Guilty, with a clear conscience...

From The Cambrian in December 1998 by Tina Marie Humphrey

In my nine years as a Designer/ General Contractor (in a predominantly male field) I have frequently been asked, “Is it difficult to be a woman in this business? Do you actually swing a hammer?” and “How did you get into this line of work?”

Actually, being a single mother (especially in Cambria) in this day and age has really been ten-fold the challenge of working in the typically ‘male’ world of the construction industry.

When my 4-year-old daughter Sophie asks me if she can wear my lipstick, it more often than not, means she is already wearing it...so are her clothes and the bathroom tile.

My 6-year-old son Austin says he MUST be allowed on the jobsite with me and will not get into any trouble...but, before we have even scoped out the site, his pockets are filled with enough ‘treasures’ suitable for serious upholstery damage.

For me, it is a more arduous task to make my share of cupcakes for Austin’s class party, drive for Sophie’s field trip and go to a parent meeting, all on the day my 16-year-old breaks up with her boyfriend.... than to do a “man’s” work!

So, how did I get into this line of work? The reasons were many, but mainly a desire to prove that I could do anything the guys could...wrong motivation? maybe...but it made me try hard!

I love what I do and no, the business itself is not difficult to navigate if you are motivated. Yes, I did swing a hammer but only long enough to figure out how to actually build the houses I had been designing and drafting.

While working as a draftsman in the early 80’s I would often hear the carpenters complain that architects who had never swung a hammer did not draw plans that worked, practically speaking, out in the field. I also heard many an architect argues that too many carpenters did not read plans correctly, blaming the resulting job crises on the architect.

Since I had the attention span of a gnat, I was ready for a change and decided the best place to turn was ‘out in the field’. I think the physical nature of the job was appealing in some respects, but I also felt that my business could go further if I understood it from the ground up, so to speak.

I joined a crew that seemed least likely to feel intimidated with a woman on the site and started my first day with a statement that propelled the educational nature of my quest...” I’ll do anything on this job that no one else wants to do if you’ll just explain everything you’re doing as we work.” Well, it worked like a charm, and it didn’t take long to ‘blend in’.

After working in various stages of the construction process for some time, I began to understand the frustrations that architects and carpenters had with each other. There really were carpenters who could not understand plans and then blamed the architects. But there were as many architects who drew pretty pictures, complete with beautiful printing, that were too complicated and over-detailed for the task at hand.

One day while eating my sack lunch on the job, I studied the plans while the other carpenters went out to eat. Upon their return, I pointed out a misinterpretation of the blueprints as the reason for the current on-site problem. After staring at each other and the plans alternately for a few minutes, the lead carpenter said, “we’re not paying you to think, just go finish your framing.”

Well, as you can imagine, that was enough for me to decide to move forward with getting my own contractor’s license. And actually, I just felt that I could do better with scheduling, material waste, employee relations, 3rd or 4th party communication, and ultimately, roll all of this into my design business.

I have rarely chosen the same path as my peers and have occasionally wondered if I am going about things the ‘right’ way. I like the challenges life offers when you forge new ground (no pun!) and I believe in doing my personal best until someone else shows me a better way.

Did I mention that I don’t feel guilty when I lock the door, soak in a hot tub and let everyone think mommy isn’t home from work yet?