work at the company and help my grandmother for awhile until I figured out my next career move,” she says. “I haven’t looked back since!”

Grace McGregor, director of strategy and operations at McGregor Industries, Dunmore, Pa.

Grace McGregor is the director of strategy and operations atMcGregor Industries, a national steel manufacturer specializing in stair systems based in Dunmore, Pa. McGregor joined her family’s business five years ago, but likes to say that she really started 30 years ago, when she was born. “The business was started by my great grandfather in 1919,” she explains. “My father’s been in the business since he graduated from college, so I grew up really learning and hearing about the business constantly, at the kitchen table, at the dinner table, and everywhere in between. So it has been a huge part of my life, and it was something that I always knew that I wanted to do.”

After graduating from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance and operations, McGregor says her parents encouraged her to work outside of the industry. So before joining the family business, she worked for two major retail companies in the Midwest and New York. “It’s interesting,” McGregor says, “a lot of what I learned working at a bigger company, and then a mid-size company, I can apply to our small business. And even though it was in a different industry, there are so many different things, from an organizational perspective, as well as an operational perspective, that I apply to my work on a daily basis.”

Barriers are meant to be broken. The fact that it is a historically male-dominated field should not deter anyone from pursuing their dreams. I have worked with so many smart, passionate women in this industry and I look forward to working with more!

Monica Murphy

Proving Themselves

Growing up in and around the construction industry and family business does not guarantee an easy path to success. Each of the women has had to pave her own way, while facing her own challenges both on the job site and in the meeting rooms. And it’s these challenges that have made them stronger and better equipped to handle the challenges of being involved in a family business and the construction industry.

“Since I didn’t grow up working in roofing like most of my coworkers, I found that I have had to work a lot harder to get my knowledge base up to par,” Murphy explains. “When I first came onboard, I spent several days each week riding to job sites with our superintendents. That was a great way for me to not only get to know the field crew, but also see firsthand the hard work that they put in day-in and day-out.”

“When I first started, I tended to question myself a lot,” Murphy adds. “The reality was that  although I didn’t have the field experience of my coworkers, I did bring a unique and fresh perspective that has helped move us forward. I just had to believe in it.”

Often being the only woman on the job site or in a meeting was often challenging for Miles. “Most of the time the men on the job sites are cordial, and most of the time the comments they say aren’t meant to be harmful, but even the seemingly innocuous comment day-in and day-out can wear one down,” she explains. “‘Are you going to go on the roof dressed like that?’ ‘The roof hatch is through the men’s locker room, you won’t be able to come up with us.’ ‘Want me to take pictures and notes for you since I know you aren’t going up on the roof with us.’ Yes, I’m going on the roof dressed just how I am dressed. Yes, I’m going through the men’s locker room to get to the roof hatch. Yes, I’m going on the roof and I can take my own notes and pictures.

“While in the beginning of my career I would get indignant and angry about being singled out, as I’ve grown more confident professionally, I find it is easier to handle these situations with more humor and grace. I would hope that the men and women I work around see me as an example that women can do this job just as well as men.”

While being a woman in construction can be challenging, McGregor notes that at its core, construction is a technical business. “The proof is in how you are able to discuss technical and complex issues,” she says. “So, woman or not, if you are able to prove that you have a really comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand, whether it’s the weld detail on a railing or the erection plan of a stair, if you can discuss those things, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman.”

However, McGregor adds that she has found being a young woman has worked to her advantage. “A lot of times I go into a room with people who are a lot older than me,” she explains. “They may not know what to expect from me, and they underestimate me. Because I have been able to build a certain knowledge base and technical expertise in our business, it really has been to my advantage.”

Construction is a tremendous industry for women because if you prove yourself, and prove that you’re competent, you have a seat at the table. You stand out, and you’re really able to deliver. It’s a great industry for women, and an industry that I’m so thrilled to be a part of.

Grace McGregor

More Than a Job

In addition to working hard at the family businesses, the women are involved in industry associations and are working for their communities. Participating in different organizations at local, state and national levels gives each a sense of purpose and achievement outside of work, and the ability to give back to the communities in which they live.

One of the most important things Miles says her father instilled upon her is to be connected to the industry and the community. She has been involved on the state level with the Virginia Association of Roofing Professionals, and was president in 1998. She is also currently a board member of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).

“I have met the most amazing people, worked on committees that develop policy, education and help push for legislation,” Miles says. “In my community I’m heavily involved with diverse groups: Children’s Hospital of Kings Daughters, The Virginia Aquarium, Junior Achievement, and the Builder’s and Contractors exchange. Each group helps make our area a better place, and being surrounded by smart people in different fields of expertise is key to civic engagement.”

Murphy recently finished serving her second term as president of the Kentucky Roofing Contractors Association (KRCA), and is now serving as chairman of the board. In June, she will begin a two-year term on the board of directors for the NRCA.

McGregor was recently named one of Northeast Pennsylvania’s Top 25 Women in Business, and was appointed by the governor to the Pennsylvania Commission for Women. McGregor is also involved in a variety of causes and organizations, in addition to being president of her high school’s alumni board. She also remains involved in Wharton Women, a student organization she was president of while in college. “I still partner with them and help women in college with information and perspectives with being a woman in the workforce, specifically construction,” she explains. "There aren't many people who are interested in going into construction from my alma mater, but for those who are, I am available for help and questions.”

Be thankful. Be excited. Be ready. When others say no, say yes. Take the opportunities given to you; find ones that aren’t. Believe in yourself and others will too.

Sherri Miles

Advice for the Next Generation

In the era of the #MeToo movement and standing up for what’s right, it’s not as unusual to see women in and around a job site. Women in all industries are smashing the glass ceilings that used to exist, and are doing their jobs just as well, if not better, than the men who were there before. And these women are no different as they pave the way for those who follow in the construction industry.

“I think we are at a critical, pivotal time in history,” Miles says. “Women are using our voices and are being heard. It is time to be treated equally and fairly and shatter preconceptions on the limits of our abilities. I am thankful. I am excited. I am ready.”

“Construction is a tremendous industry for women,” McGregor says, “because if you prove yourself, and prove that you’re competent, you have a seat at the table. You stand out, and you’re really able to deliver. It’s a great industry for women, and an industry that I’m so thrilled to be a part of.”

“Barriers are meant to be broken,” Murphy adds. “The fact that it is a historically male-dominated field should not deter anyone from pursuing their dreams. I have worked with so many smart, passionate women in this industry and I look forward to working with more!”

“Be thankful. Be excited. Be ready,” Miles advises. “When others say no, say yes. Take the opportunities given to you; find ones that aren’t. Believe in yourself and others will too.”