Women may still comprise a small fraction of home-building professionals but those involved continue to blaze the trail for others at all levels of the industry.
Although it may be the first all-female leadership team for a local home builders association (HBA), the HBA of Greater Des Moines’ executive board brings much more to the table than a singular gender. With more than 60 years of combined industry experience, these leaders are working to better engage local builders, bring new perspectives to the table, and draw attention and talent to the construction workforce.
“I’m proud that we’re women but it’s not because we’re women,” said Kalen Ludwig, first vice president of the HBA, and director of sales and marketing for Groundbreaker Homes, at the International Builders’ Show in January.
Ludwig shared the stage with her fellow executive team members — president Rachel Flint of Hubbell Homes and second vice president Jenna Kimberley of Kimberley Development — and nine-time HBA board secretary Amy Kimberley of Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery for a “Women in Leadership” discussion at the Houzz booth. The second vice chair for the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council Terri Everhart, of Homesite Services Inc., moderated the conversation.
“I’m so proud of the four of us, but we’ve had so many awesome leaders before us that we’ve learned from,” Ludwig said.
Finding a mentor
Mentorship and learning opportunities were common themes throughout the discussion, as each panelist shared her career experiences and advice. Jenna Kimberley noted that only 1.3 percent of the construction labor force is female, even though the industry is one of the strongest in bridging the wage gap between women and men at 95 cents on the dollar. Flint says part of the challenge is a lack of female role models in the workforce and the criticism women face about entering what is frequently seen as a man’s field.
“Women need to be more visible,” Flint said, so that women interested in pursuing a career in the trades have more examples of the opportunities available.
Flint, Ludwig, Jenna Kimberley, and Amy Kimberley are all members of NAHB’s PWB Council, and were instrumental in starting a PWB Council in Des Moines in 2018 to provide greater visibility, networking, and mentorship to other women in the industry in their area.
Each panelist also shared her own unique journey to her current position to highlight the wealth of opportunities available for women in construction. Amy Kimberley, for example, gained many of her leadership skills while overseeing a team of 15 electricians when she was 25, and Jenna Kimberley started her career in the intelligence field in Washington, D.C., which helped her develop a different set of skills she uses in her current role, especially in the decision-making process.
“I love this industry because it’s growing and always changing,” said Ludwig, who began her career in real estate 15 years ago.
The HBA has been actively engaging new prospective employees through programs like the Skilled Trades Academy, which provides $2 million for public schools to foster trades education. Only about 1 in 20 students currently involved in the program are female, but as women continue to become more prominent figures in the industry, the hope is that more will want to explore careers in construction.
“We’re the first HBA run by women,” Jenna Kimberley said, “but we’re certainly not going to be the last.”Learn more about NAHB’s PWB Council at nahb.org/whypwb.