Defying stereotypes is nothing new for these women leaders in construction. Since the 90’s and early 2000’s they’ve paved new paths for women pursuing careers in construction safety. How did they start? Who mentored them? What were challenges they overcame? What would they do differently? For Women in Construction (WIC) Week 2021 Hilmerson Safety® celebrates women in the field by sharing their stories. Thanks to all who participated!

Hard Hats & Crafts – Celebrating Women Leaders in Construction Safety

Marni Hogen,
19 Years’ Experience

Marni Hogen, Director of Health and Safety at Mortenson

How did you get into the Construction industry?

I Interviewed with Mortenson as well as a few other companies (and other industries) in grad school.

I appreciated the classroom presentation Mortenson gave to our class and the focus that was placed on Mortenson being a family-owned business and having a family feel.  Then, when I walked a project as part of my second interview I fell in love with the people and the business.  The exciting buzz of activity on site as well as the genuine and good-hearted nature of the craft workers in the field.  I quickly appreciated the fact that this business is not about who you know it’s about how hard you work and earning the respect of your team.

What was your first job in construction – what is a favorite memory from that experience?

My first project was a Wind Turbine project in the mountains of West Virginia.  I made amazing friends on that project that still feel a bit like family to this day.

I remember early on in the project my Superintendent taking me out and asking me to look at a connection on an air compressor hose.  He asked if I knew what I was looking at and I said no.  He explained Chicago couplers to me and the need to always have a cotter pin, how whip checks worked and that it was important they sit above and below (not on) the fitting.

There were grumblings that he didn’t like having women on his sites and those got back to me, but I didn’t let it bother me.  A few years later we were on another project together and he asked me to go for a ride in his truck.

He came clean on the grumblings and admitted he didn’t really know what to do with me when I showed up on his last site.  I asked him if he remembered the first thing, he ever taught me and he said “no”.  I said, “I do” and I recounted for him exactly what he had taught me about Chicago couplers.  I told him he didn’t have to do anything different with me because I was a girl, I just needed him to teach me and treat me like he treated everyone else because I wanted to learn.

What educational background / professional training did you have at that point?

I had a master’s degree in environmental health and safety, but I didn’t know a thing about construction.  I was asking questions like crazy and spending every minute I could onsite learning everything I could about construction from the crews in the field!

Tell us about other positions in Construction you have had since – what has been most rewarding?

SE, SEII, Sr. SE, Safety Manager, OGSD, Director and now Senior Director of Health and Safety.  I really enjoyed my time as a Senior Safety Engineer.  I was working in Seattle with a great team of salaried and craft team members.  I spent all of my time either onsite or doing craft training at the time.

I really enjoyed the relationships I built there.  As OGSD for our Federal Contracting Group we worked with a lot of smaller trade partners across the country, it was rewarding to help educate those trade partners and I believe by sharing our programs we helped make a positive and lasting impact to their business and the safety of their workers.

What were challenges you overcame?

Working in certain parts of the country, as a younger female safety director, I sometimes felt as if I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt by owners or trade partners.  My group and project leaders always made sure to open the door for me in meetings or other engagements.  I knew once I had the floor, if I knew my stuff, they’d listen.  It motivated me to always be on top of my game and earn my CSP credentials.

Do you have any advice for young women pursuing careers in construction?

Don’t hesitate, go for it.  Regardless of age, race, gender, political belief…construction is not for the faint of heart.  But if you’re up for hard, fast-paced work, and you are willing to put in long hours with some of the most genuine and caring people you’ve ever met…you’ll find it extremely rewarding.

Construction is as much about building relationships as it is about building buildings, but most people don’t realize that until you are in the industry.  Each site is like a tight knit family.  You joke around over coffee before work starts, have lunch together, go for happy hour after work…everyone looks out for each other…it becomes a second family.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

I wish that as I was learning the work in the field, I would have taken time to learn the “business” side of our industry.  I waited until I was an OGSD to give that much attention and I likely missed the opportunity to learn more from some great project managers and engineers in the field.

What is the most iconic or favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

I’ve been a part of some cool projects but when I think of my favorite projects I think of the people.  We worked really long hours in hard conditions on my first wind project, but as I mentioned earlier, I made life-long friends on that job.

I love going back to Seattle and (preCOVID) giving/getting big hugs from the craft workers that were on my projects when I lived out there, catching up on their wives, kids, grand kids, retirement plans…and I haven’t lived there in 12 years.  Over the years I realized it is way less about what we are building, for me, it is about who I am building it with.

Do you have a favorite mentor or someone who is always there for you or you count on to have your back?

I still have the pleasure of working with Fravel Combs who hired me out of grad school and has been an outstanding resource throughout my career.  I have moved around a lot in the organization and have always been fortunate to have great leaders, teammates, and talented craft that were willing to answer my questions and help me learn.

What are a few of the biggest differences in the industry from when you began your career in construction? 

The bathroom lines at the women’s room are getting longer : )  We still have a few rough edges, but I think we are more conscious and considerate of each other’s feelings than we maybe were when I started.  We have a greater technology focus in the field to help us work smarter, not just harder.

When you started your career did you have to share the portable toilets with the men, or did you have your own  -:)  I think I had my own, but I feel like there was usually only one and it was rarely convenient, so I usually bucked up and shared.

Hard Hats & Crafts – Celebrating Women Leaders in Construction Safety

Lisa Hollingsworth,
31 Years’ Experience

Lisa Hollingsworth, Safety Investigator Principal for Partnerships-Department of Labor and Industry-MNOSHA

How did you get into the construction industry?

I started as a laborer for a Precast company and did that for 8 yrs. It was a great paying job with good benefits. I liked working outside on something that changed every day. As I got further into my construction career understanding the entire building process fascinated me.

What was your first job in construction – what is a favorite memory from that experience?

My construction job was working on the parking ramps at the Mall of America. At the time it was the biggest project in the state and something great to be a part of.

What educational background / professional training did you have at that point?

4-year BA in Business Management.

Tell us about other positions in Construction you have had since – what has been most rewarding?

Safety Engineer for Mortenson 6 year, Safety Consultant 6 yrs and Safety Investigator MNOSHA going on 11 yrs.  The most rewarding thing about being a safety person is giving people the information that makes sure they go home every day after work safe and in good health

What were challenges you overcame?

The most challenging thing I had to overcome when I first started as a safety person was having a project Superintendent see me as a resource and not as a “safety cop” making the job harder. I had to work to earn their trust and make sure they knew I was there to help them not make their life harder so to speak. Changing a safety culture takes time and trust is huge in construction.

Do you have any advice for young women pursuing careers in construction?

Learn as much as you can about the building process. Understanding the entire building process will make you a valuable asset.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? Are there other job opportunities or careers you would like to explore?

I really love what I do, and construction has offered many opportunities.

What is the most iconic or favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

I had the opportunity to work on the Xcel Energy Center when I worked for Mortenson. I played hockey and I love hockey so what a better project to be a part of. My 14-year-old son plays hockey and I tell him all about the arena stuff when we go there. When he was little, he would say “my Mom worked on that!”

Do you have a favorite mentor or someone who is always there for you or you count on to have your back? 

Deb Hilmerson has been a great mentor to for me. She got me started in construction and helped me get my job at Mortenson. So, I might not be doing what I am doing today if she hadn’t paved the way for me. Doug Swenson with the AGC of MN has been a great mentor and taught me everything I know about cranes and heavy equipment. We have also been doing the CHASE Partnership Program at OSHA for the last 8 years successfully!

What are a few of the biggest differences in the industry from when you began your career in construction?

When I started safety was something you did because the safety person said you had to. Now companies do it because it’s the right thing to do.

When you started your career did you have to share the portable toilets with the men or did you have your own -:)

Ha Ha! I usually went to SA if I had time! 😂

Hard Hats & Crafts – Celebrating Women Leaders in Construction Safety

Diane Randolph,
22 Years’ Experience

Diane Randolph, Safety Director at Danny’s Construction Company

How did you get into the Construction industry?

I started as an Admin Assistant then moved to Work Comp Claims help, to full time Safety, to Safety Director.

What educational background / professional training did you have at that point?

BA teaching degree, then my CSP, CHST OSHA 500 etc.

What position has been most rewarding?

Changing the views of seasoned ironworkers to change their position about safety.  Saving lives!

What were challenges you overcame?

Telling seasoned ironworkers that I actually know what I was talking about 22 years ago in a very male world.  Then, fun to see later them telling other workers “yes, listen to Diane, she knows what she is talking about.”

Do you have any advice for young women pursuing careers in construction?

Listen, learn and never, never try to tell someone about something that you do not know about.  Stand up for yourself.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

I would have pursued my CSP sooner.

What is the most iconic or favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

So many, US Bank, Target field, Warriors stadium, Climate pledge arena, RR bridge over Mississippi river, built on 5 barges in the water, Golden Gate Bridge suicide deterrent.

What are a few of the biggest differences in the industry from when you began your career in construction?

More women working in the field, better safety equipment, and now Women’s port-a-johns.  

When you started your career did you have to share the portable toilets with the men or did you have your own -:)

There was never my own!  But now there are women’s which is so much nicer, just need GC to put a combo lock on instead of a key as there is never a key for me as I am not there every day.

Hard Hats & Crafts – Celebrating Women Leaders in Construction Safety

Bonnie Lunzer,
21 Years’ Experience

Bonnie Lunzer, Claims Manager at Parsons Electric

How did you get into the construction industry?

As a Workers’ Compensation claims representative, I was only involved after the injury occurred. I wanted to be more proactive and prevent the injuries. I knew how to help people with the recovery process, but I didn’t want them hurt in the first place!

Tell us about your first job in construction – what is a favorite memory from that experience?

My first job was Safety Director for a small Subcontractor who employed 5 different Trades. It was exhilarating to be on construction sites, learning all the safety regulations, hazard recognition, and safe work methods. One of my first days, my boss and I inspected a scaffolding in the Minneapolis Convention Center Expansion project, where he taught me everything about scaffold safety.

What were challenges you overcame?

In 2000, there were only a few women in construction safety, and frankly not that many women in the Trades. It was a challenge to earn respect and a “spot” on the team. There were even some who perceived me as taking a job ‘away from a man’, who needed it to support his family.

Do you have any advice for young women pursuing careers in construction?

Pursuing Construction Safety: Respect the Tradesperson’s experience, while trusting that you have valuable insight and expertise in hazard recognition and safe work methods. You are part of the team, and a resource who can help them plan their tasks. The right way or efficient way includes safety at its core. To quote Ergodyne, “be tenacious”!

What is the most iconic or favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

I have been very fortunate to work on a wide variety of projects such as refineries, hospitals, data centers, and stadiums. The Vikings (US Bank) Stadium is likely my favorite because it is in my hometown. I have fond memories of using the tallest lift (328’) in the country—which required our employees to perform evacuation training by falling backwards & repelling down out of the basket!

Do you have a favorite mentor or someone who is always there for you or you count on to have your back?

Terry Hukriede, who is retired from Adolfson & Peterson. You always knew he cared … enough to laugh at you when you fell (figuratively) and help you get back up and try to be smarter the next time.

What are a few of the biggest differences in the industry from when you began your career in construction?

Smoking! I was shocked by my first Foreman meetings where we had 30 people sitting in folding chairs smoking … even with the garage door open, I couldn’t breathe.

When you started your career did you have to share the portable toilets with the men or did you have your own -:)

I usually tried to hold it until I could leave… and stop drinking water if it would be a long day:) Thank goodness for Caribou Coffee bathrooms.

Hard Hats & Crafts – Celebrating Women Leaders in Construction Safety

Abby Ferri,
18 Years’ Experience

Abby Ferri, Senior Risk Control Consultant at Gallagher

How did you get into the construction industry?

I worked in the Boldt Construction office as an assistant and was curious about what the “safety guys” did. Both of them had graduated from UMD’s MEHS program, and encouraged me to check it out, so I did!  My first position was as a Safety Director for a general engineering firm in Southern California. I was ready to leave Northern Minnesota and take on the challenge.

Tell us about your first job in construction – what is a favorite memory from that experience?

The company built water and wastewater treatment facilities, it’s intense work. My favorite memories involve times that I was able to work together proactively with the crews and supervisors to anticipate safety needs before dangerous or complex work.

What educational background / professional training did you have at that point?

I graduated from UMD with a degree in Exercise Science and immediately followed that with a master’s degree in Environmental Health and Safety. At my first job I was allowed to take courses through the local OSHA Institute and attended training offered by the Associated General Contractors of San Diego Chapter.

Tell us about other positions in Construction you have had since – what has been most rewarding?

I worked as a Site Safety and Health Officer (SSHO) for a couple of large/complex projects at Camp Pendleton, I’ve been a risk control consultant for two insurance carriers focused on the construction book, I was the Safety Director for the AGC of Minnesota and ran my own safety consulting firm for 8 years. I enjoy jobs that allow me to have a consulting mindset and have impact on multiple projects and groups of people. In my current position, I’ve been able to use everything I’ve learned on the job to help my fellow safety professionals in their work.

What were challenges you overcame?

Challenges have included time management and overcoming poor attitudes related to safety. I’m excited that “psychological safety” and Total Worker Health are gaining in popularity as I think they are missing pieces to true safety success in the construction industry. We CAN show that we care about our people, and we should do that every chance we get.

Do you have any advice for young women pursuing careers in construction?

It’s been a fun and rewarding field for me, and I’ve always enjoyed working with other women in the field too – whether it’s trades workers or project managers. We have an understanding of what each other may go through on the jobsite, and as a woman who has been in the field for almost 20 years, I’m always looking for ways to make sure any challenges I faced are less challenging for the young women entering the industry now.

The PPE and gear have even evolved so suit any style or fit, which may seem superficial, but it’s helped my personal confidence tremendously.

Construction is a fun and intense field; you have the opportunity to learn something new every day. Get out there and observe, ask questions, research, and bring your perspective to the table.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? Are there other job opportunities or careers you would like to explore?

I really don’t have any regrets. In job interviews, people would often look at my resume and say I “jumped around too much.” I feel that’s the nature of the construction industry. When a company’s culture or approach doesn’t suit you, you can go somewhere else. When the work “dries up” you HAVE to find something else. I’ve weathered an economic downturn and a pandemic in addition to the usual ups and downs of construction. I’m grateful for each experience I’ve had and would encourage others to always be aware of what’s out there and keep your network fresh. I would like to learn more about the operations and management side of construction. Early in my career, someone told me I’d make a good VP of Operations or COO. So, if I pursue further education, I’d keep that in mind!

What is the most iconic or favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

As a direct employee, the jobsite that stands out to me is the MARSOC HQ at Camp Pendleton. You can see it from the 5 freeway when you drive between San Diego and Orange County. It was a complex, complicated, and fun project. I still keep in touch with people from the project team and still think of lessons learned on that job. I treasure the challenge coin and awards received for safety performance at that job. WE earned them!

Do you have a favorite mentor or someone who is always there for you or you count on to have your back?

When I have questions or concerns about construction, safety, and risk, I turn to Deb Hilmerson, Fay Feeney, and a handful of other trusted advisors in my network depending on the specific topic. Construction and safety professionals are a tight knit group!

What are a few of the biggest differences in the industry from when you began your career in construction? The construction industry is more inclusive and self-aware. Instead of priding ourselves on being rough and tumble, cowboys, or other construction stereotypes, the industry has really done a lot of reflection and has become a leader in the inclusion, diversity, and equity topics of the day. Look at the Ironworkers and their “be that one guy” campaign for example. Also, how the industry is mindful of the suicide epidemic and is intentional about providing education on suicide prevention. We can’t and we’re not shying away from difficult topics and we’ll be stronger for that.

When you started your career did you have to share the portable toilets with the men or did you have your own-:)

OMG, I had to share until I was on some larger projects with more women where it tipped the scales to do the right thing and provide a separate locked porta potty. I’ll never forget seeing the half porta potties on a high rise in Chicago and holding it through a long and windy site walk during the winter! Oh, the stories we all can tell about porta potties… I learned early in my career to never miss an opportunity to use a REAL toilet. The industry is getting better though, especially post-COVID and the need to provide sufficient washing facilities.

Hard Hats & Crafts – Celebrating Women Leaders in Construction Safety

Janet Artmann,
26 Years’ Experience

Janet Artmann, Operations Coordinator at Bauer Design Build

How did you get into the industry?

Fell into it.  I was working for a plastic surgeon in Edina, had a bad scare w/icy roads and decided I needed to get a job closer to home.  Ended up going to a temp. agency, which placed me at Shingobee Builders, where I stayed for 18 years.

Why did you start working in construction/take the position?

I was young and running out of money, lol!

Tell us about your first job in construction – what is a favorite memory from that experience?

My first job was at Shingobee Builders, as a temp.  One of my favorite memories was when I was asked why I was still there…. because normally the temps left within a week or so, and was then offered a full-time position.

What educational background / professional training did you have at that point?

Medical transcriptionist.

Tell us about other positions in Construction you have had since – what has been most rewarding?

I have held a few different roles/positions in the industry: Project Assistant, Project Coordinator, Senior Project Coordinator, Assistant Safety Director, Safety Director, Office Manager, and Operations Coordinator.  I would say that each role has been rewarding in its own way. As a PA – learning the basics of construction, moving into the PC role & having more knowledge of the industry and realizing how much I enjoyed it.  In the safety roles its rewarding to have a hand in making sure everyone goes home at night.

What were challenges you overcame?

I would say the biggest challenge I overcame was construction being a male dominant field.  The owner at the time was female, which was part of the reason I accepted the temp position.  She was an amazing leader!

Do you have any advice for young women pursuing careers in construction?

Be confident.  Ask questions.  Empower each other.  Learn your job better than anyone else and trust yourself.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? Are there other job opportunities or careers you would like to explore?

This is a hard question.  I think back and question where I would be at now had I gone to college; would I still be in this industry?  If I had taken another path, would I still be in that career?  One thing for sure about construction, no job is ever the same, and I still learn new things each day.  I also have to say the circle of people in the construction industry that you meet are some of the best around.

What is the most iconic or favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

It would have to be the US West in Duluth back in the late 90’s.  It was a tenant build-out, but I was able to run that project at the time.  As a PC, I rarely was able to do PM work, but every once in a while, I did.  This was a smaller project, and I had the most amazing team to help me out.  Larry Palm with Ace Electric would come to the meetings early and walk me through the electrical portion of the job.  I learned so much from Larry, Steve Marcello, and our Superintendent on that job.

Do you have a favorite mentor or someone who is always there for you or you count on to have your back?

Yes, I have been very fortunate to have a few good mentors.  I may get myself in trouble here, but I would have to say that my favorite was Steve Schultz.  Steve and I worked together for about 18 years, and he always had my back.  He had an open-door policy and he lived by that.  He was never too busy for a question, to bounce an idea off, or just listen.  The construction industry lost a great leader when he retired.

What are a few of the biggest differences in the industry from when you began your career in construction?

Technology is by far the biggest difference, when I first started out, I would have to stand at the fax machine for a day to send out bid invitations, make 20 sets of plans to rotate in and out to subcontractors, etc.

When you started your career did you have to share the portable toilets with the men or did you have your own -:)

*shudder* I had to share, and still do on some sites.

About Hilmerson Safety

Hilmerson Safety® is a full-service safety product design and manufacturing company serving the construction industry. Since 2001 Hilmerson Safety® has been working with construction industry leaders and contractors to develop safe, lean, construction-grade™ products and solutions that add to the company’s bottom line.

For more information email us or call (952) 239-0125

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