The Women of NAWIC: Leaders, Mentors, Game‑Changers
Orlando-based women in construction build careers & community
The Greater Orlando Chapter 73 of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) is more than a group of women with a common profession. It’s much more than a networking environment defined by gender, more than a community outreach defined by good works and more than a professional growth forum.
It’s a sisterhood that spans generations, a fellowship ranging from young professionals to experienced veterans. From career camps for high school girls and adult educational programs to impressive networking and leadership training, these women build opportunities, they build communities and they are building leaders.
NAWIC was founded in 1953 by 16 women in Fort Worth, Texas primarily to serve as a personal and professional support network for women in the local construction market, which was predominantly run by men. Looking to organize new chapters in Texas and across the country, the group became incorporated on May 17, 1955. Today, there are more than 3,800 members and 134 chapters around the world, including in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
NAWIC maintains an alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and partners with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., the U.S. Department of Labor, NCCER, Habitat for Humanity International and many other associations and government agencies.
The NAWIC Greater Orlando Chapter 73, part of NAWIC’s southeast region, is one of the most active and fastest-growing chapters. The organization’s southeast region is comprised of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
Orlando Area Women Unite
On August 24, 1962, the NAWIC Greater Orlando Chapter—with charter members from companies in Orlando and Winter Park—became the 73rd chapter in the nation. Today, it is the largest affiliate of NAWIC with 130 members representing 97 organization types/fields, including general contractors, subcontractors, architects, insurance, financial, legal, labor force, material/equipment suppliers and other affiliates that support the industry.
Like other NAWIC chapters, this group includes female business owners, subcontractors, project managers, accountants, estimators, tradeswomen, attorneys, engineers and many others. The group is inclusive of virtually every profession in the construction industry.
Rose Buchanan, Past President of NAWIC’s Greater Orlando Chapter 73 and a contract specialist at Total Project Strategies, a project management consulting company for Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla., shares her perspective about the organization: “We give women in the construction industry the chance to believe in themselves, persevere and dare by utilizing the tools of our mentoring program, leadership opportunities, educational speakers and workshops along with construction certification classes.”
Buchanan and others note that most women join NAWIC for the networking opportunities—but they stay with the organization for entirely different reasons, ranging from education and mentoring to leadership opportunities and community engagement.
Learning from Each Other
The association’s structured mentoring program is unique as compared to other industry associations. The context for the relationship is categorized by topic: leadership, productivity, time management, public speaking, NAWIC 101, personal development and business management.
The goal of the program is to help members define and work toward the achievement of personal and professional goals through increased productivity, stronger leadership skills and improved self-confidence. It can also serve as a powerful inspiration for both mentor and protégé.
After a brief orientation, the mentor and protégé will engage in a six-month formal and structured program that will serve as a guide and help them stay on track. The two must commit to a minimum of one meeting per month; at the end of the six months, many participants continue meeting informally beyond that time.
Megan Picataggio, an attorney focused on construction litigation and transactional law with Ball Janik, LLP and also the 2017-2018 NAWIC Greater Orlando Chapter 73 President, joined NAWIC in 2013. She chose to mentor one of her fellow NAWIC colleagues this past year. Her protégé was interested in leadership development within NAWIC, so the two read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Dr. Stephen R. Covey.
Picataggio adds, “I got as much out of the time spent together as she did. Ultimately, we figured out a roadmap for her to build relationships within the organization and gain confidence and public speaking.”
Karen Hager, CFO for The Briar Team, an underground utility and site development company, who is also NAWIC’s Southeast Region Director and a Past President of Chapter 73, is a strong proponent of NAWIC and the mentoring program. When asked what NAWIC has done for her, Hager says, “Being part of NAWIC has taught me team building, communication and leadership skills, which built on my already existing time management, technology and productivity skills.”
In addition to an annual survey of the membership to get feedback on the program and future desired topics, the chapter continually works to improve the mentoring experience. This year, the association added group mentoring in the form of a roundtable discussion featuring monthly topics with attendees exchanging advice and counsel.
The 2016-2017 Past President and Mentor Chair Angela Highland says, “One meeting you could be the mentor and the next meeting you could be the protégé. Either way, it’s a win-win. The beauty of the group format is that you can jump in and out at any time depending on the topic you are interested in. You don’t have to sign up for the formal six-month program to get the benefits of mentoring.”
The Greater Orlando Chapter 73 hosts about 12 mentoring partnerships in any given year.
“We give women in the construction industry the chance to believe in themselves, persevere and dare ...”
Rose Buchanan, Past President of Greater Orlando Chapter 73, National Association of Women in Construction
Part of NAWIC’s charter is to educate the next generation of construction professionals. In fact, for more than 25 years, the NAWIC Education Foundation (NEF) has offered creative and educational programs designed not only for members, but for students from grade school to high school to spark interest in construction.
The Greater Orlando Chapter 73 has been involved with the award-winning NEF Block Kids Building Competition since 1990. This program gives kindergarten through 6th grade kids 45 minutes to build construction structures, each using 100 Legos, a piece of string, a small rock and a 12-inch-by-12-inch piece of foil. Volunteer judges award the kids in each grade level based on creativity of each one’s structure and the story behind it. The overall winner’s submission goes on to get judged on the regional and national levels.
They also host an annual Construction Career Camp (CCC), first established in 2010. It is chaired by the Greater Orlando Chapter 73’s Pat Walker, who is the Safety Director with WELBRO Building Corp. and a 25-year member of NAWIC. Thanks to a partnership between NAWIC and the local public schools, this free one-week program introduces high school girls to various construction trades and career opportunities. This year, over 50 volunteers provided 32 girls the opportunity to operate hand tools safely and properly, build wooden tool boxes, set tiles, hang drywall, wire three-way electric switches and light bulbs, design and assemble marshmallow blasters and even drive heavy equipment.
NAWIC members believe this event is so much more than just fun activities. The young women gain confidence in themselves. Some start out shy and quiet but by the end of the week, they’re communicating with adults and peers with assurance—and many of these young women return down the road as volunteers.
Another important NEF program supported each year by the Greater Orlando Chapter 73 is a CAD/Design/Drafting competition, a program that challenges high school students to design a structure using specific program requirements. Volunteer judges from the local construction community meet for a day to select the best entry based on a point system that recognizes creativity, accuracy, detail and an understanding of the components needed to build a solid structure. First, second and third place winners are honored at a special membership dinner and the winner goes on to the regional and national competitions.
As part of the chapter’s goal to encourage the next generation of construction professionals, the organization also supports other groups, such as the Academy of Construction Technologies (ACT), a youth pre-apprenticeship trades program for juniors and seniors. ACT Executive Director Nancy Merced is an 11-year member of the Greater Orlando Chapter 73, and a champion for high school kids throughout the tri-county area who are not on a college path.
Proving the power of NAWIC, Debbie Rodriguez, Owner/Operator of Quality Labor Management and Competitive Edge Partners & Consulting, LLC, a 10-year active NAWIC member and previous Chapter President, was inspired to found her own nonprofit organization, iBuildCentralFlorida, a local resource that promotes and provides pathways to careers in construction for students and adults in the career transition phase. She has pulled together key players in the industry and is working with local high schools, trade schools and state resources to coordinate efforts to promote available career options and scholarship opportunities.
NAWIC chapters nationwide are encouraged to continually get involved on a community level to promote the association and show support for other women in the industry. The women of NAWIC say some of their favorite community activities include serving as guest judges at the Orange County Library Youth OCLS LEGO® Contest and participating in Women Build Week events coordinated by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando.
To further support women’s interest and education in construction, Greater Orlando Chapter 73 offers the Margaret Powell Scholarship, named for one of the chapter’s founding members. To be considered, female applicants must be planning to enroll, or already be enrolled, in a course of study directly related to the construction industry, such as civil engineering, construction technology, construction management, surveying, CAD drafting and design, etc.
Built for Success
Over the last 64 years of its existence, NAWIC has continued to evolve and grow. One of the goals for the future is to diversify the membership. Currently, a large majority are professionals, such as business owners, executives, office administrators, project managers, construction accountants, engineers and lawyers. The leadership team would like to encourage more female craftworkers and tradespersons to join the group.
Kizzy Ferrer, Assistant Project Manager for Boyer Building Corp., a general contractor specializing in construction for the hospitality industry—and the 2017-2018 Greater Orlando Chapter 73 President-elect—says, “As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, you can at times feel like you are the only one facing the issues common to women in our field, both personally and professionally.” “NAWIC reminds us that we’re not alone,” she adds. “We have members in our chapter who have been in the business for 25-30 years. I’ve never been part of a group with so much power and knowledge and the great thing is that everyone is willing to share their knowledge or take another person under their wing. This association is inclusive and collaborative and it has made me a stronger asset to my company and to my community as well. It’s a fellowship that I’m very proud to be a part of.”