Meet 4 Female Trade-Industry Trailblazers

Paul Pogue
Written by Paul Pogue
Updated March 7, 2022
A female construction worker wearing safety glasses
Photo: simonkr / E+ / Getty Images

Let’s knock down some walls

Picture your favorite plumber. Imagine your go-to electrician. What do they look like? We’re willing to bet they’re male. And most of the time, you’d be right. According to the 2021 Angi “Skilled Trades in America” report, 98% of electricians and plumbers and 97% of construction supervisors are men. Across the construction industry, 89% of workers are men. 

Today, staffing shortages are creating critical problems as pros exit the field. In fact, 77% of respondents said labor shortage was a significant problem and getting worse. And with skilled trade workers skewing roughly 10% older than the general population, more waves of retirements continue to loom. 

Angi Chief Economist Mischa Fisher says that women entering the trades could be a long-term solution to the skilled labor shortage. And although they only make up a small fraction of the industry, women in the trades are carving their own unique paths to success. “More women entering the field is a viable pathway to improving things not just because they are so underrepresented, but because we know that women in the industry are flourishing,” he says. “They have similarly high job satisfaction, 77%, and in many areas the same or greater wage gains [as their male colleagues].”

We spoke with four women who own businesses across a variety of professions. They told us about the challenges they face and the skills they developed to succeed as leaders in the home services sector. Let’s meet four female trailblazers who are showing that they may be just what the trades have been missing all along.

Harmony Brown: Owner, GreenWorks Inspections & Engineering in Dallas

Harmony Brown: Owner, GreenWorks Inspections & Engineering in Dallas

When Harmony started GreenWorks in 2009 as a home inspection company, she realized she had to be an expert not only in inspections, but also in every aspect of running a business, such as lining up and keeping clients. “It took two years to really get into a groove, but I stuck with it. I didn’t care how much time it took to get there; I wanted to be the best,” she says.

That persistence paid off. Brown now oversees more than 100 home inspectors working throughout the Dallas–Ft. Worth area, and credits that early hustle for her success.

“Execution is the priority, 100 percent,” she says. “I’m not the smartest person in the room. The knowledge and solutions are out there. It’s a matter of what you’re willing to learn and how hard you’ll work to execute.”

Outside her own business, Harmony sees a mindset shift across her male-dominated field. “They’re seeing more women be successful, and so they’re not making an assumption that they can’t succeed in the trades,” she says. “The industry is definitely becoming more diverse in general. Our male counterparts are really starting to say, ‘Women who are coming in are really smart and giving 200%.’ Women are providing a great return on investment in the home services industry.”

Harmony’s Advice to Women in the Trades

“You’ve got to be an amazing team player. The winners aren’t the best CEO or the best individual; they’re the best teams. Be an amazing collaborator, build up others around you, and your opportunities will continue to soar.”

Obstacles She’s Faced as a Woman in the Trades

“Being a woman in a male-dominated field, you’re constantly faced with unspoken things. There’s some doubt you have to overcome. I have to work harder overall to prove myself. The flip side is that because I had to do better, do more, and be better to be on the same playing field as a male counterpart, it completely propelled my success in the long run.”

Angela Duncan: Owner, Duncan Enterprises in Elliston, VA

Angela Duncan: Owner, Duncan Enterprises in Elliston, VA

Angela founded Duncan Enterprises in 2020, starting with smaller jobs such as deck repairs and latticework. Her business expanded quickly to include roof repairs and larger jobs, and Duncan Enterprises earned an Angi Super Service Award for outstanding service at the end of her first year in business.

She says her staff and customers’ dedication helped keep things thriving through the pandemic’s supply chain issues.

“Our clients were willing to wait on their materials to come in because they saw from our reviews and the good word of mouth that my company would do a great job for them,” she says.

Although she occasionally runs into customers who can’t quite believe that a woman is running the show—and some who even ask to talk to her husband—Angela says she finds the field to be an ideal fit for her skills.

“The trades are great for women, in my opinion,” she says. “It shows our ability to be independent and strong-minded as well as physically strong to do our jobs. I don’t just sit at a desk taking care of paperwork. I also go out to job sites and do my share there. Every day is something new and exciting.”

Angela’s Advice to Women in the Trades

“Do not doubt yourself or your abilities. Tell yourself you can do this. I know you can because I am doing it, and I was 44 starting my first business with no money and no tools. In just a year we went from one truck and one small car to three trucks, two trailers, and a shed full of tools.”

Obstacles She’s Faced as a Woman in the Trades

“I have encountered a couple of unpleasant conversations with men who questioned my ability and knowledge. They were very rude to me, and I figured it was because they didn’t feel that I as a woman knew what I was talking about or could understand what they were saying.”

Debra Miller: Co-owner, Patrick Miller Construction in Fridley, MN

Debra Miller: Co-owner, Patrick Miller Construction in Fridley, MN

When Patrick Miller started Patrick Miller Construction in 2005, his wife Debra was not yet a core part of the team. Debra started pitching in with the books to allow her husband to spend more time with their family. She took on additional responsibilities over time until a year and a half ago, when Debra took over leadership of the construction team while Patrick started a sister company, Patrick Miller Roll-Off and Services.

She’s since hired two other women in leadership roles and continues to guide the company through the pandemic. “Essentially, we have three females leading the team and pushing the day-to-day activities,” she says. “Women have a way of being able to fanatically multi-task. They’re naturally detail-oriented and have strong communication skills.”

Debra ran into trouble early on in her role with subcontractors who wouldn’t respond to her requests, but would respond to Patrick or another man who contacted them. Eventually, she says, she was able to prove herself, and feels the trades offer a great chance for women to demonstrate their talents and leadership skills.

Debra’s Advice to Women in the Trades

“Surround yourself with goal-oriented entrepreneurs to push you beyond your limits and celebrate your accomplishments. Follow your gut and connect with other women who are striving for the same thing. Finally, never compromise who you are and what you stand for.”

Obstacles She’s Faced as a Woman in the Trades

“During the hiring process, we ran into individuals who did not want to report to females, but preferred to report to [my husband] Patrick directly. We did not hire them, as they weren’t a good fit for our office culture and organizational structure.”

Andreea Pfeifer: Owner of girlFriday, Your Life’s Concierge in Skokie, IL

Andreea Pfeifer: Owner of girlFriday, Your Life’s Concierge in Skokie, IL

A little encouragement from Andreea’s mother led her to the cleaning field in 2003, when the company she worked for closed its doors. Simultaneously, she was struggling to hire home cleaning services. The inability to find a company that would return her calls prompted the idea of doing it herself. Plus, she says, “My mom was really into the idea of me opening up a cleaning business and doing it myself. I said, ‘I don’t know how to do this!’ And she said, ‘You’ll figure it out.’”

Andreea did indeed figure it out, and as the owner of girlFriday, Your Life’s Concierge, she now heads a team of 20 cleaners and organizers who serve both residential and commercial clients.

Cleaning is one of the few home services fields where most workers are women—65%, according to the Angi “Skilled Trades in America” report. Andreea says she often deals with misconceptions and inappropriate questions around things like compensation and profit margin. 

However, she says, “I pay my staff very well, because this is a very grueling, physical job.”

And, to help motivate and celebrate her predominately female staff, she throws them a party every year on International Women’s Day. 

When it comes to running her own business, she says, “Organizing and being a taskmaster are the most essential things. You need to schedule your time carefully and be willing to pick up any task needed to get the job done. At the end of the day, it’s your face and name on the business.”

Andreea’s Advice to Women in the Trades

“Never skip the small contacts. Picking up the phone or sending an email is huge. I don’t care if a customer brings in $150 or $150 million; they deserve the same respect.”

Obstacles She’s Faced as a Woman in the Trades

“It’s imperative that not only I but my staff feel comfortable and safe entering a home. I always vet new clients by contacting them personally to ensure I feel comfortable with them. In-person vettings occurred before the pandemic, but the pandemic has moved them to virtual visits.”