TRAVERSE CITY — Windemuller Electric employs about 200 people in Michigan.
Of those 200, about 150 work in the field in a variety of positions.
Of those 150, three are women.
Windemuller Project Manager Jessica Novack said those three women were on a job recently walking alongside a female contractor when someone asked them what they were doing on a construction site.
Numbers and incidents like this are the reason Windemuller Electric is hosting “Building Up Women: Demolishing the Construction Industry’s Glass Ceiling” on March 4 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. The free virtual event precedes National Women in Construction Week, set for March 7-13.
“If you look at the industry as a whole, most of the companies are run by men, not women,” said Novack, the only female project manager Windemuller Electric has had. “We want to bring a light to getting more women to the executive tables.
“Our opinions are different and our views are different. We have a different perspective on how to run a business.”
Windemuller Electric’s three main offices are in Traverse City, Wayland and Midland. Two of the females who work in the field are based in Midland, while Makenzi O’Rourke joins project manager Novack in the Traverse City office.
Novack said O’Rourke is an apprentice at Windemuller. The conference is a way to shine a spotlight on the lack of females in the construction trade.
“Those are the struggles that we deal with,” Novack said. “As leaders, how can we pave the way for the next generation of women coming into the industry and show leaders in these executive positions that we belong at the same table as they are.”
Novack, one of the key organizers of the virtual conference, was quick to point out that the conference is not just for women — despite the title.
“It’s really a diversity thing,” she said. “Any minority sees this same thing as well. Bringing a light to all of it is our goal.”
Novack said the construction industry is in need of people period.
She said there are incentive programs to draw more workers into the industry. Novack said a lot of these positions are a great way to enter the work force with little or no post-secondary debt.
“Absolutely,” Novack said. “Every contractor in northern Michigan is looking to hire people. A lot of companies, ours included, help pay for apprenticeships.”
“There’s a large need in the industry,” added Marika BeVier, who handles marketing and strategy for Windemuller.
This is the second year for the Building Up Women event. Three separate events in Traverse City, Midland and Grand Rapids last year drew nearly 300 people.
The Traverse City event on March 5, 2020 drew 100 people to the Little Fleet.
“It did very well,” Novack said. “If we were able to meet together (this year) we would have needed a larger venue. The venue was great; it was fantastic. It was just a little too small.”
“We were blown away by the response,” BeVier said. “There is such an appetite for this, not only with women, but also men.”
One of those attending the inaugural event in Traverse City was Glenna Wood, project manager at Gosling Czubak.
Novack said Gosling Czubak was one of the “eight to 10 local partners” for the 2020 event. She said the local partners and several others in the state provided a lot of input for the 2021 event.
“I was impressed, but wanted to see it go to the next step,” Wood said.
“You get a different perspective from different groups,” Novack said. “We had so much food feedback and people that wanted to step up with that.”
Wood added that it’s important the 2021 event not just talk about obstacles to women and minorities in construction.
“It’s just complaining then,” Wood said. “We need to have some sound, tactical solutions people can implement within their own companies.”
The 2021 “Building Up Women” event includes three panelists: Rachel Austin of EV Construction, Steve Huizinga of Allied Mechanical Services, and Kathy Warren of the Greater Michigan Construction Academy. Moderator is Jen Schottke of Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter.
According to a release on the event, the panelists will share personal stories from the field, including the hurdles and achievements they’ve encountered while developing a diverse workforce.
A small-group breakout session will follow the panel presentation with a “discussion focused on how to overcome obstacles many women face in the construction industry.” Participants also will receive “resources and key takeaways which can be used to spread awareness about current challenges to peers and colleagues and bring to light current and future opportunities.”
“We’re excited about it,” Wood said. “Of course, it will be different this year.”
“It was little more casual last year,” BeVier added. “This year there’s a little more meat to it.”