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VOL. 110 | NO. 136 | Tuesday, July 16, 1996

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lj 10/5 cates Women in construction Women face challenges but are finding acceptance in construction industry By LAURIE JOHNSON The Daily News After spending several years fielding home buyers questions while working as a residential home designer, Marla Becksfort discovered something about herself. "What I learned was that I loved the home-building industry and that what I really wanted to do was to build," said Becksfort, now president of Stylesetter Homes, one of only a handful of Memphis building companies headed by women. While the home-building and construction trades still are seen as largely a male-dominated field, women are playing a larger role than many realize in the industry. "There are increasing numbers of women getting into this business," said Dave Reel, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Memphis. "And its good for the industry to have as much diversity as possible." Although HBAMs membership roster includes 17 women, including Becksfort, identified as principals in their respective building companies, there are "many, many more in the industry," Reel said. "Even though a lot of womens names may not be prominently displayed on a company signboard or advertising flyer, they are certainly key players in many operations," he said. In the not-too-distant past, a womans place in the construction industry was primarily at the phone. While some concentrated mainly on keeping the books and handling the paperwork, others displayed their talents in interior design. Many did everything except pound nails and pour cement. Today, while many women still focus primarily on these areas, an increasing number have ventured into the areas once considered solely the provinces of men. "The business has changed considerably from how it was 10 or 12 years ago," Becksfort said. "Were out there doing everything from the ground up. Working with the crews, making all the material selections, working with the homeowners doing the whole thing." Becksfort has built custom homes in Germantown and other parts of East Memphis, in subdivisions such as Southwind, The Highlands and Dogwood. Her homes are primarily in the $300,000 to $750,000 price range. While some, like Becksfort, managed to secure financial backing and build their own business from the ground up, others found themselves involved in the industry by way of marriage or other family relations. "I worked with my husband for over 20 years all of our married life," said Marjorie Denley, who assumed presidency of Arnold Denley Building Co. Inc. when her husband, who founded the company, died about three years ago. Denley said her building projects mainly consist of custom homes, valued in the $150,000 to $300,000 price range, in Collierville, Arlington and Shelby County. "In the beginning, Bo was going to be the only one of us involved in the company," said Lisa Caviness, remembering the initial plan of her husband when he started BC Construction 11 years ago. "However, it evolved into something much different." Caviness said she handles the administrative duties of the company, which currently has building projects in Arlington, Lakeland and Collierville, and also maintains contact with the home buyers. She is also manager of her and her husbands real estate company, Preferred, Realtors. Denley said she has noticed more women employed in other construction-related fields, as well as in the actual building industry. "I see a lot more women involved in sales of supplies to the industry, and there are a lot more women involved in subcontracting," she said. The number of women employed by the Memphis/Shelby County Code Enforcement department also is increasing, said Julie Gray, plans examiner for the department. "When I came back in 1985, I was the only female in the department," said Gray, who holds a state building code certification and Southern Building Code Congress certification, as well as her real estate license. "Now, we have a female electrical inspector and a female complaint investigator, and there are also several female engineers that we deal with." Although every female builder interviewed said there was some semblance of a "boys club" atmosphere in the home-building industry, most said this aspect of the business was slowly changing. "More women are coming to the forefront in this profession, and because of that, were more accepted," Caviness said. "I think at some point I may have been perceived as a threat by some men, because when a woman walks in, many automatically assume shes not very knowledgeable." "The crews that I work with are crews that Ive worked with for a very long time," Becksfort said. "I find that when I work with the men out on the job, its not a matter of ego. Its a matter of simply working together to do the best job possible. Having mutual respect, thats what it comes down to." Several builders said they saw being female as an asset in home building. "The wife wants to have a lot of input as to what happens in the house, and I think many of them feel more comfortable talking with us," Becksfort said. "I also think that women have a good sense of continuity in a plan, and were able to identify changes, maybe even minor changes, that can be made to a plan to make it much more livable." "The functional side of the home is sold to the man, but the livable, personal side is sold to the woman, Caviness said. "If she cant live in it, her husbands not going to buy it." Although launching a home-building business is difficult for anyone these days, it can be particularly challenging for a woman. "Its difficult to get started, even to get the financial backing that you need," Becksfort said. "When youre getting started, you need to quickly gain the respect of the people with whom youll be working, so they know you are serious about your business." "Dont get into it unless you love doing it, because it is a struggle," said Leslie Hinsz, who has been actively building both residential and commercial projects in Memphis for the past seven years. "Its more difficult starting now than it was in the past. The timing was good for me, from a financial aspect. Shortly after I got started, the financial elements got very, very tight. You couldnt get a starting-out construction loan, no matter who you were." According to the HBAM membership roster, other female home builders in the Memphis and Shelby County area include Shirley Flint of Contemporary Homes, Lasonya Blankenship of Appletree Homes, Cindy Medlin of Distinctive Properties, Bobbi Gillis of FaxonGillis Homes, Claudia Poole of Poole Homebuilders, Kay Adams of Earl Maxwell Homes, Becky Parsons of Parsons Construction, Lynn Kaiser of Southwind L.P., Caroline Russell of Thompson & Russell, Melinda McCloy of Walker Hall, Faye Cook of Memphis Home Improvement, Karen Garner of Magnolia Homes and Mary Ann Watts of The Watts Co.
PROPERTY SALES 128 234 13,285
MORTGAGES 80 152 8,323
BANKRUPTCIES 42 79 6,299