Gaining Perspective: What Two Rising Female Leaders Say About the Industry

By Michael Collins

Reflecting on the cover story for this issue of [DWM], we’re mindful that the majority of workers and managers in the building products industry are men. For this reason, we wanted to gain a fresh perspective on the experiences of women working in the building products industry by interviewing two rising leaders in different segments: Laura Basara, vice president of tape and gasket manufacturer Lamatek, in West Deptford, N.J., and Jennifer Castenson, vice president at Melbourne, Australia-based Buildxact.

Basara has been with Lamatek for over 20 years, where she’s responsible for setting strategic company goals and market direction, identifying business opportunities, overseeing revenue generation, and recruiting top talent. Her primary customers are door and window manufacturers.

At Buildxact, Castenson is responsible for ambassador and industry partner programs focused on custom homebuilding and remodeling. She primarily works with homebuilders. Before joining Buildxact earlier this year, she was responsible for programming at a building industry media and data group, where she spent six years in the building products industry.

Current Perspectives

Both Basara and Castenson say they’re mindful of being in an industry where the majority of workers and managers are men. While they’ve seen and experienced negative behavior from male counterparts in the industry, they hasten to add that their overall experiences have been very positive. The #MeToo movement has helped improve the experiences of women in the building industry, which has steadily advanced over time. Both ladies mention having mentors and coaches among both men and women in the industry and are excited about the prospect of more women joining the building products segment.

While there are existing groups for supporting women already in the industry, Basara believes more should be done to recruit women who have not yet joined. Both she and Castenson point out that companies are missing out if they don’t put forward an effort targeted at recruiting. Aside from the obvious fact that women represent half the population, both feel that women bring a unique set of skills and abilities. These include a natural ability to multitask and the ability to understand customer needs and form excellent working relationships with customers and suppliers. Castenson also cites the high emotional intelligence of women in business environments, while Basara suggests that many women are skillful communicators and highly effective problem solvers with the ability to wear multiple hats. This can inject a fresh, innovative, and collaborative leadership style into an industry that lacks gender diversity.

Lending a Hand Up

It’s important for women in any male-dominated industry to build up and elevate one another. This means looking out for new employees who need mentoring and encouragement as they start new roles. Castenson cites several women mentors that had encouraged her at key times in her career, including Sheryl Palmer, chair and CEO at homebuilder Taylor Morrison, and Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, a housing market research and real estate analytic company. Another important mentor for Castenson includes Christi Powell of 84 Lumber. Powell is responsible for her company’s Women in Construction initiative, which encourages networking and career advancement among women.

Basara credited various women and men for encouraging her throughout her career and for serving as great role models. Her advice to young women joining the building products industry is to “make sure you take a seat at the table.” By that, she means that women should put themselves forward and ensure that they are included and heard. Basara says that as women rise through their careers, they may experience such things as being mistaken for the assistant of a male colleague that reports to them. Her advice? Don’t take those instances  to heart, but simply correct the mistake and move on.

In preparing to write this article, I asked for input from one of the woman leaders of tomorrow—my 13-year-old daughter, Kate. When I asked her what she thinks about joining the professional world someday, she said she’d like to own a company that uses engineering to “make something.” I’ll credit her STEM classes at school for placing that possibility on her radar. Hopefully more will have the same goal and find their way into the building products industry.

Michael Collins is an investment banker and a partner in Building Industry Advisors. He specializes in mergers and acquisitions in the door and window industry.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

DWM Magazine

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