By Alice Culp
South Bend Tribune, Ind.
When Jayne Flanagan took over majority ownership of Michiana Brick and Building Supply from her father in 2011, she found herself in the minority. Not many women own businesses in the construction industry.
“I am an RN by degree and had to learn the brick world from the ground up,” she said. “This seemed more complicated because I was female. My presence and ideas were not always well received.”
Her friends and family were supportive, she said, but no one really understood her daily frustrations or victories. So, she looked for networking organizations and sought out other women in her field. She found Cindy Elliott, majority owner of Fanio Services Inc., a trucking company in North Liberty.
“She also felt a need for support and networking in our ‘unique’ and crazy world,” Flanagan said. “My idea was to form our own sorority of women in construction.”
Now, Michiana Women in Construction is nearly six months old.
The organization’s purpose is to provide its members with support, education and opportunities for networking and outreach. It has three membership levels — business owner, associate and affiliate.
The organization’s goal is to have 75 percent of its members be owners or associates, who must work in a company either directly or indirectly related to construction.
Affiliates can work in fields that provide goods or services related to the construction industry such as advertising, banking, insurance, etc. Only three affiliate memberships are allowed per industry.
Nonmembers are welcome to attend a meeting and see what it is all about. And, as word spreads, more women are showing up. About 15 women attended July’s monthly meeting at Le Peep during which Amy Allen Clark of MomAdvice.com gave a presentation on how to grow a business online and through social media.
“Our educational component includes a 15- to 20-minute presentation, followed by an open forum discussion on the topic presented,” Flanagan said.
Future speakers include Jacqueline Homann, the first female partner in the Jones Obenchain LLC law firm’s 100-year history, and Martha Smith, program director of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative at Saint Mary’s College.
During the open forum and networking portion of the meeting, the women swap business cards, business advice and friendship. For many, working in a male-dominated industry means that they have to work harder than most of their colleagues or competitors to gain the respect of customers.
It’s that shared experience that most of them cite for joining the group.
“A group like this is long overdue in this area,” said Shari Yacks, owner of Elkhart-based Aquascapes of Michiana LLC, which designs and installs water features for landscaping. The group, she said, allows the women to bond with and support one another.
“You can go to them and say, ‘I’m having this problem; how did you deal with that?’ ” she said. “You get the benefit of their experiences.”
She became a member several months ago after meeting Flanagan at a home show. She found both the idea of the group and Flanagan’s passion for it intriguing. She’s worked several jobs in the construction industry and said she has “hit the glass ceiling with a resounding boom” several times.
“It’s nice to go to a place where you remove that level of competition,” she said of the group. “It’s not an exclusive group; it’s meant to support and help.”
Yacks recently became a board member and said she is introducing a few more women to the group this month.
In addition to the group’s networking and education opportunities, there is also an outreach component. The group has chosen to support St. Joseph County Habitat for Humanity and its Women Build Program.
A representative from Habitat attends the meetings and updates members on happenings and events.
The group plans to occasionally do some hands-on activities. For example, this month they are helping to build a house on the corner of Twyckenham Drive and Corby Boulevard.
“It’s a beautiful idea, to build homes for people,” said Veda Godette, owner and president of V&R Trucking Inc. in South Bend. July’s meeting was the second one she has attended, though she said she’d like to attend more. “I like the idea of giving back to the community.”
The women said the positive nature of the group is empowering.
“We hope that through MWIC we can enable women in construction to grow in knowledge, support, give back to the community and be empowered to tackle whatever their chosen career hands them,” Flanagan said. “You’re gonna hear us roar!”