Crashing The Glass Ceiling
Women are Climbing the Ladder of Success in the Roofing Industry
Roofing is an overwhelmingly male occupation. Whether contractor or crew, the guys who work in roofing are just that: guys.
Women in roofing are so rare they’re almost non-existent. The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) has done some informal surveys, said 2015-16 President Lindy Ryan, and found that somewhere between two and 10 percent of roofing employees are women. National construction statistics, which include roofing contracting as part of the building occupations category, put the number of hard-hatted women at less than 10 percent.
But the number of women in roofing is increasing, and through organizations such as National Women in Roofing (NWiR), which boasts 500 members, they are finding their voice in the industry. From the manufacturing plant to roofing company management positions, women are gradually becoming more visible.
Like their male counterparts, women come to roofing from different backgrounds and with a range of goals and ambitions.
Ryan, the first woman in history to lead NRCA and a founding member of NWiR, has more than 25 years of construction management experience. Now a senior vice president at Tecta America Corporation, a nationwide commercial roofing contractor, in Sanford, FL, she once owned her own construction business and holds a Florida roofing contractors license.
Considered a trailblazer, she describes herself as “old school.”
She still lives in the town where she grew up – Orange City, Fla. – and has a cat named Jake. Her mom grew up there, too.
“I went to the same elementary school that she went to,” Ryan said, “and I graduated from the same high school that my mom graduated from, 21 years later. I've lived there my entire life except for my time in college, which was in Orlando at the University of Central Florida.”
Her parents were major influences in her career. “My dad gave me confidence that I could do anything,” she said. “My mom taught me to believe in myself. They have always been my biggest supporters.”
After graduating in 1980 with a degree in business, Ryan went on to obtain her real estate license and later her broker’s license. In 1997, she became a state certified roofing contractor. She started at Tecta America in 2005 after the company bought her construction business, General Works LLC.
During her time in the construction and roofing industry, she has been active in the NRCA, serving on a number of committees, including technical operations and government relations. Also interested in legal issues related to roofing, Ryan is a supporter of ROOFPAC, the NRCA’s political action committee, and a former president of the National Roofing Legal Resource Center.
On the other hand, Missy Miller, plant manager at the Atlas Roofing manufacturing facility in Hampton, GA, grew up around construction supplies.
“My dad had a hardware and lumber company growing up (in Florence, AL),” she said. “I actually remember running across the tops of the Atlas shingles he stored under his sheds when I was little.”
Her other influences include her coaches – “I played a lot of sports growing up and have always thrived in team and individual competition,” she said – and her grandfather, a former chemical engineer for the TVA who always tried to help her with her homework.
In college, she studied chemical engineering because, she said, “I was always good in science and math. I wanted to do something challenging in school, so I chose chemical engineering from the beginning. I remember my sister trying to talk me out of it, but for some reason I had made my mind up.”
Miller, who has been with Atlas since June 2014, began her career at a company that made fabrics for automobile seats and decorative upholstery. She next moved on to a sheetrock plant and then to Saint-Gobain, the world’s largest building materials company, where she was a quality manager and later a quality and process engineer for the glass mat operations. Glass mat is a primary component of asphalt shingles and Atlas was one of her customers.
“Just about every manufacturing process has a chemical component,” said Miller, whose specialty is process engineering, or finding ways to improve the manufacturing process.
At Atlas, she directs the operation of the plant with an eye toward making quality products in the most cost-effective way possible.
Like Miller, Brooke Ivey has roofing in the blood and like Ryan, is still part of the area where she grew up. She started working summers at her father’s company, Ben Hill Renovations in Douglasville, Ga., when she was in middle school. Later, the job helped her save up for her first car.
Now residential coordinator/marketing for the company, she never planned to make roofing a career.
“I went to college as an early childhood education major,” she said. But she loved working at Ben Hill while she was in school, helping the accountant enter accounts payable in the ledgers, doing filing and answering the phones. Then she began helping with marketing and designing the company’s business literature.
“That’s when I decided to change my major to business marketing, she said. “I kept working part time until I graduated and then I worked there full time after college. I've been there ever since. Now, I have gained more responsibilities and co-manage the residential department and hope to take over once my dad retires.”
One Of The Guys
Being a woman in a man’s field, Ivey not only had gender dynamics to deal with, she also had family issues.
“First I had to earn all the guys’ respect and prove to them I was there for the long haul,” she said. “I had an added challenge being the owner's daughter. We all know what comes with that.
“Now 10 years later, I don't run into that so much. We have a great, solid team and we all work together great – though sometimes people on the phone are surprised to speak with a younger woman.”
For Miller, who went into manufacturing immediately after college, dealing with the guys was difficult. She soon learned to adjust.
“I had to learn to take emotion out of the equation and stick to the facts and data,” she said.
“I believe that women have a harder time gaining credibility, whether real or imagined. I have worked in places where women were treated as inferior and where women were treated as equals. It is hard for me personally as I still feel like I have to prove myself sometimes, but I am very blessed to work with the group I do now. Atlas has been nothing but supportive, and that has been invaluable to me.”
Ryan’s experience, though positive and rewarding, still entailed some lessons.
“I’m thankful and blessed to have spent my career with so many smart, visionary men,” she said. “Have there been challenges? Sure. They were part of the learning experience. I had to learn how to be strong enough and not become a witch.
“Primarily, men want to work with people who are strong, have an opinion and conviction, but are not difficult. I don’t believe I face any challenges that men don’t face. We’re all in this together.”
A Path For Others To Follow
Figuring out how to stand toe-to-toe with the guys is crucial for women who want a successful career in a male-dominated field. Knowing one’s worth and contribution to the company may be equally important.
“Learn where you can contribute and make a difference,” Miller advised women coming up on the manufacturing side.
“It wasn’t until about four years into being a manufacturing engineer that I learned that I could really save the company a lot of money and that I was good at the process details. I was able to gain confidence and step into new roles and thrive. Do not be afraid to speak up and also ask a lot of questions.”
Men actually like working with women, Ryan said. “Women think differently, and that difference can sometimes be a game changer.”
For their part, women need to be genuine, she said, as well as team players who should seek out or build a good team to work with. Also, she said, “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.”
Finally, Ivey’s counsel is brief and to the point – and underpins any other career-building suggestions for women or men: if you want to make a go of it, stick with it.