How Women are Helping to Advance the Roofing Profession

Thursday, November 22nd 2018

Women are getting more involved in the roofing industry every day. Now, you can find women at the top of roofing companies as CEOs and marketing directors, and in other leading roles. You’ll also find them pursuing roofing research, sales, distributing, consulting and manufacturing, and, of course, you’ll find them on the roof. Women make up only 0.5 percent of the roofing professionals in America. In Canada, women make up less than 3 percent, according to research from BuildForce and the Government of Canada. Yet, women are still making strides in roofing that benefit the whole industry.

When speaking to Hard Hatted Women, Justin Brown of Central Bay Roofing argued that women roofers he’s met are welcome additions. Brown says, “People may think women in construction is going against the grain, but they really are some of the most qualified applicants we get.”

Organizations for Women in Roofing

There are many organizations dedicated to expanding women’s roles in construction and roofing. One is National Women in Roofing (NWIR), an American volunteer‐based organization, officially launched at the International Roofing Expo (IRE) 2016. In the short time since then, the organization has gained 1,016 members, all dedicated to advancing and empowering women within the roofing industry.

IKO is proud to support NWIR as a 2018 Platinum Sponsor and advocates for its female team members to join the organization. IKO’s marketing director, Carol Perkins, said she is excited to see a group that empowers and educates women in the field, and also helps recruit women in roofing.

“I didn’t have any roofing experience when I first joined the industry more than 20 years ago, so I relied heavily on my mentors and educated myself through meeting with our manufacturing, sales, research groups and distributors to determine what contractors needed and wanted,” said Perkins. “But now, an organization like NWIR has built-in mentorship and educational opportunities that help new female professionals entering the industry, as well as seasoned pros.”

The Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) supports women in roofing and initiatives to increase their numbers, too. As more women become roofers, others will realize they can have a successful career in roofing also.

What have these women roofers contributed to our industry? And, what can you do to help more women find successful careers in roofing?

Women-Owned Roofing Companies

Alicia McMahon

Alicia McMahon

Alicia McMahon, who has been in marketing-related roles in roofing for more than 10 years, said she has noticed women stepping into ownership roles in roofing.

“When I first got into the roofing business, women were typically seen working in roles like accounting, marketing and administration,” McMahon said. “But now, women are branching out of corporate roles and making strides not only as laborers, but as business owners, too.”

Sarah Ahrendt, Ardmor Construction

There are successful female‐owned roofing companies. One example is Ardmor Construction, based in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Owner Sarah Ahrendt used to be a nurse but faced frustrating hours and burn-out. She was intrigued by her boyfriend’s construction work, so she quit nursing and picked up a job as a salesperson for a roofing contractor.

At first, Ahrendt says some customers weren’t sure if she was working in roofing to support her boyfriend or if she was really dedicated to roofing for herself. However, she quickly gained their respect with her knowledge and work ethic.

While some women face discouraging workplace environments early in their careers, Ahrendt says she was lucky with the boss she had at her first company.

“He saw people as people, not as male or female. He saw the value that I brought. I was very fortunate in that,” Ahrendt said.

Her desire to help people, which had initially led her to a nursing career, was quickly fulfilled in roofing. Taking care of someone’s roof is helping them protect their home and family, the things that are the most valuable to them.

“I was happy to start in a field where there is so much potential to make a difference,” Ahrendt explained.

Then, as opportunities to get her hands dirty came up, Ahrendt lept on them. She worked on rooftops, learned to operate all kinds of equipment and started organizing other laborers. At first she thought she was just learning the technical details that could help her make sales, but as new opportunities came up, she kept growing.

She dipped her toes into finances and marketing and was offered a full-time managerial position at another roofing company. Soon, she developed her own ideas about how to run a business and wanted to put them into practice. So, Ardmor Construction was born.

She founded the company less than a year ago, but it has already achieved 1.5 million in total sales. She credits much of that success to a great sales team and her employees’ hard work. The company’s growth is so strong that Ahrendt has to ask her boyfriend to pitch in, even though he’s busy running his own business.

Ahrendt says that she has spoken with a lot of women who get interested in roofing or other aspects of construction but get discouraged. Her advice to those women was: “It’s not nearly as hard as you might think it’s going to be. As a woman in roofing, if you really know your stuff, you’ll impress the customer quickly.”

“Don’t give up just because someone tells you no,” she added. “If that’s what you really want to do and you’re passionate about it, you’ll succeed.”

Women aren’t just leading the way as roofing contractors, they’re also involved in the supply side. Regan Walker Sayres is the president of CB Wholesale, a drywall and roofing materials distributor. The business grew out of her parent’s lumber yard, where she worked as a young girl.

Regan Walker Sayres, President of CB Wholesale

Walker pursued a degree in Business Finance at Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business and Economics. The rule in Walker’s family was that you had to work somewhere else for at least five years before working at the family business.

She returned to CB Wholesale in her mid-thirties. Over the years she wore many hats, including in sales, marketing and buying. Eventually she took over as President/CEO in January of 2018.

The business is split almost evenly between roofing and drywall, but Walker admits she’s very enthusiastic about the roofing side.

“Roofing has seen a lot of changes over the last several years. Shingle manufacturers have gotten more creative about what differentiates them from their competition, and it’s fun to be along for the ride,” she said.

When asked about how many women are involved on her side of the industry, Regan admitted that she doesn’t have as many women interested in working for her company as she’d like to see.

“There are far more women in roofing than there used to be. I believe that many companies would like to hire more women, but we’re still figuring out how to get them interested” she said.

“However, I get why we don’t have women handing in their resumes. I am forth generation in building materials distribution, I was never discouraged from getting into the industry. Not every woman has that,” she explained.

However, she’s optimistic that female numbers will continue to rise in the industry because she’s noticed that more women are participating at all levels, including in roofing manufacturing.

When asked what advice she would give women who are considering the industry, Walker was very enthusiastic.

“Jump in! Honestly, any woman who starts in roofing distribution will find that buyers want to talk to her. You have to know what you’re talking about. So long as you learn the products, a lot of men will be happy to talk to you,” she explained.

While Walker started out in the roofing industry and stayed here, not all career paths are so straightforward. Accomplished women from other industries and fields have seen the opportunity in roofing and are bringing their expertise to the industry, for the benefit of us all.

Professional Women in Roofing

Women are involved in every aspect of the roofing industry, not just on the roof. Here are some examples of women leading the way from all corners.

Heather Estes, research manager & and research scientist at Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)

Asphalt chemistry is essential to the roofing industry, and Heather Estes has helped push our knowledge about asphalt forward. Her research at IBHS often involves testing roofing materials under various weather conditions.

When asked, by Disaster Safety, why she enjoys working in the roofing industry, Estes said, “The roofing community is a small, but specialized group of people that are always working to improve the products and the roofing message/image. It’s an interesting range of experts from roofers to scientists, working on something that most people use every day (the roof over their head!).”

A member of NWIR, and former secretary of its Education Committee, Estes also shared her thoughts about women in the roofing industry.

“Roofing is predominantly a male industry, but it does provide a great opportunity for women who are looking for secure employment,” she said. “I would encourage women to take advantage of every opportunity they can and work hard; it will pay off.”

Heidi J. Ellsworth, Roofers Coffee Shop, Founder of NWIR

Heidi J. Ellsworth is a partner at the Roofer’s Coffee Shop, which is a hybrid forum, classifieds and directory just for roofers. Ellsworth also founded NWIR with Shari Carlozzi. Despite her significant accomplishments, she, like many of the women on our list, didn’t start her career in roofing.

Ellsworth was working in the nonprofit sector when she decided that, to start her family, she would transition to marketing for a roofing contractor. There, she found more reasonable hours, a family-oriented community and plenty of career opportunity.

Passionate about supporting the growth of other women in the industry, Ellsworth pitched the idea to start the NWIR organization to her female friends in the industry. She told IKO that she wanted to allow women in roofing to help each other through NWIR’s four pillars: education, networking, mentoring and recruitment.

“I love roofing, I think it is family-oriented,” Ellsworth told IKO. “I think there is huge opportunity for women, especially now with the labor crunch. The industry is starving for talent both on the roof and in the office … Whatever you like to do, there is a place for you in the roofing industry.”

While her own role is in the office, Ellsworth argues that many women are finding success on the roof.

“It’s not about brute strength; it’s about how you work on the roof,” she says. With new technologies, women can perform just as well as men Though women might be drawn other industries first, Ellsworth argues that they’d make much more money if they tried roofing.

Ellsworth also had advice to share with men and women who are new to the roofing industry: “If you’re not being treated with respect, there’s a lot of other places that want you and who will treat you with respect.”

NWIR now has 30 local councils around the country and are looking to expand in Canada and Australia. Through these local councils, Ellsworth hopes women in the industry can gain the support they need to succeed in the roofing industry.

“Go after it and find your family within the industry, because it’s there,” Ellsworth said.

Kelly Wade, CEO at North American Roofing

Kelly Wade is a rare breed as a female CEO. She worked her way up from North American Roofing’s director of marketing, a position she took in 2009. Over this time, she has certainly contributed to the company’s incredible growth. It’s seen a 300 percent increase in top‐line revenue since 2009, according to Roofing Contractor.

To share her passion for roofing and her advice for young women in the industry, Wade gave the keynote at NWIR’s most recent networking and mentoring reception, during the 2018 International Roofing Expo (IRE).

During her address, Wade said, “As you all know, this business can be seasonal, cyclical and ever‐changing. All the reasons why we love it. And that’s why we do need to encourage more men and women to join the industry and work together towards improvements in the industry.”

Alicia McMahon, Writer for IKO, founding member of NWIR

Writers notoriously take wild career paths through many industries. However, Alicia McMahon, a writer for IKO, has found a home in the commercial roofing industry.

McMahon told IKO that she started out working for an ad agency and tried her hand at health care marketing before she began working for a roofing manufacturer. There, she learned the technical side of roofing products. McMahon explained, “Because I was a writer by trade, I was interested in making sure things were understandable for the audiences.”

With her work at IKO, her passion for roofing products has grown. Her latest interest is our wall products. “They are such an important part of the building envelope,” she said, noting that she thinks they are a great marketing and revenue opportunity.

Her passion extends from the products to the people she’s met in our industry. “The people that are in this industry are really passionate about the products, and they tend to jump in at full steam,” she said.

It’s that passion that has kept her here. “Someone once told me that once you start working in commercial roofing, it’s hard to get it out of your blood. And they’re right,” she said and laughed.

While McMahon notes that there were “very few” women in the industry when she started 10 years ago, their numbers have only grown. She’s made great relationships with her fellows, and, as a founding member of NWIR, she wants to help more women get involved.

There is much opportunity for women who want to work on the roof. McMahon argues that they will have “no problem finding a job because there is just such a huge need for workers.”

The same goes for those who are looking to transition to another career. McMahon’s advice is for women to go out and contact companies, from roofing manufacturers to contractors. She is confident that women will find opportunities, just as she did.

Lindy Ryan, senior vice president at Tecta America and former president at the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA)

Lindy Ryan’s construction business, General Works LLC, was purchased by Tecta in 2005. In 2015, she became the first female president of the NRCA. A founding member of NWIR, Ryan shared her thoughts on gender in the workplace on Tecta America’s website. “Men actually like working with women,” Ryan said. “Women think differently, and that difference can sometimes be a game changer.”

Ryan also offered up advice to women starting out in the roofing industry, “Be prepared, learn as much as you can, be pleasant, laugh, look and act the part, don’t second‐guess yourself and believe in yourself.”

The Future of Women in Roofing

Women roofers are accomplishing more than ever before, but it is still a male‐dominated industry. Research from BuildForce Canada and the Government of Canada suggests that, at least in Canada, most women aren’t interested in roofing and other construction trades partly because authority figures steer girls away from pursuing the trades.

The same research suggests strategies to get more women involved in roofing, including increasing mentorship, providing training, promoting roofing at high school, developing work‐hardening programs and supporting preapprenticeship programs.

In America, NWIR is leading the charge on many of these fronts, offering mentorship, education (including webinars), driving recruitment initiatives and more. The organization successfully held the first annual National Women in Roofing Day on February 4, 2018.

In Canada, CAWIC, though less focused, still offers support for female roofers, including through their women’s advancement program: Level BestTM. Another great organization to turn to is Canadian Construction Women, which even awards scholarships to women in construction.

IKO is excited about the future of roofing and about the women who contribute so much to our industry. Discover more about where roofing is heading, including the value of technology in roofing and more at our blog.

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