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Many Paths, One Mission

by: Catherine Schoenenberger
Lauline Mitchell
Lauline Mitchell
Heather Groves
Heather Groves
WIC Week, or Women in Construction Week, celebrates and promotes the role of women in the construction industry. Officially, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) held the first WIC Week in 1998 and it has grown and expanded each year since. Many NAWIC local chapters hold WIC Week events, which can include making presentations to high school classes, job site tours, luncheons, and virtual events.

This year's theme – Many Paths, One Mission – celebrates the different journeys women have traveled toward the same goal: strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the construction industry. Construction firms of all sizes and types are encouraged to participate in WIC Week and show their support for their women employees. Here are a couple of NAWIC’s members, the “her-stories” of their paths, and how NAWIC has strengthened and amplified their success in the construction industry.

Lauline Mitchell, ESP, 2022 – 2023 NAWIC National President
“Many Paths One Mission” was conceptualized by NAWIC’s 2022 – 2023 National President, Lauline Mitchell. “We’re all in the construction industry, but we’ve had many paths that led us here. As women in the industry, we all have one mission and that is to succeed in construction. We can make it easier for each other if we work together to support one another in this endeavor.”

Mitchell is a native of the San Francisco Bay area in California. Her path in construction began over 20 years ago, when she decided to take a carpentry class at a local community college. She had worked in the insurance industry, had acquired administrative and management skills, and also was a young mother and wife, but was seeking something more. As it proved out, carpentry wasn’t necessarily her forte. However, one of her professors recognized that a career in construction was still a viable and real path to pursue – and she did.

With an introduction to a local general contractor, Mitchell began her journey into project management. As a woman in construction, especially a woman of color, it wasn’t a smooth path to follow, but she was able to recognize in real time the importance of strategy and positioning. “I enjoyed working in the field despite being low woman on the totem pole. It’s sometimes difficult to be taken seriously, but over the years I’ve learned to take my time, really understand what’s going on, and try to see the challenges before presenting my ideas.”

Mitchell joined NAWIC in 2008 after her company asked that all project managers join groups to augment business. At her first NAWIC event, Mitchell saw the NAWIC vision. “Being around other women who understood what it was to be in male-dominated industry was definitely a draw. NAWIC checked every box for me: networking, community service, industry outreach, leadership, and friendship.”

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Mitchell’s ascent to National President wasn’t an intended goal. She was okay with serving on local committees and her chapter’s board, but then she was tapped for a national committee chair position. From there, as she states, “I wanted to do more, push us more, stretch more and simply get more women in the industry the support I know NAWIC provides.”

Mitchell credits her experiences with NAWIC leadership as in integral component in her leadership advancements in her company and her community, as well. At present, Mitchell is employed by BBI Construction a general contractor, out of Oakland, California, and is their Director of Preconstruction. As is noted on BBI’s website, “[Mitchell’s] ability to build and cultivate relationships has given our company the opportunity to partner with clients to develop countless Affordable Housing Projects throughout the Bay Area.”

Mitchell personifies NAWIC’s motto, “Building Leaders, Leading Builders”.

Heather Groves, 2022 – 2024 NAWIC Northeast Region Director
Heather Groves is the owner of Cole River Consultants, established in 2018 out of Winthrop, Maine. Cole River Consultants specializes in roadway construction inspection and design services. Working frequently with Maine Department of Transportation, professionally, Groves serves in the position of Resident Engineer and Design Support (as a Class IV) for contracts that include large culverts, roadway safety improvements, centerline rumble strips, pugmill and paving projects. She knows her roadways.

Groves has always known construction was her path to follow. Attending the University of Maine, she earned her bachelor’s degree in construction management technology, and for the past decade, has been a Certified Paving Inspector. The majority of her work takes place in the field, or rather on the roads, throughout the state of Maine.

In 2013, Groves became a member of NAWIC’s Maine #276 chapter. As a mother to a precocious 7-year-old son, a wife, and a business owner, where and how does she find the time to volunteer with NAWIC?

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“Energy – I know energy is attractive and invigorating for me to see, experience, and feel,” said Groves. “So when I am putting out great energy, it benefits not only everyone around me, but it returns to me ten-fold. For NAWIC and for our industry, I have ideas, plans, and energy to share and with NAWIC I know I am able to act upon them all and never by myself.”

“I am a product of NAWIC’s greatest return on investment: The more you engage, the greater the opportunities for growth as a leader in the industry, as a woman in construction, as a woman. As a Professional Road Designer/Inspector, I know the importance of making strong connections to ensure safe and effective travel. NAWIC is paving new roads to construction now. Roads that connect our national leadership with our regional and chapter leadership, that connect NAWIC with industry partners – both established and new, and roads that connect the vision of NAWIC to all women in construction.”

To that end, and to many of her NAWIC credits, Groves is also a founding member/designer of NAWIC’s Emerging Professionals Committee. Unlike many associations’ young professionals committees, NAWIC’s Emerging Professionals is not age-based; it is experienced based. This committee provides the resources and the talents to bridge the gap between the inexperienced and the experienced whether it be in NAWIC itself, the construction industry, or simply the workforce – no matter the industry. Groves held the national chair position of this committee and now resides as a mentor.

“This committee bridges the gaps – of age, experience, on the job training – and allows women to thrive and grow at their pace and with the support and strength of others.”

Groves is the 2022-2024 Northeast Region Director for NAWIC, sitting on the national NAWIC board. The Northeast Region is one of eight regions around the country and is comprised of 18 chapters from Bangor to Northern Virginia, including Washington D. C. There are nearly 800 members in the Northeast, all women in construction, serving in various capacities.

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After Women in Construction Week, the next event under Director Groves leadership is the Northeast Region’s Annual Spring Forum in Washington D. C., May 5-6, 2023. This event will include a site tour of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, an all-woman panel discussing “How to Increase Women in the Trades through Innovation and Safety,” plus a gallery of architectural photography exhibit, a presentation on the incomparable former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and an empowering workshop entitled, “Changing Minds for Good.”

For additional information on NAWIC and Women in Construction Week, visit nawic.org.

About the Author
Catherine Schoenenberger, President of both Stay Safe Traffic Products, Inc. and New Hampshire Construction Career Days, is a NAWIC past national president (2017-2018), and an active member of the Granite State, New Hampshire, chapter. Schoenenberger can be contacted at StaySafeTraffic@aol.com.
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