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Women in Skilled Trades

Two HGTV Stars On the Future of Their Industry

One half of the mother-daughter duo on HGTV’s Good Bones, Mina Starsiak talks mansplaining, skills women bring to a construction site, and her hopes for the next generation. Nicole Curtis of Rehab Addict fame explains why, for her, gender isn’t even part of the equation.

Mina Starsiak

Host, “Good Bones”

Nicole Curtis

Host, “Rehab Addict”

What advice would you give to women looking to break into the industry?

MS: I really think that you have to approach it with a stubbornness because its something that unfortunately is new and different. It’s not the norm. So, anything that is outside of the norm people usually are confused by. Unfortunately, I think you need to be firm and comfortable in your own skin: ‘This is what I’m going to do, and this is what I want to do.’

Some people I don’t think purposely treat you differently because you are a woman. But you know even when walking through the hardware store, if I’ll ask, ‘where are the plumbing crimps,’ and the man helping me is like, ‘Oh, well what project are you trying to do? Maybe I can help you, do you need this,’ and I’m like, no, I know what I’m doing I just need direction because I’m in a hurry.

So, I think it’s just like a lot of other things, getting people used to a different norm. And in the meantime you’re probably going to have to put up with some shenanigans. So, you have to have a certain amount of thick skin and fortitude to just not care or be able to kind of work with it to just help people change their mind.

NC: First and foremost, check your ego at the door. Be humble. I worked for free — yes free — for many years just to gain experience. I found great people to work with and was always, and still am, open to learning and growing. There is no one way to do things, and in project management and construction, it’s the think-outside-of-the-box solution seekers that get things done. Also, lose the chip on your shoulder that so many of us women are told we should have because we ‘aren’t going to be treated equal.’ That’s some bull-pucky.

Do your homework. Don’t be a know-it-all. I have 25 years in this industry and I’m still learning every day. And my favorite, most refreshing thing to say is, “I have no idea, let’s figure this out together.” Yes, I have definitely walked onto some job sites and gotten some, “what does she know” looks, but I know what I know and I do my job. No need to say a word. Actions speak louder than words and nothing better than having someone come and tell you, ‘I’m impressed.’ 

In what ways do you think women play a vital role in the industry?

MS: I think the easiest thing in the industry to do is find manual laborers. We can pay someone to be strong, it’s harder to find someone to be creative and intuitive, a good planner and multitasker. And I do think men definitely have that skillset as well, but I think for some women it comes a little more naturally. Because of other norms of how we’re raised we tend to juggle more and see things through a different lens.

I think having that added lens is huge, because I think about things like when I’m making a floorplan, ‘Is this house going to be for a family? If there’s a nursery what could function as that, what’s going to be the best adjacent to the parents room?’ Things like that, where I don’t think its as active a thought process as sometimes for men in the industry. They are much more functional thinkers like, ‘I need four walls and a roof.’ Let’s do that and let’s make it look pretty and let’s sell this house.

NC: I really never know how to answer these gender specific roles. I’ve never labeled myself “woman” in my career. I’m a builder. I’m a business owner. I’m a restorer of fabulous old things. I will say that I probably expect more from my team because I’m a mom and I multitask, so I expect everyone to do the same. If there is any fantasy that having a female boss would make the jobsite lighter and fluffier, think again. We work hard, but we play hard. My crew and I are best friends on the site, family off the site. No joke.

What skills do you use every day?

MS: Communication obviously — and some days I’m better at it then others. I think creativity, patience, and organization are huge ones because any given day we have 13 different projects going on at once and our store is also being open. We have a media marketing team, I have a 2-year-old, and I have a husband. So, it’s just constant phone calls, texts, emails: we have rentals, we have water pouring into a house, etc. There’s a lot of balls in the air, so prioritizing, and taking the information, and problem solving. Whether it’s work, or home, or our side rentals, it’s pretty much ongoing all day

NC: I went to school to be an elementary school teacher. I start every day with a plan. I start every day with a smile, and learned early on that people love being led with grace and understanding. I’m a strong boss, but mostly I lean on a great team that we’ve built. I have to have patience and strength. When things go wrong, it’s always the person at the top who falls farthest and take the blame. I am the first one on a site, last one off, and I make sure everything is triple checked. I have to set the standard by which everyone in my company sets their benchmark. If I expect my crew to answer calls at midnight, I do the same.

Technical — you must be able to drive a stick-shift, but I think that this should be a mandatory life-skill for anyone. I have been known to teach those who show up to work unable to.  Physical — you have to take care of your body. On any given day, I’m lifting my bodyweight, climbing ladders, flights of stairs, working in extreme heat and cold. Mentally and physically, I listen to my body and take care of it. The only thing I haven’t mastered is sleep. Working on it.  

What advice would you give to women looking to ascend the industry ladder such as you have done?

MS: It’s not specific to construction, but I think you have to give up this idea that there’s a best way or that eventually it will be right or be perfect. I think the reason the show has been successful is that it’s just the reality. I think giving yourself some grace is a huge thing. Prioritize what’s the most important, how much time do I have in a day, how much money do I have in my bank, and make decisions based on your specific goals. And really just not comparing yourself to other people because if you do, you’re just going to be miserable.

NC: I don’t believe my industry is as male dominated as people dictate it is. The more we say it is, the more people keep thinking this way. My work speaks for itself and my crew and I do good work. I would cringe if my work was simply showcased because it was female-owned. In my world, it’s all female-dominated. My project manager is my best friend, a woman and a mom. Together the two of us run every site. My oldest son always laughs when I get posed a question like this, in our world it’s the moms that make it happen. (don’t get me wrong, love my guys, but no one has hierarchy due to gender)

What is the future of the workforce in your industry look like to you?

MS: I think already with the younger generation that I’ve come in contact with because of the show, and now because of the store, there are 4, 5, 6, 7, 8-year-old girls and boys who want to be designers, want to be in construction and they are growing up just in a different era. When I was growing up it was all men doing construction shows or anything like that. So the norm for them now is going to be, ‘Oh well there are all of these talented women that are also in the construction industry.’ Hopefully it will just naturally be a different situation and we have the opportunity to present that to them now. And I think there’s obviously so much going on in the world that we have this awesome opportunity to make many things different. 

NC: My industry is historic restoration. I’m excited. I think it’s a growing industry and I love the kids that reach out to me to tell me that’s what they are going into. How cool is that? And yes, majority of those are females. I never saw construction as a female job — my gramps always had me in the field and in trucks, on tractors, I never knew any different. Maybe my point of view is a bit skewed because of that, but I like to remind everyone labels go away when we quit using them.

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