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Important Conversations: Women in Construction (Cathy Gathman)

08 March 2022

By Taylor Gilliam & Cathy Gathman

Since the company’s founding over 65 years ago, and even more so under the leadership of third-generation CEO Anne Teague, Landis has been committed to increasing diversity and representation in our industry. As an officially certified Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) firm (representing the most widely recognized and respected national certification for women-owned businesses in the U.S.), we love seeking out new opportunities and partnerships to open doors for women in construction.

While more women are entering into the field each year, recent data shows they are still incredibly underrepresented, making up less than 11% of all construction professionals nationwide. An even greater disparity is the number of women on the front lines of a job site—only 1 for every 100 employees in the field. Considering that women make up 47% of all employed individuals, this means that the construction industry is only benefitting from about 1.25% of women in the workforce.

This Women in Construction Week, I sat down with (or followed around on-site) a few of the wonderful women who work at Landis to learn more about their personal and professional experiences as women in a largely male-dominated field. In return, I also got to hear what it’s like for them to work for a woman-owned construction company and be inspired by their hopes for the future of women in construction. See below for the second piece in our “Important Conversations: Women in Construction” series.

Cathy Gathman, Human Resources/Office Manager

Women in Construction work in many different roles. We now go off of the job site and into the office for our next subject: Office Manager, Human Resource Manager, Insurance Administrator, and more–Cathy Gathman.

With the company since: 1975-1979, and returned in 1995
Previous role: Secretary


What are you working on right now?
CG: Right now we’re focusing on standardizing training procedures, and I’m working with the other members of our management team to regulate our training, especially for new employees. We’ve always done very well at training our employees, but not always in a standardized form.

I’ve always tracked the training for all our employees. I go back to their career paths and see what each employee needs right now. We ask, “Where do you want to go in your future?” “What do you want your career at Landis to be?” Maybe we have a Project Assistant who wants to be a Project Engineer or an Estimator, so we would try to help them take the next steps toward their goal. And we’ll plan training around that.

But is that all you do here?
CG: I’m also involved in employee benefits, subcontractor insurance, safety, and I’m the office manager. I’d say the majority of my time is taken up by human resources and insurance. My goal is to be here for the employees. We have a wide demographic of employees–some that are very astute at using their benefits and computers and iPads, and some that are not. I want everyone from the office to the field to know that I’m here; if you don’t understand your health insurance or if you have a question, I can help. I’m here for the employees to help them navigate their benefits. And I also make sure we’re providing the right benefits–and we do; Landis provides excellent benefits.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what made you want to go into construction.
CG: Well, right out of high school, there was a position available at Landis for a secretary. My mother worked here at the time, along with two aunts. I interviewed for the secretary position and got it. And Mr. Fred Landis, Jim’s father, came to see me after they hired me and said, “Young lady, anyone can get you a job, if your mother got you this job, but it’s up to you to keep it!” I said, “Yes sir!” and kept it for quite a few years. That was 1975. I worked here until 1979, left for a long time, and then came back when I was looking for a better family work/life balance and knew that Landis would support that. So I returned in 1995.

Fun fact: During her time away from Landis, and while beginning to raise two children, Cathy worked as a chef.

CG: I’ve raised my children since I came back, one of whom has his own career at Landis. So ours is a three-generation family at Landis too!

Having been here since 1995, that’s about the longest consecutive tenure currently at Landis, right?
CG: Vicky’s got me by a couple of years.

Through the years, I would say that Landis has had a woman in just about every position there is in the company–from Laborer to Project Engineer, Project Manager, Senior Estimator, Superintendent, Vice President, and CEO.

What has your experience been as a woman in a largely male-dominated industry?
CG: I think I’ve been shielded from experiencing a lot of bias, but I’ve seen it. I know how strange it was back when somebody would find out that at the time our Vice President was female. And now, we have another female Vice President and our CEO is female as well. I will say that way back when, as a secretary, I would go out to the job site, (and Landis secretaries have always been very involved in the projects via the submittal process and being present on the job site during OAC meetings or subcontractor meetings, more so than a lot of companies), and when you walked onto the job site, it was almost dead silence, like “What’s that woman doing here?” That doesn’t happen anymore. We’ve gotten past that. Through the years, I would say that Landis has had a woman in just about every position there is in the company–from Laborer to Project Engineer, Project Manager, Senior Estimator, Superintendent, Vice President, CEO–I don’t think there’s a position here that a female hasn’t held at some point.

She would know this best of all.

CG: Female Architects weren’t common way back when, and there were almost no female Project Managers or Engineers. So the industry’s evolved.

How (if at all) do you feel your experience has been different working for a woman-owned construction company?
CG: With a woman as Owner and CEO, some of our perspectives have changed. Our benefits are broader, which I think is a female influence. It also reaches everything from how the office is laid out and how people best work, including some remote work. I think things are different in a good way.

What’s something about your work that you’re proud of?
CG: Well way back when I first started working for Landis, I was the secretary for the Piling Department, and we would even bid outside work. The two guys I worked for as we got busier and busier decided they wanted to teach me how to estimate piling jobs. So I did some of that and I remember getting my first job that we had bid and I was just on cloud nine; it was a wonderful feeling. I always said if I weren’t doing this at Landis, I’d want to be an Estimator. That was wonderful.

I’m also proud of our move to this building. As the Office Manager, I was the coordinator. We had 30 years of stuff to make decisions on and lots of logistics and we were able to pull that off in a fairly painless way for everyone and I was happy and proud of that.

What makes you proud of your work today?
CG: I’m proud of the initiatives we’ve implemented here at Landis and I like to think I’ve played some small part in that.

Do you think it’s important for women to work in construction?
CG: Absolutely. Women should work in any industry they choose and certainly construction, just because it was male-dominated for years, should not be the exception. And as I’ve mentioned, we’ve had women in every position in this company, so women can do the job. Sometimes women are a little better at doing the job. Women are detail-oriented and there are certain positions where that’s an asset. So if that’s where their skill set is and where they feel joy, why not?

From your perspective, as you interact with recruitment and new applications, is there a greater ratio of women applying these days?
CG: I think we hired our first female laborer in 2005 or 2006, and that was unusual even though it’s pretty recent history. But that has evolved. We also get many more applicants now for project engineers, project managers, estimators, etc.

What advice would you give to other young women considering a career in the construction industry?
CG: Find something you enjoy doing and then it’s not work. There’s so many ways to be in construction, so find what your skillset is and what you enjoy. Construction offers many options.

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