Women Reshaping the Blueprint as the New General Contractors

Growing up, Home Economics was never my thing. Building shit was.

Hammering nails, whose heads were tied to yarn, into the centre of chestnuts so that they could be swung and released like a toy was one of many things I did as
a kid. Yes, it was stupidly dangerous, and I shouldn’t even have had access to those two things, but I did, and I didn’t know any better. It was a very different time. It was when pregnant women smoked and drank, there weren’t seat belts, and childproofing didn’t exist. Having a television back then was a luxury that not all households could afford. Those that did had access to only three channels, and not one was a lifestyle or construction program.

Fast forward decades, with a series of home renovations and building projects under my belt, and I find myself officially resigned from old-school male contractors. The same ones who still believe shop class and construction are exclusively for males. Sadly, that outdated mindset continues to exist in the construction world. There are excellent tradespeople, and then there are those who give the industry a bad name with shoddy work and scams. Construction fraud is rising, and quality work is an exception, not the norm. Having tackled significant renovation projects from the ground up, I know a thing or two regarding construction and am always surprised when the one who is supposedly seasoned isn’t.

We recently had to tackle a large project, and the contractor, who happened to be a guy, had over two years to complete it and did squat. Because the project didn’t involve only us but several neighbours who originally hired him, one by one, we each elected to fire him, and we switched over to a female general contractor. The contrast was extraordinary. She was knowledgeable and came with a team comprised of an engineer and architect while overseeing a skilled crew. Her expertise attracted top-notch trades because she ensured everyone got paid promptly. No one had to chase money. They only had to show up and finish a full day’s work. Generally speaking, many trades occasionally show up for an hour, delaying the job’s completion. She estimated it would take four to six weeks. She delivered it on budget, on time and with daily progress reports through images and brief text descriptions. We knew on any day what had progressed and where. She was extraordinarily detail-orientated and committed. There was no chit-chat. Meetings scheduled for 15 minutes were precisely that. It was all business.

My grandfather was a skilled tradesman, a painter who worked for himself. I recall his buddies coming over, sharing a beer, and joking about how they’d humour the lady of the house but not involve her in the job. He remained silent as they carried on. I was confused as to why he would permit them to continue the way they did, considering my grandfather’s daughter, my mother, worked full-time and managed both the inside and outside of our house. She was ruthless when it came to negotiating. She was detail-orientated and cost-conscious in outlining the job’s parameters. She said her husband would pay them once she was pleased, which was complete bullshit because she also managed all the money. Unlike me, my mother had no interest in hammering anything, but she got versed on what each step would cost so she could realize the final outcome.

I’ve had many terrific experiences with tradespeople, but it’s the circus masters they work for who have greatly disappointed me. We’ve hired various contractors over the years, and some were excellent, while others, despite having stellar references and referrals, ended up being fraudsters. Unlike those they had previously scammed, I won’t stand for it on principle and will actively pursue them in the courts so they don’t pull that crap on others. For those I’ve had to let slide, karma has me covered.

A comfortable environment serves as my bling. Renovation is not dissimilar to cosmetic surgery. Drywall is a room’s epidermis. No one sees what’s behind, only what’s in front, like the wallpaper, paint or a piece of art. But everything behind must be in top shape so your space operates optimally. Decoration is the fun part, but the support system is the crucial part. Drywall conceals the guts of a house. Still, a solid foundation is vital, not only from the bottom up but also in the heating, electrical and plumbing that spreads through the walls, floors and ceiling like arteries. The whole shebang is connected. Magazines, however, only prioritize the aesthetics, like lipstick.

To achieve wondrous inner workings on ‘good bones,’ one must vet prices from contractors, which can be arbitrary depending on where you live. I call it the ‘price per street.’ Dealing with a century-old home in the city can cost three times more than one on the city’s outskirts. And it’s never good when your contractor shows up in a vehicle that you’d associate with James Bond in driving around the French Riviera.

A lot of professionals in my life are women. They exhibit the attributes I value, but the same holds true for the professional men in my life. They possess that detailed-orientated disposition that I so appreciate. I’ve worked with some great guys in the construction venue over the years, but the styles do differ. Men need to catch up regarding the preceding, during and post-work communication. They may think they’re doing the same thing, only differently, but they’re not.  My experience is that they see the overall picture. In contrast, our female contractor saw that, plus every level below and above it, and that made a substantial difference.

If I’m bashing anyone, it’s the criminals who claim to be skilled when they’re not. Their actions are beyond despicable, scooping some people’s life savings from underneath them. This lack of vetting that archetype stains the industry and illustrates ample room exists for new and capable female energy in the trades. Perhaps that influx will change the balance and flush out the swindlers. I’d love to see that grow. However, something needs to be done to rid the imposters and turn that bushel of apples into one that is culled full of delicious choices without bruises, worms or rot. It’s always curious to me how only one bad apple in any field can ruin it for so many who do operate with integrity.

Who doesn’t want a job delivered on time, within budget and without chasing anyone or hearing excuses like “I can’t do that?” Anything is possible for women. How can an extension or building a home be more complicated than making babies? You have fun creating it, then endure the ‘pregnancy’ phase, with occasional complications, and finally, it all comes together. And that, dear ladies, we can nail. Construction is just a different configuration of birthing, a tangible space instead of a little person.

In the modern world of construction, women are now building a new blueprint as General Contractors, and it’s long overdue.  It’s time to break the bro code in this traditionally male-dominated area and make room for an influx of these incredibly talented women.

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