Blazing trails for women in building
March 29, 2023
As the nation recognizes March as Women’s History Month, Professional Women in Building (PWB) councils in Washington and across the country continue to thrive as more and more women join the trades.
With a staggering labor shortage contributing to project delays and rising home prices, residential construction welcomes and supports the influx of new workers.
The latest national statistics show the number of women in construction sits at 1.24 million, reaching an all-time high after plummeting to 802,000 during the Great Recession.
Mentoring is key to growing our future workforce
Past chair of the BIAW Workforce Development Task Force, Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS) member and passionate supporter of PWB councils at the local and national level, Darylene Dennon says PWB councils provide a welcoming entry point into our association.
Like many women in construction, Darylene Dennon grew up around the trades, but she took a few detours on the way to becoming the first tradeswoman to chair NAHB’s PWB Council.
Dennon originally wanted to be a botanist and open a nursery. Early on, she worked for a landscaping company and learned to paint to help pay her way through community college. She eventually became an expert at detail work, refinishing decks and fine furniture, before heading to Alaska to work as a firefighter and local police/fire dispatcher. Returning to her roots, she and her husband started a painting and light remodeling company in 1988. Solid Energy, Inc. joined MBAKS in 1998.
Dennon went on to become the first woman president of the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) Washington Council and eventually president of PDCA nationally from 2011 to 2013. She was also the first woman president of the Construction Industry Training Council, a state-certified vocational trade school in Washington.
Dennon supports groups like these because she’s a big believer in mentoring to empower others to empower themselves. That’s why she’s such a supporter of professional women in building—and its evolution over the years.
“Our members are passionate about what they do,” she said. “Most are looking for a support system that will help them develop personally and professionally, creating bonds that last a lifetime. Some just need some camaraderie and support they can’t get from other groups.”
NAHB Professional Women in Building: The early days
Dennon recalls how PWB started as a women’s auxiliary back in the 1950s.
“As women attended the national board meetings with their husbands, they wanted more to do,” she said. “A lot of them were in the business with their husbands but women weren’t allowed to be NAHB members at that time.”
NAHB chartered the Women’s Auxiliary in 1955 and by 1960, the group had launched a legislative committee. Next, they developed educational programs to promote the public image of builders and held housing conferences across the nation.
By 1965, the group had 59 local chapters, including one at the Seattle Home Builders Association started by Stina Johannesen in 1950. As the group continued to grow in influence and size, it changed its name to Women’s Council and became an affiliate of NAHB in 1990.
Women Building Hope in King and Snohomish Counties
While the NAHB Women’s Council continued to grow and evolve, Dennon and a group of women in building and remodeling at MBAKS started “Women Building Hope.” The eight women started the group to support incoming MBAKS President Sandi McAdams, the association’s first female president, and to give back to their community.
During her presidency in 2002, McAdams approved “Women Building Hope” as an ad hoc standing committee. In 2005, MBAKS President Donna Shirey supported the group in becoming nationally chartered with NAHB.
Continued growth and evolution
The NAHB Women’s Council changed its name to Professional Women in Building in 2007 and NAHB approved it as a fully integrated council in 2014.
“We changed our name to Professional Women in Building because that’s what we were: professionals,” Dennon said. “By then, more and more women were owning their own building and remodeling companies so it made sense to change the name.”
Dennon won NAHB PWB Woman of the Year in 2015, then became the first tradeswoman to chair the NAHB PWB Council in 2019.
In Washington, the Olympia Master Builders chartered its PWB Council in 2020. They continued to meet during the pandemic, giving associate and builder members opportunities to network virtually until they could gather in person again.
PWB looks to the future
BIAW second vice president Luellen Smith advanced to the role of NAHB PWB first vice chair at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas in late January. NAHB’s PWB Member of the Year in 2018 and former chair of the MBAKS PWB Council, Smith says she’s excited about PWB’s growth and potential.
Smith, who runs Rhino Wine Cellars with her husband, reported NAHB’s PWB Council exceeded its goals with 3,100 members and 80 chartered councils by the end of 2022.
The council continues to work on brand recognition and local council support into the future. Statewide, BIAW’s 2023 budget includes $5,000 to support PWB Council development.
Both Dennon and Smith emphasize that Professional Women in Building has many male members and they welcome their support. They encourage members of MBAKS and OMB to join their local PWB Councils. Members without a local council can join as at-large members of the NAHB PWB.
“Anyone interested in being a part of Professional Women in Building, please let us know,” Smith said. “We need your help in mentoring the next generation in becoming even stronger, more confident and more successful as a part of PWB’s efforts to grow our industry.”
Members interested in forming a local council can contact BIAW Education and Workforce Development Director Al Audette at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
*Original article was featured in the March 2023 issue of Building Insight magazine.