For years, 84 Lumber’s Christi Powell hasn’t worked with other women.
A former fire and rescue team leader and chemist, Powell oriented her talents towards business development within the commercial sales departments of Lowe’s and Builders FirstSource in 2000.
Other women in construction were simply non-existent – or at least seemed to be.
“I didn’t even know there were female builders,” she told SC Biz News. “You don’t meet them often.”
She then joined 84 Lumber, a Pennsylvania building materials company run by Maggie Hardy Knox, and met Angela Gardner, director of business development and marketing for Hill Electric.
Since then, she has met so many women in the field and companies looking for women to join the industry that she was promoted to 84 Lumber’s Women’s Business Manager and now co-hosts the Women Talk Construction podcast with Gardner.
“I’m now in the general contractor world that is high end, doing 400 units at a time, and very involved with government agencies buying,” she said. “So it’s still kind of the same, but now I’m working with a different set of clients. Now I’m working with a lot of women where I’ve never worked with women before.
Build from scratch
The strongest impetus for the growing number of women in construction has been the quotas of minority-owned and women-owned businesses required of federal contractors for material supply and site work, he said. she declared.
But few companies understand the full scope of funding available to such businesses, or how to certify for such incentives, she said. Fewer have the resources to set up a program for women and minorities like 84 Lumber.
“Even though I was new in July 2020, having just done a bit of homework for 30 days before taking the role, I knew over 90% of the people I talk to who are there,” she said. declared. women in the construction industry and diversity hiring leads. “So we have people making laws and rules and putting in programs that don’t work because they don’t understand them.”
Most of the businesses she dealt with in South Carolina didn’t even know what it meant to be certified as a women-owned business, she said.
Meanwhile, she said, general contractors were struggling to find the suppliers or certified employees needed to meet federal or internal requirements.
Longtime customers and outsiders flocked to Powell saying, “We love having female product managers. What can I do to get more women to work for me? »
Powell knew she had her work cut out for her. Instead of having 1,000 mentoring sessions over coffee, she and Gardner began interviewing women and men in the construction industry — as well as women in other non-traditional roles such as aviation – across the country. After releasing 14 episodes, the podcast now has listeners in 17 countries and 207 cities.
“When I meet amazing people – it doesn’t matter if they’re in New York, Maine or Arizona – if it’s an amazing story and we want to share it, we just ask them if they’d like to be on the podcast,” she said.
The podcasts, released each Monday, focus on victories and challenges overcome for women in construction, not airing complaints. Both men and women are featured on the podcast because both have been key in creating a more equal workforce that doesn’t skip over 48% of available talent, Powell said.
“When you only have one or the other, you’re not delivering everything that that particular client or that particular client needs,” Powell said. “It’s not fair to them, is it?” We are better together, so we want to learn how to work better together.
The podcast website also serves as a forum for industry players to discuss scholarships, workforce development opportunities, and business support.
Powell’s Build the Way initiative is another method used by 84 Lumber to connect entrepreneurs and women or minority-owned businesses. The company offers free plans to small businesses that can demonstrate a need. It also compiles a database of minority and women-owned businesses across the country under Powell’s guidance for entrepreneurs in need.
Coupled with the podcast and Powell’s efforts, a Greenville happy hour has evolved into a quarterly luncheon called Women Confidence Builders for working women in all industries. The first sessions were held at the Commerce Club; Powell invited 20 people, but 48 showed up.
An upcoming event on August 30, sponsored by BMW, is expected to draw 450 people to the Greenville Convention Center. Other business leaders want to emulate the event in Charlotte, Atlanta and Charleston.
“It’s so exciting,” Powell said. “Just to see what God is doing in my obedience to just be good to people and be kind and try to uplift others.”
Contact Molly Hulsey at 864-720-1223.