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Bold Leadership for Women

Honest conversations between women who have been through it all

A group of women business leaders from across the industry shared real-life examples and advice for succeeding in a male-dominated industry. They shared their struggles and how overcoming obstacles allowed them to help not only themselves but other women.

This CONEXPO session included a variety of accomplished women who all promised to be honest and authentic. Moderator Kristina McMillan, Director of Growth & Engagement at HATCH, wore a colorful shirt showing a hornet, the symbol of the non-profit Crew Collaborative, which she helped found to change the conversation around recruiting in the industry. She explained that a man said to her that they wouldn’t succeed because it would be “like kicking a hornets’ nest” – so they decided to make a hornet their logo.


Being a leader in a male-dominated industry took some getting used to, even for those panelists who had been in the industry for years. Most found other women to help guide them – or to just listen and be supportive at the end of a long day. Having these allies, whether they were real-life connections or friends they found on social media, helped increase their confidence.

“One person can say one thing to you, and they can change your whole trajectory without knowing it,” McMillan said.

Panelist Stephanie Susott, VP of Financial Planning and Analysis at Irving Materials, said that she wants to create a workplace where when you leave the room, people will have your back. “I want to make sure people’s voices are heard and if you are not in the room, you know what is going to be said.”

For Alicia Brentzel, President/Owner at Brex Enterprises – which she runs alongside her husband, her number-one ally – her other best allies are her workers. She said her field staff was instrumental in helping her learn about different projects when she first started in 2017. She wasn’t afraid to ask – and they were happy to help. “I think it helps build respect to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers.”

Every company needs a champion for women, McMillan said, and for those who don’t feel you have that, find it.

Brentzel agreed. “I think we are our own worst enemies. As women, we talk ourselves out of things. Don’t do that – talk yourself into something!”


As women leaders, many of whom have families and very full lives outside of work, it can be hard to juggle all the different aspects of life.

Amanda Kurt, Vice President & Managing Partner at Kurk, Inc., said that women need to be okay with dropping some of the different balls they juggle on a daily basis. The trick is knowing which ones. She suggests identifying which balls are glass (most important to keep in the air) and which are plastic (okay to drop when needed because they won’t break). Finding support at work and being okay with delegating and leaning on your spouse and/or friends are also essential. No one person can do it all.

Panelist Kathy Bullay-Freeman, Denver Operating Group Safety Director at Mortenson, shared that she came from a generation that said women had to cook, clean, and be at every meeting. “We naturally want to say yes to everything…I nearly broke myself trying to do it all.”

But that doesn’t mean women can’t have it all – family and career, Brentzel said. No one should not enter this industry because they want a family.

“Can you do it all? Yes, you just have to find out what your all is. Balance is achievable, you just have to figure out how you define that balance.” Sometimes that means cereal for dinner, she said, and that’s okay.

after the session


Women are often taught not to ask for more than they are given. While that is thankfully changing with each new generation – it is still difficult for women to say, no we are worth more.

Freeman shared a story of leaving a company and learning that the new person was going to receive $15,000 more than she had earned. “That was a pivotal moment for me, where I started being an advocate for myself and to ask for what I was worth.”

Brentzel added, “Always ask for more!”

If you have a boss that doesn’t advocate for you or shrinks you down, then that is not the job for you, McMillan said.

Mental health in construction is a problem facing all workers, with a high rate of suicide and other illnesses in construction. Women also have postpartum depression and motherhood responsibilities added to the mix.

Freeman shared a very personal story about the importance of prioritizing mental health.

Soon after her father killed his wife then committed suicide, she was at work when a fatality occurred. When someone asked her if she was okay, she realized she wasn’t. “It wasn’t until that point that I realized I needed help,” she said.

Now Freeman is an advocate for employee assistance programs and making sure her company is offering what is needed. “Making it easy for the team is key,” she said. “For me, that is a personal one. We are leading the industry with mental health.”


When asked to envision the future of the industry in 10 years, this group of diverse and resilient leaders had big dreams. From more women in the field, to having a dedicated place for new mothers to pump on any job site, to reaching young girls in kindergarten to help them see themselves in the industry, these women are building the bridges that will make those dreams a reality.

“Kids at seven years old start eliminating career paths,” Kurt said. “In 10 years, I think it would be so cool for 7- or 10-year-old girls to not be eliminating the construction industry, for them to know it is an option for them.”

Susott agreed. “Any job is possible – I think we know that. Literally, any job at any of our companies is possible.”

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