Women in construction panel shares industry insights

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Panelists Sandy Larsen, Carolyn Featherson, Dani, and Bree Nielson shared valuable insights at the Women in Construction Industry Panel Monday night (right to left). They discussed the difficulties and shared advice on residential and commercial construction. (Elsa Bray)

Women who work in the construction industry participated in a panel at the Engineering Building on March 25 and discussed discrimination and work/life balance in the field.

Organized in part by Avery Cornaby, a construction management major and vice president of the Women in Construction Club, the panel brought together Sandy Larsen, Carolyn Featherson, Dani, and Bree Nielson—extraordinary women who have excelled in the male-dominated construction industry.

Cornaby, a BYU sophomore from Boise, shared her motivation behind bringing this panel of women together.

“I fell in love with construction management during my intro CFM 105 class,” she said.

Being one of the only women in her classes was a new experience but turned out to be empowering, Cornaby said.

The panelists were able to give their advice on working in construction. They addressed how to deal with some of the negative aspects of being in a male-dominated industry, and how to balance raising families while also having a career. 

Larsen, owner and contractor of Fireside Home, started her career in her early thirties after becoming a mother. She deals with custom homes, remodels and new construction. Her main advice to people interested in getting into residential construction and being a contractor is to figure out your strengths and be memorable.

“Sit yourself down and figure out what you’re about. What do you want to offer to people that maybe is a little bit different?” Larsen said.

Dani, another panelist, followed her passions from working on temple design in Salt Lake City to establishing her own successful residential design firm.

She said the key to starting a business is all about mindset and realizing she was capable of working even while raising children.

“You don’t have to work full-time to be successful,” she said.

As an attendee, Cornaby was inspired by the panelists’ stories as the women all shared experiences of balancing their careers and being mothers.

“I think it’s just really nice to have somebody who’s been in our shoes and who has the same values. You know, family is important,” Cornaby said. “Wanting to be a mom and wanting to work — those things are real-life issues.”

All four women are mothers, and three of them are also successful business owners who found a way to succeed with a tough work/life balance.

Featherson, senior project manager at Mint Construction, learned to balance the demands of her career with raising four children.

“It’s difficult to balance depending on which career you choose. I wish I had had more flexibility,” she said.

In construction, particularly in the commercial sector, she talked about the challenges faced due to the limited representation of women and the lack of remote work opportunities.

When applying for jobs and finding places to work, Featherson said it’s important to make sure they prioritize their people over their clients.

From being a self-taught carpenter in high school to founding Fresh Slate Interiors, Nielson spoke about how she works through the challenges of being an entrepreneur while raising her family. Doing her job, she said she gets comments all the time from men who belittle her expertise because she is a woman.

Instead of getting angry, she said she gets excited to have funny stories to share on social media.

Nielson recounted a story of walking through Home Depot gathering materials for a project when a man pushed past her and said, “Oh! Looks like craft night.”

Although comments like these, she noted, are frequent occurrences, there are also individuals who will recognize the value in both her and her work.

“There’s going to be little men that just assume what you are and then there’s going to be men that go, ‘Oh, no. They can hold their own, they’ve got this,’” she said.

Nielsen says she’s found a way to find humor and strength in not letting little comments like that bother her. 

“You just roll with it. Put it in your head and go, ‘Mmm that’s fuel. Thank you,’” she said.

All the women expressed a similar sentiment that working to be your best and not letting impostor syndrome get to you, although difficult, is possible.

Those who attended the event asked questions of the panel.

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