Since March is Women’s History Month and we marked Women in Construction Week recently, it’s fitting we take time to celebrate some of the strides forward women have made in our industry and highlight talented Durango area women in construction.
According to Digital Builder, a construction blog, there has been a near 100% increase in women-owned construction firms in about the last decade. And, notes the blog, businesses that emphasize gender diversity tend to be more profitable than male-dominated companies. When it comes to pay, the gender gap is narrower than in other fields.
These days, industry experts acknowledge that women have the abilities, notably a collaborative style, to become leaders in construction. Clearly, women are expanding their impact on the field.
Local Industry Leaders
There are many outstanding women in building and design in the Four Corners area. Here are just a few.
Leigha Natzke is the current HBASC board president. Owner of Aspen Design Studio, a firm focused on kitchens and baths, Leigha uses her talents and passion for design to bring her clients’ vision to life within their budget. She enjoys her leadership role with the HBASC and notes, “There are a lot more women in construction in Durango than people realize,” she says. One of Leigha’s goals is to “bring these hidden faces to light and encourage women in the industry.”
Also on the HBASC board is Lily Wissing, daughter of a third-generation carpenter who raised her with a hammer in her hand. She started out investing in run-down buildings, designing complete overhauls, and converting them to high end homes. Today she and her firm, Rule of Three, specialize in kitchen and bath designs for new builds and remodels in the Durango area.
Durango native Lisa Gates is the CFO for both Steve Gates Architect and E-Terra Construction, member organizations of the HBASC. Lisa is proud to say that 50% of SGA’s architectural staff are women. Lisa is active with educational outreach with local schools, and encourages young people (both girls and boys) to consider professions in architecture and/or construction. “There is currently a massive shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry. Young women should be encouraged to enter the industry to help alleviate this shortage.”
At Veritas Fine Homes, Natalie Springer fills a variety of roles. Her diverse background—including jobs in construction lending and flooring—enables her to assist clients in areas from financing to design. For Veritas, she works in client relations, marketing, budget estimation, permitting, finish selections and more. Natalie is a past board member of the HBASC and is involved with many other community organizations and activities as well.
Millie Winder is co-founder of the Durango location of Rock Solid Custom Granite, an HBASC member firm. Prior to moving to Durango, Millie created and maintained her own thriving business on the Front Range for over a decade. The assorted skills that she brought with her have helped to build the success and reputation of Rock Solid in the Southwest area over just a few short years. “Being in the construction industry has given me a greater respect for other women in the field. It has its challenges; but, it’s the challenges that make the accomplishments that much sweeter.”
Cheered on by her father, a bridge engineer, Andrea Noelle jumped into the design/build industry 33 years ago. In fact, her dad encouraged both Andrea and her sister to pursue careers in the industry, and today Andrea hopes other women will do the same. “Every project is different,” she says. The work is a perfect fit for a “creative brainiac.” Andrea also notes that there’s plenty of opportunity for growth, and the work is considered essential, too, so jobs stayed solid even in pandemic times. “I absolutely want women to think about joining the industry—it’s a great place to combine creativity with new challenges.” Andrea now serves as Senior Interior Designer and Showroom Manager at Silver Creek Designs, also a member of the HBASC, where she is known for her flair for creating rustic, mountain living ambience for her clients.
Visit our directory to see all HBASC member firms. As our board president says, there are more women involved in the building industry than you might think!
Young Builders in Durango and Bayfield
We are happy to see—and support—young women setting their sights on the building industry as a place to flourish after they complete school. The HBASC partners with Durango High School and Bayfield High School to offer the Trades in Training (TNT) program, providing hands-on building experience to students, male and female. After completing relevant courses, students are eligible to test for pre-apprentice certifications in preparation for jobs in the trades. HBASC members participate by working with students in the program and providing employment opportunities.
Both Shaun Smith, Career and Tech Education teacher at Durango High, and Curtis Gillespie, Industrial Arts teacher at Bayfield High, welcome young women into their programs. Sydney Riggenbach is a student working with “Coach Smith” atDurango High. She took his woodworking class as she was experimenting with electives during her freshman year, and both she and Shaun discovered she has natural talent. “You need spatial awareness,” Sydney says, “and you need to have the ability to think ahead.”
Sydney would like to see other girls try woodworking too. “I feel like there’s a lot of stereotyping going on, but it’s totally false. It’s not about strength, it’s about envisioning how a project will turn out and handling mistakes. If you’re good with your hands, you should try it.”
At this point Sydney is not sure what her future career will be, but she knows she wants to continue working with wood no matter what. “I enjoy making things with my own hands,” she says. “It’s satisfying to plan a project and complete it.”
The Next Generation in Ignacio
Another female standout in building in La Plata County is Molly Turner, Wood Manufacturing teacher at Ignacio High and Ignacio Middle School. She came to the industry in a somewhat unconventional way. Her background is in fine arts and she connected with wood as a medium. When Molly and her husband lived aboard a boat in Hawaii she did woodwork for local boat owners, then got a job making small handcrafted items for tourists. The couple later moved to Colorado, and Molly spotted the job opening in the Ignacio School District and decided to apply. That was eight years ago!
Molly enjoys working with female students her classes in cabinet making, fine furniture, and building trades, and she says there are some gifted young women woodworkers emerging from her program. “There’s definitely room for more women in the industry,” Molly believes. “There’s a huge variety of careers available and they’re challenging and profitable.”
Molly drew our attention to Colorado State’s 4-day “Women in Construction Management Summer Institute” planned for early June this year. It’s open to high school students aged 15-18, and the young women can look forward to developing their building skills and their personal confidence.
Even with all the strides forward women have made in the industry, there’s much more to do. Builders are still about 90% male, and the percentage of women in the trades is lower. We encourage construction firms in La Plata and Archuleta counties to try some suggestions offered in the Digital Builder piece, such as:
- Focus on creating an inclusive work culture where everyone is valued—adding family-friendly benefits is one good step,
- Remove gender bias in recruitment by overhauling job descriptions and having female employees involved in evaluating candidates,
- Measure and report on progress in balancing the workforce and in job satisfaction,
- Support professional development for all, and
- Consider creating a diversity council.
If the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado can help in any way, please contact us.