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A History of Powerful Women in Construction

Author: Matt Luman, Environmental Health & Safety Coordinator, US Farathane

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of the Leader Magazine.

In the construction industry, it’s safe to say that women are underrepresented. Even when compared to traditionally male-dominated sectors, women have yet to breakthrough in many areas of construction. Just nine percent of United States construction workers are female. I find it disturbing that as an industry we miss out on this huge pool of talent. Let’s look back on some of the powerful women in history that helped to pave the way for women today who want to be given a chance.

unwarrantedly Emily Roebling (1834-1903)

The first woman field engineer is credited for her role in the completion of the Brooklyn bridge. She took on the project after her husband who was leading the project became bed-ridden from developing caisson disease. She was the supervisor and took over the planning. Upon completion, she was named the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. Her work in this highly technical engineering feat helped create empowerment that women could perform in areas outside of the factories that were common in those days.

http://mccallsnurseries.com/e-h/ Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972)

Known as the woman of modern management, Lillian Gilbreth had the education, the career, and 12 children of her own. This mother applied herself to a scientific approach to workplace efficiency and management. She was a government consultant during the Great Depression and WWII, able to apply creative solutions to complex problems. She invented shelving in refrigerator doors and the foot-pedal garbage can. For construction, her application of science to the workplace streamlined processes and helped increase productivity.

Mary Kenney O’Sullivan (1864-1943)

This American labor leader worked tirelessly to improve factory conditions through the organization of unions. Starting out in the 1800s as an apprentice dressmaker, she took her distaste for the bad conditions in factories to eventually become the founder of the Women’s Trade Union League. She brought together professional, affluent, and working women to improve conditions for women in factories. She was a factory inspector in a government branch from 1914 until she retired in 1934. Her work in unions has helped women in construction to this day find support and representation.

Frances Perkins (1880-1965)

Frances Perkins was FDR’s Secretary of Labor and the first woman to serve as cabinet secretary. This self-made woman credits her grandmother for her power, and is quoted saying that “being a woman has only bothered me in climbing trees”. Yes, she never let anything stop her from pushing for benefits for the construction industry. She defended the minimum wage and helped develop the Fair Labor Standards Act. Her work in government illustrated a determination not only to break new ground, but excel at her endeavors.

Kris Young

Working her way through the ranks of the Associated General Contractors of America, Kris Young served as President in 2011. In her Iowa chapter, she started as Treasurer in 1992 and worked to become President of the chapter, a title which she held for many years. She was also the President and CEO of Miller the Driller in Des Moines, Iowa. Young was one woman that we can say can juggle it all. She has a strong connection to her Church, engages in hobbies that included gardening and scrapbooking, and continues to push for employee rights with her work in many committees such as the Labor Policy Committee and the EEO/DBE Advisory Council. She has over 40 years in the business.

Who is an important woman in your life? No doubt we all can think of many. Never underestimate their influence and reach. It would be a loss on any business to count them out. So, lift up, trust and empower the women in your life to keep pushing through. For construction, the jobs are there. Get the training and get to work!

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.