Testosterone is in high supply within the construction industry, but on Thursday (7/20) Urban League of Louisiana put the ladies in the spotlight at their inaugural Women in Construction Convening (WICC).
With a (mostly) all-female cast, Urban League’s Women’s Business Resource Center and Contractor Resource Center highlighted and celebrated the growing number of women coming to the drafting table and asked prominent female leaders to speak on the topic du jour, "The Art and Science of Collaboration.”
Women’s Business Center Director Klassi Duncan served as the MC, taking the audience through an agenda of dynamic programming, including panels, presentations, and speed networking.
"Women in Leadership” Panel
During the first panel, attorney and President of the New Orleans chapter of the National Association Women in Construction (NAWIC) President Betsy Gordon picked the brains of a few females, who currently serve in high-ranking roles within the administrations of some large, local general contracting companies:
- Melissa Gibbs, Business Development & SBE/DBE Outreach for Gibbs Construction
- Lauren Marshall, Diversity/Community Relations Coordinator for Woodward Design + Build
- Ann Teague Landis, CEO of Landis Construction
The two takeaways from this panel were promoting your specialty and building relationships. All three panelists agreed that checking every box on a prequalification form is a huge no-no and simply shows them the applicant isn’t great at any one trade. Showcasing your specialty is key because general contractors remember to call on you the next time that need arises.
Regarding relationship building, each panelist said that their company will never jump into a big job with an unfamiliar sub, admitting that it takes a few projects to build that trust. But Gibbs, Marshall, and Landis all opened the lines of communication, extending invitations to email or call them. Although, if you’re looking for information about project scopes for upcoming bids? Call the Estimators.
A Truly Motivational Speaker
Amber Peebles, whose personality can easily fill any-sized room, gave a keynote address that did not disappoint. Her current title is President of Athena Construction Group, based in Washington D.C. Her Marine background serves as the perfect foundation for any stage. Two lessons from Amber’s speech were:
- Read about your industry for 2-3 hours each week. "You’ll never run out of conversation at a dinner party,” she claimed.
- Be yourself, unapologetically. As someone who very clearly is unapologetically herself, you can’t help but be pulled in by Amber’s charisma
While Amber exudes confidence, she does not claim to have bypassed low points. She is a service-injured veteran. She’s had her struggles. What did she do to get through her darker days? She taped a sketch of her broken pelvis to her bathroom mirror as her reminder and her motivation. How did she get to where she is today? Collaboration. Relationships (that word again). It was the thread that wound about and through each presentation.
"Understanding the Value of Partnering Agreements” Panel
During the last panel of the day, another round of female executives graced the stage to share their experiences in the field. With four panelists, the stage was split with two ladies standing as the founders of their companies and two others inheriting businesses from their fathers, finding themselves in an industry they didn’t necessarily embrace. The panelists for this portion included: Kristi Mirambell, President & CEO of K-Belle Consultants; Danah Malone, President & CEO of Malone Electric; Shakita Billups, President & CEO of Billups Construction; and Iam Tucker, President & CEO of Integrated Logistical Support Inc. (ILSI Engineering). Sombra Williams, DBE Program Director for the Recovery School District, acted as Moderator.
One anecdote that stood out to me: Kristi Mirambell, founder of K-Belle Consultants, remembers telling her grandmother she was leaving her engineering job to start her own firm:
"Maw Maw,” Miramball said, "I’m starting my own business.” Her grandmother looked at her and asked, "Can you pay your rent?” Kristi thought for a second, "Yeah, I can pay my rent.” "Do you make good money?” her grandmother asked. "Yeah, I make good money,” Kristi replied. "Well, God’s gonna punish ya,” was her grandmother’s final evaluation. The crowd erupted in laughter.
All four then discussed the bumps they’ve faced in their journeys. One lesson learned? Slow down. Never feel pressured to rush into a partnership. Dating analogies were used.
All-in-all, there was no shortage of advice and camaraderie within the auditorium of the New Orleans Jazz Market that Thursday. The staff of the Women’s Business Resource Center - Klassi Duncan, Frank Johnson, Wayne Encalarde, and Erica Fontenot - did a phenomenal job. It was truly a convening of the finest degree. Hats off to them and to the women raising the roof on the world of construction.
"What I Learned at..." is a series in LCIA's Orange Blog where we provide a recap of LCI and LCIA events, as well as other educational or professional development events our staff attends. We use the "What I Learned at..." blog series to report what we learned to you.