The Eleven Percent: Spotlight on Women in the Trades

Updated: Apr. 22, 2024

This FH series introduces readers to a few of the women who make up 11 percent of the construction workforce in the U.S., sharing stories of their careers in the field.

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portrait of Celiareyes at work with welding mask
courtesy Celia Reyes

Celia Reyes, Welder

When she was a kid, Celia Reyes remembers watching her dad do thermite welding for the Union Pacific Railroad. She thought it looked really cool, like a volcano. But it wasn’t until she was in her 20s that she decided to try out welding for herself.

She took a community college course and loved it. Her dad said that if she wanted to make a career of it, she should go to Tulsa Welding School, the best in the area.

“He took me on a tour of the school,” she says. “After that, it was like, ‘Let’s do this! I want to enjoy this and learn how to do this.’ ”

There was only one other woman in her initial class of 150. The school was fast-paced and challenging, and many of her male peers told her she couldn’t do it. Only 10 students ultimately made it through the intensive seven-month program — Reyes, and nine others.

She’s spent the past 11 years working for John Zink Hamworthy Combustion, where she welds smart combustion solutions that minimize carbon emissions. “They’re giant flares,” she says. “Like you see in the movies, the flares out in the oil fields.”

Her fierce determination led her to a job she loves, in an industry where women make up just seven percent of the workforce. It has also made her intent on showing others that women can be successful in the skilled trades. Part of that includes teaching welding at Oklahoma Technical College.

“It’s a really satisfying career, especially if you enjoy working with your hands and enjoy building objects or creating art. There’s so much welding out there, it’s used for everything, even in fields like aerospace.”

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Schannon Yodice installing gray tile in a bathroom
courtesy Schannon Yodice

Schannon Yodice, That Tile Chick

As the daughter of a stonemason, Schannon Yodice grew up with tools in hand, helping her dad on projects. Although she enjoyed it, when it came time to choose a career, she opted for college. Then she spent the next decade working as an accountant.

“I hated it,” she says. “Working behind a computer was completely opposite to my personality. I like being physical and doing things, and accounting was sitting in this gray cubicle all day. I felt like I was trapped all the time.”

So in 2017, she and her fiancé decided to start a general contracting business. They soon learned it wasn’t easy to find reliable skilled workers and subcontractors. They abhorred sub-par work, so they started learning construction skills as needed to complete jobs.

They found a mentor through this process, a master tile setter who agreed to teach them his trade before retiring and handing them his client list. Yodice and her fiancé decided to focus on their tile business full-time.

“The best part about it is every job is different. You never get bored. Your skills are always growing and improving.”

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Lydia Crowder Drywall Contractor Alt
Courtesy Lydia Crowder

Lydia Crowder, Drywall Contractor

After one semester of college in her hometown of Bozeman, Montana, Lydia Crowder realized higher education wasn’t a good fit for her. Fortunately her dad, a veteran drywall pro, asked if she wanted to give that a shot. “I was 18 when I started working for him, and I just fell in love with it,” says Crowder.

Her father’s employees also encouraged and helped train her. Now, twenty years later, she’s running her own company and still loving the freedom, variety and physical sense of accomplishment it brings.

“Every house you walk into has its own challenges, so you’re always trying to troubleshoot and find a solution to get the best end product,” she says. “Then at the end of the day, I see everything I accomplished with my hands and think, ‘I killed that. I did an amazing job and everybody’s happy.’ ”

A few years ago she started her Instagram account @DrywallShorty, a handle that’s a nod to her height (she’s 5 foot 1). There, she reveals tricks of the trade to her more than 200,000 followers and anyone else who wants to learn

“We need to realize it doesn’t hurt us to have more competition. Instead, we need to be thinking about the big picture, and how to help the industry sustain itself with a high level of well-trained construction workers. To do that we need to be more inclusive, sharing tips and tricks, instead of thinking somebody is going to come steal our work from us.”

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portrait of Jessie Cannizzaro working with plumbing
courtesy Jessie Cannizzaro

Jessie Cannizzaro, Plumbing Contractor

Though Jessie Cannizzaro grew up helping her dad with the family plumbing business, she had no intention of following in his footsteps. Instead, she set her sights on college. After initially studying to be a veterinarian, she shifted into business. Then her dad had a stroke, so she stepped in to help out. Soon, she rediscovered her passion for plumbing.

“I decided I wanted to be in plumbing forever,” she says. “And one of the cool things is, I was able to take my business degree, marry it with apprenticeship training, and eventually get my license to start my own business. So it all came together incredibly well.”

In 2011 she launched Milestone Plumbing, based in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, which specializes in residential remodels and repairs. Besides supervising 16 employees, she advocates for multiple organizations that encourage high school students to enter the trades. She also created a coloring book to introduce elementary-aged kids to the joys of being a plumber.

“It’s worth investing the time to explore and find what you love to do — your passion — because I meet so many adults who hate what they do every day. They wish they would have gone into a different career.”

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Renee Wilson, Insulation Contractor Owner
Courtesy Renee Wilson

Renee Wilson, Insulation Contractor/Owner

Renee Wilson is passionate about insulation. She was first introduced to it in the fifth grade, when her dad founded their family business. Through the years, she helped him on installation jobs and bookwork. By the time she was in her 40s, he handed her the reins. Now, she’s his boss.

“We’re lucky because my dad and I have a really special relationship and communicate well,” she says. “And I’m lucky because I love what I do. I love helping people stay comfortable in their homes.”

Wilson’s southern Wisconsin-based company, Rockweiler Insulation focuses on single-family new home construction as well as retrofitting existing houses.

“When starting any career, always be learning and be curious. Ask questions and talk to as many people as you can. I still love learning about this industry, going to conferences and reading books. It’s always changing.”

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Kat using a saw and cutting wood
Courtesy Kat Christie

Kat Christie, Residential Handyperson

Eight years ago, Kat Christie took her childhood love of tinkering pro, starting as an espresso machine technician. That ignited her curiosity and desire to delve into home repair. In 2017, she earned a Handyman Certificate Course from York College in Queens, New York, a major step toward her dream of running her own handywoman business.

Christie launched She Fixed That in 2019, and went full-time the following year at the start of the pandemic. Since people were home, mulling unfinished projects and ordering home office necessities, her business took off. “Patching a small hole in a wall, furniture assembly, hanging TVs and gallery walls, building pantries and library walls — no day is the same,” Christie says.

In 2021 she moved from New Jersey to Birmingham, Alabama and quickly re-established her business in the new location.

“Up north or down south, people want to hire women. Women want to hire women. It’s a niche that I think exists everywhere.”

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Soph Davenberry, Sheet Metal Worker
Courtesy Soph Davenberry

Soph Davenberry, Sheet Metal Worker

Soph Davenberry left college with a liberal arts degree but without an instantly employable set of skills. While barely scraping by, Davenberry saw a newspaper ad for an apprenticeship in sheet metal. Davenberry, who uses the pronoun they, had no idea what it entailed, but decided to apply.

It proved a life-changing decision. Now, 26 years later, they’re an industry expert in sheet metal and HVAC. They went back to school a few years ago, working full time while earning their second degree, this time in applied science with a focus on sustainable building and science technology.

“I think what’s beneficial about being nonbinary is being able to bring forward the aspects of my gender that are helpful in each circumstance, such as when I’m the only non-guy on a crew or when a tradeswoman has been my mentor.”

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Kelly Gannon, Contractor
Courtesy Kelly Gannon

Kelly Gannon, Contractor

Kelly Gannon was an industrious teen. She earned money babysitting, shoveling snow and laboring in restaurants, but also joined her brothers repairing things for her family’s landlord. Then, in her early 20s, she realized she could make better money in construction.

“All of the guys my age were roofing, and I wasn’t afraid of heights or tools, so I said, ‘Put me up there,’ ” Gannon says. She found a contractor who obliged and trained her. “Then I gradually moved from the roof, down into the house, learning everything along the way,” she says.

After fifteen years in the industry, she started Kreate Construction, specializing in residential repairs and remodeling in northeast Massachusetts. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” she says.

“Don’t underestimate yourself. You’ll be surprised at what your abilities are. You can crush it.”

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D’ondra Howard, Furniture Maker
Courtesy D’ondra Howard

D’ondra Howard, Furniture Maker

D’ondra Howard had no background in the trades when she made her first piece of furniture. She just enjoyed learning to build things for her family’s home. But her furniture projects soon piled up and eventually no longer fit into the house. That’s when she decided to try to sell one on Facebook Marketplace.

“I put a fluted table on there and people went crazy for it,” Howard says. “I realized I could really sell them because people liked them so much.”

In 2021, she decided to make custom furniture crafting a career and started Workboots & Glasses out of her garage in Sacramento, Cal. Today, she makes everything from dining tables and desks to platform beds and charcuterie boards.

Howard still sells some on Facebook, but the rest are custom creations she builds in her garage workshop. Thanks to her ever-growing reputation for quality and creative designs, most of her sales come via word of mouth. She also showcases her work on Instagram.

“So I hope we just welcome everybody’s differences and make room at the table for everybody. Even if we learn differently or understand differently, we’re still ultimately doing the same thing.”

10 / 19

Gabriela Narvaez, General Contractor
Courtesy Gabriela Narvaez

Gabriela Narvaez, General Contractor

Though Gabriela Narvaez’s father was a civil engineer and her brother an architect, her trajectory into the world of construction and renovation didn’t unfold along a straight line.

After moving from her home country of Nicaragua to attend business school in Virginia, she joined the Nicaraguan Foreign Service, which posted her to an embassy in Washington, D.C. She left after five years to become the events director for a nonprofit focused on helping impoverished Nicaraguan children. From there, she spend a decade in Georgetown University’s finance department.

“But construction is something that runs in our family’s blood,” Narvaez says. “I always lived in a construction zone. After school, I would wear my little hardhat and go with my dad to job sites.”

Today she owns and runs Guild Properties, a high-end real estate development and construction firm in D.C. She shares some of her innovations on her Instagram @GuildProperties and consults with DIYers via Matriarchy Build.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite job because I always end up becoming really close to my clients. We’re in their homes every day for months, so at the end it’s sad to say goodbye, especially to their pets, because I love animals. I always get teary.”

11 / 19

Ami Feller, Roofing Contractor
Courtesy Ami Feller

Ami Feller, Roofing Contractor

Ami Feller first learned about roofing in college, when her older brother invited her to work with him on a crew one summer. She spent the first few weeks on the ground, tossing scraps into the dumpster. But before long, she was up on the roof. The following summer, she was the crew foreman.

After earning her business degree from Iowa State University in 1997, she left construction for corporate management. By 2012, burnt out on corporate America, she teamed up with her brother and his wife to found Feller Roofing and Remodeling. Four years later, Feller left to launch her own company, Feller Roofing of New Braunfels, Texas, now called Roofer Chicks.

Today, Feller wholly owns and manages her company, while her brother and sister-in-law have their own roofing business a few towns over. She also runs the YouTube channel @rooferchicks, dedicated to helping laypeople understand what’s up with their roofs.

“I’ve done a lot of how-tos on YouTube directed at customers and homeowners, from how to deal with insurance to how to replace one shingle. People watch them all the time, and I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that someone might have saved hundreds of dollars by being able to repair their own roof.”

12 / 19

Nhu Nguyen, Auto Technician And Restorer
Courtesy Nhu Nguyen

Nhu Nguyen, Auto Technician and Restorer

In her teens, Nhu Nguyen was passionate about cars and street racing. But when it came to choosing a career, she initially decided to distance herself from the automotive world.

“I got into cooking first, tried retail, teaching, office administration,” Nguyen says. “I tried a whole bunch of different jobs. And while I enjoyed them, I didn’t find any fulfillment in them.”

Then she decided to give cars another shot. She started an apprenticeship at a small independent auto shop and went on to spend almost eight years at a Porsche dealership. Then she moved into her current job at Pfaff Tuning, a high-end independent shop.

The first woman to earn Porsche Classic certification, Nguyen is also a Red Seal Certified Automotive Technician and a Silver Certified Porsche Technician. She works at races and entertains an active Instagram audience as @dear-nhu.

“My job is beyond dreams, actually. I’m awestruck. Capturing and sharing those experiences that I find beautiful and wonderful is both an honor and a creative outlet for me. It’s my muse.”

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Samira Kraziem, Construction Project Manager
Courtesy Samira Kraziem

Samira Kraziem, Construction Project Manager

While studying for her master’s degree in speech pathology, Samira Kraziem took a job that changed her career path: receptionist for a general contractor. The reception part wasn’t the impetus; all the different aspects of the construction industry itself intrigued her.

“I loved it so much that I ended up quitting my master’s program and jumping in full-time,” she says. “I haven’t looked back since.”

Today, Kraziem works with Florida-based Suffolk Construction, where she started as a project administrator in 2015 and steadily worked her way up to senior project manager. Kraziem bounces between job sites and the office, keeping her challenged and entertained.

“Gaining that technical knowledge across all of the trades was critical for me to become a senior project manager. I’m often in trade partner meetings with electricians, plumbers, masons and concrete finishers, and I need to be able to coordinate between them and problem-solve for them. To do that, I need an understanding of how each of their scopes functions on their own, plus how they collaborate with each other.”

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Greta Bajrami, Roofing And Siding Company Owner
Courtesy Greta Bajrami

Greta Bajrami, Roofing and Siding Company Owner

When she was 10 years old, Greta Bajrami and her family left their home in war-torn Albania for Massachusetts. For her mother, the move meant going from being a doctor to working at a donut shop. Still, she didn’t think twice about the chance to give her daughter the opportunity to grow up in America.

Today, Bajrami is making the most of it.

At 32 years old she is CEO of Golden Group Roofing, leading the company’s two offices and recent expansion into siding and solar. Bajrami developed the first online roofing cost calculator for homeowners and created the app Rootless, which helps people connect with careers they may not have thought they could enter. This impressive resume was recognized in 2023 when she won the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

“I grew up as an immigrant with zero English, but I’m loving the American dream more and more every day,” she says. “My mom always told me that you can do anything with your head held high. Watching her build her career back up taught me that I was capable of great things as well.”

“Construction is not for everyone, but those who like it tend to stay forever. If you’re okay with the pressure of fast-moving pieces, then this industry is a good fit for you.”

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Gretchen Avilés Piñeiro, Traffic Engineer
Courtesy Gretchen Avilés Piñeiro

Gretchen Avilés Piñeiro, Traffic Engineer

Soon after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, Gretchen Avilés Piñeiro landed her job as a traffic engineer for the City of Madison, Wisconsin.

“I wanted to work with traffic signals, and everything from moving people from point A to point B safely and efficiently,” she says. “I found this job, and I loved the position description.”

During her on-site interview in October 2015, Avilés Piñeiro fell in love with the changing leaves, something Puerto Rico doesn’t have with its year-round hot and humid climate. But by the time she relocated to Madison a month later, the leaves were gone and the cold weather had moved in.

“I was like, wait, where are my trees that I fell in love with?” she says. “But I am getting used to winter, and it’s been a great experience for eight years now.”

“I feel like my job is important to the culture of the city. We want to make sure people feel comfortable whenever they’re outside and that their commutes are smooth. Lighting is very important to making people feel safe and like they’re in a fun environment, whether they’re walking, biking, driving or even taking the bus.”

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Faye Hadley, Ase Certified Master Technician
Tina Stiff/Courtesy Faye Hadley

Faye Hadley, ASE Certified Master Technician

Faye Hadley carved out her space in the automotive world as a master technician, television personality and DIY automotive instructor — a unique combination she feels she was made for.

Hadley has loved vehicles and creative self-expression as long as she can remember. On her second birthday, her favorite presents included a dump truck and a frilly fairy dress. But her book-smart, artistic family never presented a future in the trades as a viable option.

“When I told my parents that I wanted to be a mechanic, they did not support that path for me,” Hadley says. “And I never wanted to disappoint my parents, so I tried really hard to live the life that they wanted for me.”

To do that, she earned a psychology degree from Harvard in 2010, then landed a high-paying job as a therapist. But after giving it a year, she didn’t feel like she was on her true life path. So she finally started wrenching on cars professionally.

Today she lives in San Antonio, where she operates her own repair business, Pistons & Pixie Dust.

Hadley is also a TV celebrity, starring in dozens of episodes of All Girls Garage and Motor MythBusters. She runs a popular YouTube channel that highlights little-known repair solutions. And she maintains a significant and loyal following on Instagram (@pistonsandpixiedust) where she shares a range of automotive content.

“If you can fix your car, you can get to work. You can get to school. You can ask the right questions at the repair shop to make sure you’re not overspending. All of this contributes to a person’s autonomy and freedom.”

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Tonda Thompson, Woodworker And Community Advocate
Courtesy Tonda Thompson

Tonda Thompson, Woodworker and Community Advocate

Tonda Thompson is a woodworker and general contractor in Milwaukee, but that’s just one part of her ongoing, transformative work. Thompson has a history of turning challenges big and small into opportunities for growth, for herself and her community.

After the death of her infant firstborn, she shifted her focus from a career as a runway model to advocating for better health care for Black mothers and infants.

More recently, Thompson created She Slangs Wood, a custom furniture business with the secondary goal of teaching women woodworking skills. She showcases her work and that of her students at @sheslangswood on Instagram, and encourages community involvement in her classes. She shares more about her work and life below.

“When you teach a person how to use an impact drill, it doesn’t just give them the power to make money. It gives them a confidence like no other. When I put a drill in a woman’s hands, she’s like, ‘Oh my God, I could change the world.'”

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Valerie Adams, Automotive Mechanic
Courtesy Valerie Adams

Valerie Adams, Automotive Mechanic

Valerie Adams started working on cars nearly three decades ago. In her sophomore year of high school, she joined a vocational-technical program to learn the trade while also working as a nighttime janitor for car insurance and gas money. After graduating in 1999 with a certified state automotive inspection license, she went straight into the professional workforce.

She eventually put her career on hold for 10 years to raise two children. In 2016, she rejoined the trade, helping set up an all-female auto shop. Today she works on cars and advocates for women in the automotive industry.

“Reprimand mechanics who try to touch us while we’re working, and don’t hire us just because you think women have better attention to detail. While that’s often true, employers don’t realize why that’s true — it’s because we’re afraid to lose our jobs because we’re seen as more expendable.”

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Samantha Pearl And Emily Pearl Reist, My Handyma’am Founders
Courtesy Samantha Pearl And Emily Pearl Reist

Samantha Pearl and Emily Pearl Reist, My Handyma’am Founders

Samantha Pearl was 25 years into an administrative career in health and human resources when she and her husband Jim bought a 175-year-old house in Michigan and began tearing it down to the studs.

The next month, pandemic restrictions hit. With a sudden lack of contractors, they had to jump into the renovations themselves. Their daughter Emily, home from college for spring break, also helped. They ended up enjoying it, and Samantha and Emily soon tackled a second full-house renovation.

“Emily and I spent nine months working full time on that renovation project,” says Samantha Pearl. “We both fell in love with the work.”

Samantha soon secured her residential builder’s license. Together with Emily, they founded My Handyma’am Home Repairs and Renovations, which now has five employees working in the field. They’ve also recently started the Facebook group How to Handyma’am, where they teach simple home projects and provide women a forum to ask questions about home repairs.

“We love helping people with their random collection of needs. There’s a whole underserved niche in solving long lists of small problems for people.”