12 Women Who Are Changing the Home Improvement Industry
These women are building better futures in the construction trades—and creating opportunities for others to follow.
Brilliant and powerful female role models are all around us in all industries, including the trades. It’s becoming more common—though not common enough—to find women leading industries that were traditionally considered boys’ clubs.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting female leaders in the construction and home improvement industries. From business owners to mentors and inventors, these 12 women are making positive impacts on the way trade industries operate.
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Construction expert Rita Brown started off working at her father’s construction company, then moved on to co-own Detroit Drafting, which closed during the 2008 recession. With decades of experience in the industry, the mother of five launched her own commercial construction company, Brown Construction Collective (BCC+), where she serves as president and CEO.
Brown is an advocate for women in construction and has won several awards for her work, including a Founder’s Trophy from the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). She also created a nonprofit program called Project: Accelerate!, which she was invited to discuss at the White House in 2017. The program teaches women about the construction industry and leadership.
Sustainable practices in the construction industry are becoming increasingly important, and that’s where Theresa Lehman comes in. Her career has been dedicated to sustainability, and her current role as the director of sustainable services for Miron Construction is to educate and bring sustainability to the company’s construction projects. Lehman works on projects to bring them up to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.
Outside of her employment, Lehman is an advocate for sustainability measures and standards in construction. In 2012, she was honored as the world’s youngest LEED Fellow—a prestigious professional designation.
If you’ve heard of or used Geobond, you can thank Patricia Billings. Billings invented this heat-resistant adhesive as a durable alternative to asbestos. Geobond was a revolutionary invention, having been the world’s first alternative to carcinogenic asbestos.
Billings is a woman with many inventions under her belt. She’s also responsible for plenty of other building patents, including ones for roof tiles and fire-resistant building panels.
Mary Katherine Harbin
Mary Katherine Harbin works as an area manager and equal employment opportunity officer for Maymead Inc. A nationally recognized speaker on workforce development, Harbin is known for establishing America’s first all-female paving crew in 2018. She has run advertisements to create job opportunities for women in her industry and held female-only training sessions to make job applicants feel less intimidated.
After her team “earned their stripes” on existing equipment, they received new Caterpillar paving equipment, which they proudly painted with a pink racing stripe, shattering stereotypes on what it takes to be successful in the industry.
Natalie Leonard is Canada’s first Certified Passive House Consultant and Certified Passive House Builder. Her business, Passive Design Solutions, was founded in 2009, and she runs it out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. As a founding partner and company leader, Leonard’s mission is to create sustainable homes that are affordable for everyone.
Passive houses are a voluntary standard for energy efficiency, and the construction of these types of buildings reduces the structure’s ecological footprint. As of 2020, Passive Design Solutions had worked on 110 passive houses.
Jennifer Todd is a woman focused on building opportunities for others and encouraging their development. Todd serves as LMS General Contractors’ founder and president, and she leads the strategic growth of the company. She is also the youngest Black woman to receive a California CSLB General Engineering (A) license.
Recognized by national publications and organizations for her work in the industry, Todd is also an advocate for environmental issues and minority job development. In 2009, Todd created A Greener Tomorrow, an apprenticeship training program that helps advance unemployed and underemployed people of color, who are underrepresented in construction.
Carol Moen is president and CEO at Women Building Futures, a nonprofit based in Edmonton, Alberta. The organization helps women achieve economic prosperity through trades training and mentorship, providing pathways to stable employment while being mentored by women in the industry.
Moen previously worked at DOW Chemical for 25 years after graduating with an engineering degree. Throughout a career, in which many of her roles were previously filled by men, Moen has strived to leverage her experience to help other women in the industry.
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Kate Day, Kyle Marie Begley, and Sara DeLuca
Workers require clothing and protective equipment when completing construction and home improvement projects. Unfortunately, until a few years ago, it ranged from difficult to impossible to find appropriately fitting clothing for women to wear on construction sites. Kate Day, Kyle Marie Begley, and Sara DeLuca are changing that.
These three women founded Dovetail Workwear, a utility clothing company made by women, for women. The construction of Dovetail garments keeps women in mind, offering practical designs, proper fit, and a diverse selection of sizes and options.
Dovetail Workwear also partners with Oregon Tradeswomen, NEW, SkillsUSA, Girls Build, and other organizations to give support, training, and mentoring to women entering historically male-dominated professions.
Kathleen Culhane helps other women find a career in the trades. She has been the president of Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) since November 2014. NEW prepares women for careers in construction, transportation, facilities maintenance, and more by providing a direct route from the classroom to employment. Culhane leads the organization and is instrumental in creating innovative programs for women.
Culhane is also board chair of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, past co-chair for the New York Building Congress Council of Industry Women, and a member of the Human Services Council of New York’s Priority and Strategy Council.
Meirav Oren has a family background in construction, and she left a job at Intel to bootstrap a construction technology startup. In 2016, she cofounded Versatile, a leading Israeli construction technology company. She is also the company’s CEO.
Versatile transforms any site into a data-collecting field, giving the company a detailed analysis on a project’s status while helping aid in onsite safety. With real-time insights, construction managers can make informed decisions faster without interrupting a project’s workflow. Versatile’s first project, called CraneView, turns a construction crane into a “control tower.” It launched in North America in March 2020.