Still Leveling the Ground
Local women in the construction industry share their experiences with being in the minority.
Among the fields that have made some great strides in lessening the divide of gender inequality in the workplace is the typically male-dominated construction industry.
Rebecca Cooley, vice president of manufactured interior construction at AOS Interior Environments, graduated with a degree in interior design from Louisiana State University in 2007.
“I took the natural path of working for architecture and design firms,” she said. “Through project experience, I gravitated towards the collaboration and execution part of the process.”
Seeking a change and a chance for growth and improvement, Cooley decided to switch gears and shifted her career focus to align with her passion and strengths.
“Manufactured construction through a design-assist role checked all of the boxes for me,” she said. “The fast pace, hands-on, problem-solving work challenged, yet invigorated me.”
Cooley gives the credit of her success to her parents, who she said encouraged her to always be an advocate for herself.
“Entering the workforce, I was competing against everyone, regardless of gender, and more importantly competing against my former self,” she said. “The industry we are a part of is a challenging culture. Projects require collaboration from multiple stakeholders, consultants and professionals. In order to succeed, transparency, respect and efficiency is key.”
That being said, Cooley admits that there is still an ongoing battle against stereotypes and misconceptions.
“Has my construction knowledge been underestimated because I am in a dress and heels? Absolutely,” she said. “But each time is a wonderful opportunity to educate that individual on a new streamlined way to build better.”
Katie J. Peralta, president and owner of Triton Stone Group, said her foray into the construction industry began during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“My family and I started Triton Stone Group in August 2006,” Peralta said. “We wanted to get into a business that would contribute to the rebuilding of the city. We knew that so many houses had been destroyed and would need new countertops, so we opened Triton Stone with the hope of helping everyone in the city rebuild.”
On the day Triton Stone opened for business, Peralta hopped on a forklift to unload a container of stone that had arrived — she hasn’t slowed down since.
“As a woman in the construction industry, or for me, the stone industry, there were definitely challenges, but none insurmountable,” she said. “I think it is harder to create relationships with some customers, as they can relate better with male counterparts. However, if you can show them that you can provide a good product and the right price and do what you say you are going to do, you can earn anyone’s respect and business.”
Peralta believes that women bring a fresh perspective as they are able to offer solutions in a different manner.
“I like to understand the problem and figure out how we can solve it,” she said. “I think the industry is very open to female entrepreneurs and females working in the construction industry. I do not feel that there is more or less support for women.”
Anne Teague Landis, CEO of Landis Construction Co., is also part of a family business in which her first job in construction was as a file clerk.
“I have had instances of working for the company since I was 12,” she said. “I decided to pursue construction as my career and returned to Landis Construction in 2008. That decision was made because I really love the work, the opportunity to work with my dad and a desire to be back in New Orleans.”
Landis said she feels lucky that she did not face challenges entering the construction field as a woman, adding that the idea of the industry being challenging for a woman didn’t even occur to her.
“I believe that comes from the benefits of a family business, and especially one that has had strong woman leadership since the 1970s,” she said. “If anything, I face more challenges now in my CEO role because there are so few of us in the industry.”
Landis said that one of the most significant changes in the industry is the reduction in cat-calling by construction workers.
“That is uncomfortable for all women, but maybe especially for those in the industry, whether or not they are the target of the cat-calling,” she said.
Another area of the business that needs to change is the openness for networking and enterprising opportunities.
“Construction can still be a good-ol’-boys network,” Landis said, “which results in the shutting out of women — that needs to change.”
Recent Landis projects have included the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center’s Linear Park and the third phase for the Iberville Housing Redevelopment, now known as Bienville Basin. The company is also involved with the development of The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience at 818 Howard Avenue.
Amber Carrier, project manager at Woodward Design + Build, also has construction in her blood. Her family consists of an architect, residential contractor, a commercial contractor, framing and trim builders and a grandfather who used to flip houses.
“My first job in construction started early in life,” Carrier said. “My father would take me to work with him as a young girl during the summers and I would pick up scraps and sweep the sawdust. Sometimes I would ride around Baton Rouge with my grandfather to the different job sites and ‘supervise.’ As I got older, I would run trim, put hardware on, install stair treads, etc.”
After graduating from Louisiana State University, Carrier said she was at first intimidated about entering into the field of construction.
“You definitely have to have a backbone and not be scared to ask questions or stand your ground,” she said. “One of the challenges that I was faced with and still continue to deal with today is the double standard. I have run across some men in this field that do not think women should be in construction.”
Carrier said she has seen changes in the industry since she got her start 11 years ago, but still feels that there’s a stigma attached to women in construction and that the pay gap needs to be addressed.
“The persona of women in construction needs to change,” she said. “I think that it is starting to come around, but there is still a lot of work to be done. I had a couple of people doubt me in the beginning of my career, and through hard work and determination, I feel that I have definitely proven them wrong.”
In Their Own Words
What Drives You?
“What drives me are projects that really bring good things to our community. Also, when our teams are really clicking internally and externally, and killing it on a project – that’s fun.” Anne Teague Landis, CEO of Landis Construction Co.
“Bringing a disruptive technology to an industry that has been notoriously stagnant is what excites me everyday. We are revolutionizing a process that is over 100 years old.” Rebecca Cooley, vice president of manufactured interior construction at AOS Interior Environments
“My father told me a piece of advice when we opened Triton Stone. He said, ‘Act as if every day you are going out of business. I work hard so I can build a strong company that can take care of its employees and their families. That’s what keeps me going.” Katie Peralta, president and owner of Triton Stone Group
“My new mortgage! All jokes aside, I love building things. I love seeing a structure go from an idea, to paper, then to an actual building. My favorite thing to see is how excited a client gets when they are seeing their space transition before their eyes. It definitely gives this job a purpose at the end of the day.” Amber Carrier, project manager at Woodward Design + Build