Celebrating Women in Construction Week 2022
A Butler Builder® Shares Her Story
Butler Manufacturing™ has a commitment to women in construction that is rooted in our culture and values. With support and empowerment from our parent company, BlueScope Buildings North America, Butler acts on this commitment at every level of the organization. When we celebrate Women in Construction (WIC) Week, it is to recognize the achievements and unique contributions women make in this industry and to encourage other women to explore career opportunities in construction, because we know our company will be stronger with them in it.
One example comes from Design Systems Builders, LLC (DSB), a Butler Builder in Nashville, TN, where Sara Waggoner has worked since 2005. Sara currently serves as the Director of Marketing and Client Relations for DSB’s parent company, T.W. Frierson Contractor, Inc., a role with broad-ranging responsibilities including business development and public relations. Over the years, Sara’s combination of confidence and unique perspective has helped the companies grow.
Unlike some women who grew up in a construction family and seek careers in construction, Sara’s sights were set on a different path. She earned a bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) in Criminal Justice with plans to attend law school. But a healthy dose of self-awareness made her realize that was not where she would be happy.
Construction Just ‘Meshed’ for Sara
“It was one of my first jobs out of college, I started working for a small general contractor when I was in Houston, TX, and it grew from there,” Sara said. “When I moved to Nashville, that was the only ‘real’ experience I had, so I looked for a job in something I knew and landed at T.W. Frierson.”
With some experience in the construction industry under her belt, Sara was prepared for what she would encounter.
“I had three interviews [at T.W. Frierson] and at my final interview there were eight guys in it. But they didn’t intimidate me,” she said. “I knew—because I was very outnumbered—that I had a different perspective, a different opinion, and a different way of looking at things or communicating with people. And that was something they needed.”
At the time Sara was just three years out of college, but she noticed how the male-dominated company was relying on “old school” methods to promote the business. Rather than feeling limited, Sara saw this as an opportunity. “If anything, it gave me more to offer. To stay up with the times, you have to change your workforce, and how you get work, and how you interact with people,” she explained. She had confidence in her ability to bring this new dynamic to the company.
Finding Her Way
Sara credits the culture of what was then a family-owned business (T.W. Frierson is now 100% employee-owned) for allowing her to find her own way in the construction industry.
“There’s never been anyone directly above me who does what I do. I’ve really been able to work with the executives and create my next position,” Sara explained. “They’ve let me grow, and learn, and evolve. They’ve allowed me to explore and find ways to help the business.”
She also points to experiences with trade associations such as Associated Builders and Contractors and NAIOP, where she has been a National Forum Group Member since 2015. “That exposure gave me more information about the industry in general, and really built my confidence when talking with owners,” she said. Providing validation of that confidence, she was recently selected to serve on the Butler Builder Advisory Council, where she and other members will provide Butler® leadership with advice and recommendations on growing the Butler business.
Change Comes Slowly
Sara doesn’t blame the construction industry for the gender imbalance. She is quick to point out how other industries have far more female workers than male workers and is convinced these issues are rooted in the norms of our society.
“The construction industry has historically been a male-dominated industry. Many young women have not been exposed to construction, and therefore don’t think this is a field they would enjoy or be good at.”
When Sara was hired, a majority of jobs for women at T.W. Frierson were administration roles. In fact, her first position was administrative, one she describes as something “they didn’t see a guy wanting to do.” But things are evolving. Within the past few years, they hired the first female project manager.
“We’ve been around a really long time, and we just now have our first one. It’s still hard to find female workers” she said. When it comes to field workers, the numbers are even more lopsided. “The workforce just isn’t there. Not many women are choosing to work construction in the field.”
However, just before we published this story, Sara announced that two female field engineers, who work onsite in the field, joined T.W. Frierson.
Regardless of these numbers, Sara sees construction as a sustainable, long term career choice and encourages other women to consider the diverse opportunities in the industry. She is thankful for her experiences with the local chapter of NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction), where she has served on the board since 2020. The broad range of women involved creates teaching, learning, and mentoring opportunities that are valuable for women of all experience levels. NAWIC also supports STEM programs in local schools to help young females explore career paths that women traditionally did not pursue.
With nearly 20 years of experience, Sara values her network of other females in construction saying, “Women in this industry are very supportive and stick together. We’re a resource for each other.”