WOMEN IN BUILDING
What comes to mind when you think of a builder?
The answer might have once been the traditional stereotype: a male construction worker wearing a hard hat, a bright vest and a toolbelt filled with supplies. But long gone are the days where this is a universal truth — women in building are proving their mettle in every niche of the industry, from construction and plumbing to development, contracting and design.
In this special series, we highlight six women who are proving to be trailblazers in their respective fields, and who serve as inspiration to women of all backgrounds and professions.
Jodie Fink Luther
Vice President of Builder Sales
Southland Plumbing, Lighting, Appliances and Generators
Born and raised in the Greater New Orleans area, Jodie Fink Luther grew up admiring her father and mentor, who worked in the plumbing industry. Over the course of her life, her career took numerous twists — including a stint as a schoolteacher, before Luther ultimately joined Southland Plumbing, Lighting, Appliances and Generators 11 years ago. Now, she serves as the Vice President of Builder Sales.
As a woman in the industry, she says “it took years” to break the stereotypes and prove that she was as knowledgeable as her male counterparts. “It was initially a good old boys club,” she recalls. “Now, it’s not as much of a challenge.”
She has certainly proven herself: She currently oversees the residential showroom and grows the builder business and market shares. Southland was always a plumbing company, but Luther started the lighting and appliance division and has overseen tremendous growth in those areas. “We are now one of the larger appliance and plumbing supply houses, and one of the largest appliance stores as well,” she says.
Ultimately, Luther — who also is a mother of four children — says, “I love what I’m doing and I love closing sales and helping my customers out. I love that they feel comfortable calling me. All my clients know they can call me anytime, day or night.” Above all, she says she strives to “be passionate and honest” through her work.
Baum Environmental Group
An outdoor enthusiast, Diane T. Baum realized she could merge her passions for environmentalism and construction. She founded Baum Environmental Group, Inc. in 1995 after working at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, where she realized the need for an environmental consultant within the commercial and residential construction industries. The company is a full-service consulting and contracting firm that specializes in stormwater and sanitary permitting, while also providing ongoing compliance requirements throughout South Louisiana. The company also works in risk management: EnviroScore is their innovative product that provides a score based on business or location to predict environmental risk. Like a credit score, it is a predictor of potential risks and is used in a variety of industries and applications. The EnviroScore ranks sites from 0-100 (100 being excellent) to make it easy-to-understand and provide practical ways to manage risks.
Mentored by her father and husband, Baum says she strives to make a huge impact on the environment. “We need more women in construction,” she says.
“Just prove you can do it and don’t quit,” she advises to women in the industry who are facing challenges based on gender.
Baum loves what she does. It’s fulfilling “being my own boss and making money at it,” she notes
Sensa Design LLC
Andrea Mejia began her career working as an industrial designer, but after moving to the United States from Colombia, she was inspired to switch directions, career-wise as well. She now serves as owner and designer of Sensa Design, LLC, specializing in custom design and installation of kitchen and bath cabinets and countertops.
“In the Hispanic culture, we use cooking as a way to show our love and appreciation for others. I have found comfort in southern Louisiana because of this similarity in our cultures,” she notes. “We love to entertain here and want our homes to feel inviting. I take pride in designing kitchens that are welcoming and a reflection of your own personal style and needs.”
Mejia says that “bringing a new idea to life is the most rewarding aspect” of her work. During the creative process, she explains, “I feel most inspired when I have a new idea and the vision to create it.” By working through this process, she designs and listens to her clients. “It’s important to maintain an openness and flexibility,” she says. “It can lead to new discoveries and achieve great results.” In the future, she hopes to see Sensa Design become the “No. 1 kitchen and bath design company in South Louisiana,” she says.
Yolanda Prado McKendall
Interior Decorator and Stager
McKendall Construction Company
Even at a young age, Yolanda Prado McKendall enjoyed exploring colors, textures and sketching. “The discovery of creating a masterpiece by transforming spaces really appealed to me,” she says. “I decided to make this a career choice.”
Mentored by her husband — who also works in the home building industry — and daughters, McKendall is an interior decorator and stager for her own company. “My husband and I work together by feeding off each other,” she says. “We enjoy exploring ideas and traveling around the world to bring new innovation into homes.” Her daughters also bring home the latest home industry styles, she says, and help her stay on top of trends for a younger crowd of homeowners. She also hopes to help younger people learn how to decorate on a budget.
McKendall encourages clients to think outside the box and explore different styles.
“I enjoy exploring new ideas, colors and architectural design. Sharing these ideas are not always as equally accepted. I have learned to push forward and encourage embracing change,” she says.
Her message to women entering this profession is, “Continue to press forward, dream and inspire others.”
HMB Contracting, LLC
A self-described “workaholic,” Hope Duplechain wears many hats as the owner of HMD Contracting, LLC.
“I always wanted to be a developer, but I figured I should learn about real estate and buildings, so in my quest to learn more, I have been a real estate agent, an appraiser and now a contractor,” she notes.
One aspect that she finds the most rewarding is seeing something grow from nothing, including “seeing an old building be reborn with a new purpose.” She also said that she enjoys helping other people build skills that can lead them to new opportunities and higher-paying jobs.
Some of Duplechain’s goals are to increase bidding and working on books. She would also like to become a developer and is considering returning to school to learn more about that field. Additionally, she wants to give back to the community: “I’d love to do some affordable housing and transitional housing projects for the homeless.”
For young women who are considering going into the building business, Duplechain offers this wisdom: “Learn as much as you can. There are a lot of things to learn out here, and it can be overwhelming. But try to find one or two things to specialize in, and then once you are comfortable with that, you can learn something else. Be persistent and have a tough skin. People won’t always be holding open the door for you — sometimes you’ll have to knock it down.”
Lynda Nugent Smith
Risk Management Broker/Manager
Keller Williams Realty & Gabriel Properties
Lynda Nugent Smith has been involved with building and realty for more than 40 years. She says seeing an idea, floor plan or land development become a reality is one of the most rewarding aspects of her profession. “The negotiation — bringing two parties together to a successful conclusion — gives me great satisfaction,” she says. “The financial reward just comes along with the thrill of the deal and a job well-done.”
Over the course of her illustrious career, she notes that technology has altered the way everyone does business. “No matter your specialty, interaction with people has changed, so focus on how others like to communicate — not what you prefer.”
For women entering the brokerage profession, she encourages them to “be serious about yourself and your business. Focus and prioritize. Learn all that you can from the best in your business and play to your strengths. If you don’t love it, don’t do it.”
Some of Smith’s goals include becoming more involved with the community and using her lifelong contacts and reputation to the best benefit of people and organizations she cares about. She muses, “What’s the point of having so many great life experiences if you don’t share what you’ve learned with others?”