Three Paths To Success

By Christina Fisher | September 28, 2010

Whether as business owners, accountants, project managers, engineers, or equipment operators, I have had the opportunity to meet many women who have successful careers in the construction industry. Recently I asked three successful women in the Charlotte, North Carolina, Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) to share their experiences with me.

Sherrie Herndon is owner and executive vice president of Charlotte Paint Co. and its subsidiaries Charlotte Paint II and ProTec Finishes. Her sister Charleen Goolsby is secretary-treasurer of Charlotte Paint Co. and president of Charlotte Paint II. Dawne Posey-Orr is the owner and president of Glorry Contracting, Inc., which specializes in home improvement and home repair.

How did your career begin in the construction industry?

Charleen: Twenty-five years ago I began working for my sister's company, Financial Data Services. We performed accounting functions for various companies including residential builders in the Lake Wylie area. When I began working with job cost accounting I decided that I enjoyed the challenge and thus began my career in the industry. I came to Charlotte Paint Company to work in the "family" business with my father and another sister (Sherrie Herndon) in 1991 and began my journey with commercial painting.

I enjoy construction accounting and job costing. It is much more interesting than basic accounting. We are always working on different jobs as well as different types of construction. I also enjoy keeping up with new technology that makes our company more productive and competitive.

Sherrie: I was born into the construction industry. My dad and granddad were painters. I have been around construction all my life. When I was offered a chance to be an owner I jumped at the opportunity.

I have always loved the feel of a construction office — the talk, the painters, the bidding, the deadlines, the drama of people that work in construction.

Dawne: I have always loved watching shows like This Old House and Bob Vila. I could watch HGTV all day long. As I approached the empty-nest phase, it was time for me to try something that I had been interested in for a long time. The carpentry classes I had taken at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) through the years had whet my appetite. When the company I worked for threatened to go out of business, I took that as an omen to pursue a new direction. I enrolled in the Residential Framing Program, a full-time semester course, in January 2004.

There are so many aspects of home improvement/home repair that I want to experience. My house has become a living laboratory for projects. Opportunity abounds. My market is the baby boomer, single female homeowner. They are very amenable at giving me a chance to do the job. Earning their trust and belief in me to do a good job gives me so much confidence.

Have you encountered any challenges as a woman in the industry?

Charleen: I am fortunate to work in a company that allows women to achieve whatever they desire to. I personally have not felt challenged just because I am a woman. I think my opportunities have been wide open and it's been up to me to take advantage of them.

Sherrie: Actually, no. I came up when women didn't work in this field, but I have never encountered any resistance as long as I was capable of doing my job. I have never experienced the glass ceiling because I have had people who have pushed me along and have helped me.

Dawne: Usually, I just have to pierce through the initial cloud of doubt. I have to show that I am serious and that I know what I am doing. I have to do things smarter and use my creativity.

What have you found to be beneficial as you progress in your career and how has it helped you?

Charleen: I find that education is always beneficial and I have pursued courses and seminars that aid me in my job. I also allow others in my company to get the training needed to perform their jobs. A lot of our company training is through The Employers Association. The biggest things that have helped me in my career are the education opportunities and mentoring I have received from my membership with NAWIC.

The NAWIC chapter of talented and high-achieving women inspired me with all they have accomplished as business owners and employees. They, including my sister who is my partner and fellow NAWIC sister, mentored me to become self confident and comfortable enough to stand in front of others and to be a leader among women in the construction industry. I have come from being a chapter member to a chapter president and other opportunities await me. The educational courses, seminars and overall networking opportunities keep me abreast of what is happening in our industry today in Charlotte, regionally and nationally.

Sherrie: Networking — how could you ever survive without this? My first encounter with this was to join NAWIC. There I met women who were so far ahead in this industry — more than I could ever imagine. I was a kid from Rock Hill, S.C., with no idea of how an organization like NAWIC worked. I had NAWIC friends who guided me and molded me though the process. Somewhere along the line by working on different committees and becoming a NAWIC treasurer I found my self-confidence. I do not think I would have ever been an owner of Charlotte Paint Company, Inc. without NAWIC.

Another big help has been my association with the Carolinas Associated General Contractors (CAGC). I became a trustee on CAGC's Worker's Compensation Trust Fund for North Carolina and South Carolina. Through this association I met many people from different walks of construction — general contractors, material suppliers, different subcontractors.

Dawne: A combination of things work for me. CPCC was my entry point into the industry. CPCC allows you to take a lot of courses to see where your interest lies. Instructors in the Construction Institute were very encouraging. I constantly interact with my former instructors through various industry activities. Secondly, mentors in the business have been very helpful and generous with advice and information.

Lastly, membership in an association such as National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) enables exposure to different people and perspectives about the industry and facilitates networking opportunities. I benefit from the experience of those who have been in the industry longer and understand the dynamics of the industry here in Charlotte.

What do you feel the industry can do to attract more women?

Charleen: Expose young women in school to the career opportunities that await them in the construction industry. We need to dispel the idea that construction is only for men. Instill in them that women can have successful careers by getting a college education in engineering, architecture, etc.

I also feel we need to reach the parents of students because many of them feel they do not want their child to work in a trade, that college is their desire. Parents need to realize that not all children are college material, and that for those who are not, there are opportunities for women and men in the trades to have a successful and fulfilling career choice.

Sherrie: Mentor — reach back and bring women along, teaching them what you have learned. We need to be in schools encouraging girls to go into the construction field.

Dawne: We have to catch the young ladies early and expose them to new ideas and opportunities. Girls in middle school still have a sense of adventure and courage to try new things. There are a lot of smart young ladies who have no desire to pursue a college education. They need to know about other career fields that would enable them to make a decent living.

What have you done to introduce construction to girls and women?

Charleen: Through NAWIC I am involved with a local committee of business and educational professionals — Construction Industry Education Coalition (CIEC) — who are working to attract future employees to the industry as a whole through contact and partnership with our school systems. I think that my association with this group and NAWIC allows us to look at young women in the schools and encourage them to consider a career in a technical field such as construction. By implementing the "Hammer House" project with CPCC and offering "Rosie's Girls" summer camps, young women are exposed to construction trades with a hands-on approach. We have seen some very excited girls working with these projects. I was just informed that CIEC has been selected by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as the Career and Technical Education Business Partner of the Year.

Sherrie: We have offered all learning opportunities to all our women employees. We have women owners, superintendents, foremen, etc. We encourage our women employees to network and join organizations that will launch their careers.

Dawne: I have been an instructor with the Hammer House program, which targets middle school students. Quite a few girls participate in the sessions. I make a point of encouraging them and emphasizing that "aptitude has no gender." If there is something that excites you and you are good at it, then go for it. I have also participated in job fairs at some of the middle schools.

What do you feel is the outlook for a woman entering the industry today?

Charleen: The outlook is wonderful for all who desire to enter the industry. The opportunities are wide open and unending. Just getting women into the industry is still the challenge.

Sherrie: Much easier than when I went into construction. I think the field is wide open and begging for capable women to step up and take leadership roles. I see no difference for men or women. It's what you want to make of it.

Dawne: I think that the outlook for any woman entering the industry today is very optimistic. There are so many opportunities available and so many career paths to pursue.