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Thriving As A Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry

New Jersey

January 3, 2023

Thriving As A Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry: Christine Luizzia-McGuire Of Golden Crown Contractors On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry

An interview with Kelly Reeves

Inthe United States in 2022, fields such as Aircraft piloting, Agriculture, Architecture, Construction, Finance, and Information technology, are still male-dominated industries. For a woman who is working in a male-dominated environment, what exactly does it take to thrive and succeed? In this interview series, we are talking to successful women who work in a Male-Dominated Industry who can share their stories and experiences about navigating work and life as strong women in a male-dominated industry. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Christine Luizzia-McGuire.

As the president of Golden Crown Contractors, Christine Luizzia-McGuire has more than 20 years of experience in a variety of construction projects. Leading the firm, she manages all aspects of the business from contract negotiation to estimating and personnel management. Christine is also the recipient of the 2018 Professional Women in Construction Achievement award, a member of the Signatory Wall and Ceiling Contractors Alliance (SWACCA) and worked to certify Golden Crown Contractors as both a Small Business Enterprise (SBE) and a Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) by the state of New Jersey.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

When I was growing up in the ’70s, the bottom fell out of the construction industry. My father, as a union carpenter at the time, switched gears and opened Golden Crown Contractors right in the midst of that uncertainty. The business started out small with residential work, and I’d tag along with him on construction sites as a kid. The older I got, the more I worked with him, and by high school, I was working at night and during my spare time.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

A lot of people ask me how I ever got involved in owning a construction company. As I mentioned, my father started and managed Golden Crown Contractors, so I grew up in and around the construction industry. I joke that my father had two daughters and no sons, but in reality, I always liked to help my dad on his sites as a kid, cleaning up debris, sweeping floors or just keeping him company.

As time went on and his company grew, I worked in his office at night with my mother. She already had a full-time job, so some nights were long. At the time, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to ever work in the construction industry if I got married — I must’ve forgotten that as I aged, considering where I am now.

I attended college, taking computer classes, and took an interest in construction management, estimating and other construction-related courses. Heading down that career path after college, I worked for a residential contractor and designed kitchens and bathrooms. After a few years and right before my wedding, I was laid off.

My dad saw an opportunity and asked me to work part-time in his office, which turned into full-time employment before I knew it. He was tough on me (we’re a loud Italian family), and I think I said, “I quit,” at least 10 times — maybe more! Looking back, the high expectations that come from working with family only made me stronger.

My dad retired in 2013 after 35 years, and I took over the business. I applied with the state of New Jersey to become a Women-Owned Business (WBE) to open the door for greater opportunities. While it wasn’t an easy process, I persevered through the paperwork and finally earned the certificate in 2015.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have one story that’s always a crowd pleaser. My father didn’t like to drive stick shift, but I can. At this point, I was around 23 years old, and I was taking a 45-minute trip south down the highway with a two-ton dump truck full of materials. The entirety of the drive, a tractor-trailer was blowing his horn at me. I thought, “What am I doing wrong? I’m in my lane. I’m driving fine.” Finally, he pulls up beside me and starts waving at me. Turns out, I wasn’t doing anything wrong — he was flirting with me!

Now, as the owner of Golden Crown Contractors, I still keep myself busy. I’m constantly doing something and don’t give it a second thought if materials need to be moved. If something needs to be done, I’m there.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Three traits that have been critical to my success are resilience, a get-it-done attitude and sense of humor.

  1. In this business — and in working with family — resilience is key. As I mentioned before, working with my father very closely for 25 years wasn’t always easy. There were times I left the office in tears because he was very tough on me, but I know now that tough love made me who I am today.
  2. To be successful in any field, I think you need to have a get-it-done attitude. I can recall a time at a job site when I was standing in the bed of a pick-up truck loading trash. A worker from our mechanical subcontractor came up to me and said, “Wow, you do it all!” I said, “No, I do whatever needs to be done.”
  3. Working in the construction industry, things can go off plan at any moment. I’ve learned to find humor in the small things. When my dad and I worked together and had disagreements, I’d tell him, “You’d better check the screws in your chair because I loosened them before you came in.” I messed with him a lot — and we still have that type of relationship today.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you help articulate a few of the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome while working in a male-dominated industry?

When you first start out in the construction industry, it can be difficult to establish yourself — and unfortunately, it can sometimes be even tougher for women in general. Many businesses already have connections with engineers, architects, prospective clients and others in the industry. But once a partner has worked with you, it slowly changes. It takes time to prove yourself; it doesn’t just happen overnight.

Can you share a few of the things you have done to gain acceptance among your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do? Can you share some stories or examples?

In the very beginning, I didn’t want to follow in my father’s footsteps because those were big shoes to fill. Instead, I tried to establish myself within the company in my own right by being assertive. I would run project meetings, bringing solutions and answering questions. That way, people within the company knew I was knowledgeable. I became known as someone who gets the job done on time and within budget.

What do you think male-oriented organizations can do to enhance their recruiting efforts to attract more women?

I tell my kids that you can buy whatever career you want with a degree, but you can’t use it unless you have experience. We have to bring younger women who are interested in the field in and show them what it’s like. Give people a shot, whether it’s through apprenticeships or training programs. Currently, Golden Crown Contractors is sponsoring its third apprentice. After a year or two, they go on to bigger companies. It’s critical to share what you know and help others.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry?”

  1. Competitiveness: While the industry is becoming more diverse, there are still times I walk into a room and women are outnumbered 15 to 1. Bidding against other general contractors — yes, sometimes all men — makes me want to sharpen my pencil and dive right in. It’s a competitive industry, so it helps to thrive off the competition.
  2. Willingness to try and try again: When I first started, I was new at estimating. It took me five whole years to learn the skill and be on my own without my father looking over my shoulder — it’s a science that just takes time.
  3. Positivity and class: When I did my first estimating project all on my own, a gentleman from a competing business was there. He said something along the lines of, “I’m here now, so you can go home.” I said, “I think I’d rather stay.” I thought, wow, some nerve, and shortly after, I won the bid. To the competitor, I just said, “You have a good day,” and left. To have confidence is great, but to do your job well and with class is even better.
  4. Motivation: You can’t buy it, and you can’t steal it. You just have to have it. I always say that motivated people who want to show up and learn will make it.
  5. Ability to build relationships: Construction is a tough business. You put in a lot of time and effort, so it’s important to have solid relationships with the people you work with. We often take our crew to drinks and dinner after work to show them we appreciate them. A lot of business owners forget about this because they’re so worried about the bottom dollar, but if your workers aren’t looking out for you, your ship isn’t going to sail. In addition to everyday relationships, I recommend joining organizations you’re passionate about. I am a member of the Signatory Wall and Ceiling Contractors Alliance (SWACCA), which is the collective voice of signatory wall and ceiling contractors in the national conversation about the unionized construction industry. The alliance works to enhance union construction by providing business tools and resources to its members through relationships, education and advocacy to build better tomorrows.

If you had a close woman friend who came to you with a choice of entering a field that is male dominated or female dominated, what would you advise her? Would you advise a woman friend to start a career in a field or industry that’s traditionally been mostly men? Can you explain what you mean?

If a woman wanted to go into a male-dominated field, I’d tell that person to give it a go. I tell everyone — including my kids — to follow their dreams. They’re real. That’s what you have to work for because nobody will just hand it to you.

Have you seen things change for women working in male-dominated industries, over the past ten years? How do you anticipate that it might improve in the future? Can you please explain what you mean?

I think it’s changed a lot; I don’t feel like an outsider anymore. Now, there’s more than one woman besides myself in the room, and they’re getting it done. It’s great to see women in the field with safety vests and hard hats on, but it doesn’t just have to be the construction industry — it’s all trades, everywhere.

I belong to a number of organizations, like the Sisterhood of Carpenters and Professional Women in Construction, among others, and I always find myself talking to younger girls and women. Some of them come to me, too, and I try hard to make them feel good about themselves and tell them it’s okay to be in this business, that they’ll make it if they work for it. Overall, I love seeing more women giving this industry a shot.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Successful business people are always of interest to me. In particular, I’d like to have lunch with American financier Carl Icahn. I’d ask him how he got started, what led to his interest in the field and the best piece of advice he’s ever received that he’d like to pass on.

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