Women Blazing a Trail in Male-Dominated Construction Industry
By Mark Birdsall
Kalee Insega works in the family business.
The fact that her family’s business happens to be construction has posed its share of challenges in the male-dominated industry, but she’s met those challenges head-on and is making a name for herself at a time when she is often the only woman on a job site.
Kalee, a 24-year-old graduate of Ferris State University, is the selection/project coordinator for Creekside Companies, the construction and renovation firm her father, Doug Butterworth, started in their hometown of Hudsonville 27 years ago.
Growing up on her father’s construction sites, Kalee found herself doing a lot of the grunt work, things like landscaping, wallpaper removal and job site cleanup, to earn money while she was attending high school, where she took drafting classes.
“I’ve been around this field for a while,” she said.
Unsure of what she wanted to do for a career, she attended Grand Rapids Community College and then transferred to Kendall College of Art and Design to study interior design. When she decided it wasn’t a good fit, she eventually transferred to Ferris State and enrolled in its construction management program.
After graduation, she explored a possible career in architecture, decided it wasn’t right for her and eventually ended up back working for her father, a choice she’s happy she made.
“I love it,” Kalee said.
She recalls being just one of two women in the construction management program and learning how to be assertive and speak up for herself, a skill she learned early on that has served her well ever since.
“You have to know the right answers, and when you do know the right answer, don’t second guess yourself,” she said. “Trust and confidence are huge.”
In addition to building custom homes and remodeling existing ones, Creekside’s specialty is a concept known as “visitability,” or building and designing homes to accommodate different levels of mobility and life changes.
Kalee said it’s been difficult keeping up with demand in a red-hot real estate market, and that’s due in large part to supply chain issues, especially the supply of lumber.
During a recent trip to the International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Kalee said industry analysts said the number of homes being built is down 50% since 2007. In addition to supply chain woes, the lack of new tradespeople working in the industry is also taking a toll.
That’s one of the reasons Kalee has become involved with a group known as the Professional Women in Building Council, or PWB. One of the goals of the organization is to raise awareness among women that the construction industry is a viable career option and to provide educational opportunities, as well.
Kalee is a board member and the secretary for the PWB in the greater Grand Rapids area, and she said one way the group has worked to recruit more women into the business is by offering scholarships and providing support and networking opportunities once they enter the field.
“Our goal is to share strategies and knowledge with one another and solutions and then also to promote and enhance each other in this industry,” she said. “It’s a tough industry, and if you can have some women stand behind you, it’s nice to have that.”
Stephanie Snowden is president of the Profession Women in Building Council of Greater Grand Rapids as well as project and marketing manager of Snowden Builders of Grandville.
She remembers how she reached out to the local Home Builders Association for help while taking an entrepreneurship class while she was in school and received words of encouragement from a woman with the HBA. Snowden said that woman is now the executive director of the HBA and is someone with whom she works with frequently.
Now, Snowden has the chance to offer advice and encouragement to young women who want to build a career in the construction industry, and it’s something that brings her a great deal of satisfaction.
“It’s been amazing,” Snowden said.
The group’s main focus is to provide support and opportunities for networking, education and professional development for women who work in and around the residential construction industry and also to young women who may be interested in getting into the trades or other areas within the industry in the future, she said.
The PWB does this with its scholarship program, monthly professional development, fundraisers and other events throughout the year.
“It’s an opportunity that we have to work together and network with each other, also give back to the community and help build and grow the industry,” she said.
Snowden spoke of a book titled, “The House That She Built,” which was inspired by a Professional Women in Building Council located in Utah. The children’s book tells the story of a team of women who come together to build a one-of-a-kind home.
The book serves as a source of empowerment and inspiration to children, promote careers in the skilled trades and share stories of successful women in the construction industry.
“It was the coolest book,” Snowden said. “It’s about the idea of starting at a young age and letting girls know there are these opportunities available.”