Working in construction means working with your hands and, for years, has been most recognized as an industry dominated by men. Though still very much a male majority, with only over 11 per cent of the industry made up of women, these ladies are striving for success in the field in their own ways.
“I always had an interest in building and architecture and was just curious to learn new things,” says Lara Murphy, co-founder and co-owner of Ryan Murphy Construction Inc. “Within my family, I was the fixer-upper and was the kid in my community always doing stuff—painting, fixing people’s gardens, shoveling snow.”
Being the go-to person for little neighbourhood fixes in her home province of New Brunswick, Murphy then shifted her construction knowledge to Western Canada with her move to Calgary in 2005. Since she wasn’t familiar with other tradespeople in the city, she used her new venture as an opportunity to make contacts and network, which eventually led her to start her own company with business partner Karen Ryan.
“We tried doing a small project together for a Christian Dior makeup counter, and we worked doing it as a team,” says Murphy, after meeting Ryan in Calgary and chatting about the industry and their backgrounds in construction. “It went really well so we basically got together in September of 2008 and Karen moved here from Montreal, and that’s how the whole process started.”
In 2012, certified general contractor Aja De Los Santos started Investcove Properties, a general contracting and design firm specializing in interior renovations for residential and commercial properties. With an entrepreneurial mind, a family in contracting, and an MBA under her belt, De Los Santos says her inspiration to become a general contractor came to her naturally.
“It just happened organically,” she explains. “A lot of my mother’s side of the family is in contracting,” adding that her accounting role with a construction company also helped spark her interest in the field. Picking up skills in planning and project management while in her numbers role, De Los Santos eventually found herself building her own renovations clientele.
Being part of a male-dominated industry, De Los Santos admits there were times when she was challenged on the job. Executing more of the project management tasks and less of the labour, she says some outsiders didn’t believe in her ability to manage and complete the labour intensive jobs.
But, despite the challenges, she does believe the industry is headed toward a more educated space. “I see a lot more female engineers, contractors, and I work with a lot of materials companies that are owned by women.”
Alternatively for Murphy, she can’t pinpoint an instance where she was challenged for being a woman in the industry. Through recognizing their positive experiences, Murphy’s been able to turn those instances into opportunities to mentor other young people.
“There needs to be a lot of work to promote women that want to go into construction or project management, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” she says. “In Canada—in Alberta, in particular—the trades is definitely an area that there needs to be focusing on.”
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