As a first-time attendee of the International Roofing Expo (IRE), I was introduced to a completely new world filled with innovation, hard workers, and passionate entrepreneurs. Before being hired as the editorial intern for Roofing Contractor, I was oblivious to the world of roofing. Now, however, I have been exposed to many kind people who are making a great impact in their industry — people who just want to help their communities and make a difference.

Diversity was a big theme at the show and I had the great privilege of covering the women’s panel discussion aimed to educate and to bring more women into the roofing industry. As a young woman in a very competitive field, it was enlightening to hear such strong, smart, respected women speak about their experiences and opinions on how we can make a male-dominated industry more diverse.

The panel, titled “How to Get Women on the Roof – Successful Strategies & Case Studies,” was moderated by Jennifer Stone, preferred accounts manager at Johns Manville and executive chair of National Women in Roofing (NWIR). The panelists included:

  • Hilary Morgan, partner at Cotney Construction Law. Morgan represents clients in all types of construction law including lien law, surety bond law, litigation, arbitration, construction defects, contract review and drafting, delay claims, bid protests, design professional liability, corporate law, and administrative law. Her family has operated a ladder manufacturing company for over 100 years.
  • Renae Bales, vice president of brand and risk for KPost Roofing & Waterproofing. Bales has been with KPost for 11 years, working closely with team managing brand and outside risk for commercial and residential divisions. She is also on the executive board of NWIR.
  • Michelle Boykin, chief operating officer at Rackley Roofing Company Inc. Boykin joined Rackley in 2010 and has assisted in its exponential growth across Tennessee. She currently serves as the recruitment chair for NWIR.
  • Mardee Billingsley, executive vice president of Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance. Billingsley has a history of working in the building materials industry and demonstrates strong professional skills in administration, negotiation, sales, construction, and management.
  • Deidra Johnson, CARE Training Manager at GAF. Johnson has been with GAF for over a year. She is an MBA candidate with a background in property damage, disaster recovery, and customer experience.

The panel opened with a discussion on cultural sensitivity and unconscious biases. A good example that was put forth is how female relatives are often overlooked when asking to help with construction/roofing related jobs because it is assumed they would not want to. However, the panelists stated that women are beneficial to the industry by increasing professionalism, or, as Stone so colorfully put it, “When you put a woman on a crew, men stop pissin’ in the drains.”

The discussion moved on to policies and procedures and how they can positively effect diversity in the roofing industry. Morgan emphasized the importance of a clear and robust reporting system for when someone feels they are being treated unfairly, such as submitting complaints to upper management. A strict system can attract women because they will feel safer in an industry made primarily of men; however, Morgan expressed that this system can set a positive tone and message for all employees.

“Treat us as though we’re your equal,” said Boykin when Stone brought up the topic of hazing. Boykin wanted to make it clear that women are not looking for special treatment — just equality and fairness.

“There is a difference between hazing and starting low,” Stone added. “Everyone has to put their work in.”

The panelists discussed the importance of everyone paying their dues, a common example they used was picking up the trash — something every employee starting at the bottom has to do, male or female. Johnson used her education background to weigh in on the subject of respect. 

“Everybody’s going to be different,” she said. “Let my experience and my knowledge set the tone.”

After the panel concluded their message on hazing, they moved on to safety needs and the lack of equipment fitted for women. Bales raised the point that women are generally built smaller than men, and Billingsley stated that the women in her employment get fitted for harnesses. Boykin expressed to the audience that every company has a safety director that is responsible for making sure the equipment is safe and fits well. When an audience member brought up the costliness of smaller work wear, Morgan responded with, “It’s a whole let less (expensive) than an OSHA violation.”

One of the most important topics covered was making sure women know the opportunities that are available to them. The panelists emphasized the importance of employers to encourage the women in their offices to try something new. Morgan encouraged the audience to try asking their female office administrators if they would like to go on the roof, giving women more job possibilities. When an audience member asked how to better attract women to roofing, Billingsley stated that expressing all opportunities is a big step in making that happen. The panelists also encourage men and women to join NWIR to diversify the industry.

“Everyone just wants the chance to do something,” said Johnson.

The panelists concluded with instructions for the owners on how to improve diversity and bring women on the roof. Helpful tips included diversity training, networking for women, and making vendors more inclusive of women.