Wilson Lumber Blog

Celebrating Women in Construction

Robb Wilson - Friday, March 4, 2022

Growing up next door to Wilson Lumber, and being in the family, meant that I was at the business all the time. Sometimes I tell stories of me walking through the store and lumberyard barefoot.

People usually think I’m joking.

I’m not.

It wasn’t smart mind you, but I was a kid.

Some of my first memories are at Wilson Lumber. So the people who worked here were my close friends, my family. Black, white, men, women, old, young. It made no difference in the eyes of a kid. I guess when you’re young you don’t really view people through the lens of whether they are a man or a woman, whether they can drive a truck or do accounting, or sit in the corner office. People are just … people.

Robb’s Grandmom, Elmira Wilson

For me, I saw my mom, my aunts and other women working here. I knew my Grandmom had worked here before she retired. I didn’t see it at the time but let’s face it: things were different then. If there was a woman in the business, she was most likely in bookkeeping.

So sure, there were women in construction, but they were mainly in the office doing payables, balancing the checkbook, and processing payroll. They were really good at it. Aunt Mary Lee is still the best Office Manager we’ve ever had. I don’t know how many customers stayed loyal because of the service they received from Ruth Patterson at the cashier’s counter. You should see my mom on an adding machine! It truly is an amazing sight! And did I mention that I started dating a 17-year-old girl who worked here in the summers? We got married 28 years ago. Believe me when I say, I am thankful for women in construction.

So women in bookkeeping was smart. What wasn’t so smart is that’s the only place they were in construction. But if you come to Wilson Lumber today, you’ll see a different picture. Yes, some women are in bookkeeping. But more than any time before we have women in sales, in production, driving trucks, and running departments.

In fact, as of this writing, roughly 21% of the total Wilson Lumber workforce is female.

But that’s just a start.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) report says that the number of women working in construction increased by 17.6 percent from 2017 to 2018, reaching well over a quarter of a million (276,000). The overall population of women in the industry is still too low at 10.9 percent, but that’s good progress.

This is changing, too, throughout the supply chain. We are delighted that one of our major customers, LeeHouse Homebuilding, is the Huntsville Madison County Builders Association’s 2021 Builder of The Year. Wendy Lee is the principal owner and founder. She’s worked in the industry for 23 years and is getting some well-deserved recognition for it.

A few of the women who are part of the Wilson Lumber workforce today. (l-r) Heather Smith Price, Sallie Keene, Tina Morales, Vickie Leslie, Erin Felder

There are many more examples of progress. Like Tina Morales, who delivers lumber for us, or Vickie Leslie who keeps Warehouse 5 running smooth, or Loretta Rodriguez who operates a saw at our Madison truss plant.

My kids often tease me about coming into the business and doing a hostile takeover. This of course includes my 18-year-old daughter who, if I’m honest, is completely capable of doing it. It will generally revolve around jokes about me getting old and needing to step out of the way for the younger generation. All in fun, and I love it.

But I will also say that I am delighted that it has been in my generation that the role of women in construction has begun to change and that we are seeing more meaningful contributions from women in what’s previously been a male-dominated industry. We are seeing women excelling in careers in sales and management, in production and in driving. And yet there is still more progress to be made.

The past may not always have been something we can be proud of, but if the current trend is any indication, I can tell you that the future is bright.

And should my daughter ever desire to run the business, I seriously doubt that the takeover will be hostile.

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