Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility


Construction involves heavy-duty machinery, steel, wood, nails and grit.

It’s normally considered a man’s job. But more women in Central Pennsylvania are dispelling that myth.

Construction involves heavy-duty machinery, steel, wood, nails and grit.

It’s normally considered a man’s job. But more women in Central Pennsylvania are dispelling that myth. They not only work in construction, they own their own companies.

“I think the industry is changing because I see more and more women leaders in the construction industry,” said Anne C. Yorks, executive officer of the Builders Association of Central PA. “I think women can bring a unique perspective to a construction business. They are great communicators, leaders, organizers and team players — all essential traits for the building industry.”

As of 2005, out of about 7.3 million construction workers in the U.S., 882,000 were women, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics population survey of Dec. 31, 2005.

The industry is still dominated by males in the U.S., but the number of women working in construction increased by 55,000 between 2002 and 2005, according to the survey.

Jessica E. Meyers is owner and president of JEM Group, a general construction company based in Harrisburg. Meyers started JEM in 2003. Previously, she was vice president of Harrisburg-based Reynolds Construction Management Inc.

Meyers said she doesn’t have technical experience. She makes up for that by hiring the right people, she said. And her stint at Reynolds exposed her to almost the entire realm of the construction world, she said.

JEM specializes in commercial, office, retail and educational buildings. The company also performs renovation work. JEM is replacing flooring on the first floor of Strawberry Square in Harrisburg. Dickinson College in Carlisle is another client. The company is providing general contractor services for a $30 million science center.

Meyers started with four employees and now has 17. She attributes her success to quality work that leads to word-of-mouth business. She hasn’t experienced any bias in navigating through a male-dominated industry, she said.

“I’ve never sensed it,” Meyers said. “People are a lot more progressive.”

Neither has Andrea Irey, president of Berner Construction Inc. in Gap, Lancaster County. Irey created Berner with her husband, Jim, in 2002. She never noticed any bigotry directed at her for her role as an owner of a construction company.

In fact, if anything, being a woman helps, Irey said. Berner specializes in environmental remediation work. Many times, jobs involve stripping and refilling soil at old gas-manufacturing plants and other large earth-moving projects in mines and fields. The company takes on contract work from the state and federal governments, which sometime search for women- or minority-owned construction firms.

“As a woman-owned business, sometimes there are bidding opportunities,” Irey said. “You never win a job just for being a woman.”

Irey is a chemical engineer. Her husband is a civil engineer. The couple decided to combine their skills and work on projects that are lucrative and satisfying at the same time, Irey said.

“We do environmental work. It’s good for the world,” Irey said.

Debbie Hamilton went into construction after she was laid off from Appleton Papers in 2001, where she worked for 21 years. Her brother, Tom, was laid off, too.

Tom had a background in construction, so the brother-sister team decided to take a shot at the general contracting business. It has turned into a full-time career for both. Three of the siblings’ brothers work for Markle Home Improvements, too.

In the beginning, the company was hired by friends and family in need of home improvements. Word spread, and the company took on more and more clients, Hamilton said.

“Most people are surprised when I tell them I’m in construction,” Hamilton said. “I ran into the same thing there (Appleton). I did a man’s job there. It’s hard for people to imagine when they see me dressed up in a dress. But I don’t get negatives from men once they can see that you can do the work and that I’m prepared to do the work.”

And it is tough work, Hamilton said. It’s work she knows she cannot keep performing when she gets older. That is why she hopes the company continues to grow and one day she can send crews out to work.

“We want to get to the point where we can do estimates and have a crew do it. I can see us getting into developing and hiring subcontractors,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton proves that women in construction do get their hands dirty. She is up and down ladders all day. She can handle an air nailer and a power saw.

But it can be inconvenient, Hamilton said, especially when sites don’t have a bathroom and she has to drive to a nearby store.

But the inconveniences don’t outweigh the positives for Hamilton. She loves the variety associated with the work she does and she loves seeing the finished product.

It’s important for other women to know that there are a variety of places for women to work in the construction industry, Yorks said.

“I think there are stereotypes in most professions,” Yorks said. “I think it is important that women who want to participate in the building industry know that they don’t have to be behind a desk, but rather there is a place for them out in the field or in a management position if that is where they choose to be.”

Trade talk

Construction companies are not just owned by men anymore. Women are putting on hard hats in Central Pennsylvania and taking a shot at running contracting groups. Here are some tips from Anne C. Yorks, executive officer of the Builders Association of Central PA, for women interested in starting a construction business:

  • Talk to other women in the industry to learn how they worked their way up the leadership/management ladder.
  • Be excited about starting a business in which you can offer something different.
  • Be comfortable with the idea that you might be the only woman at the table.
  • Be the best in the game; as a woman, you’ll probably be challenged a little bit more by an industry made up of men, and you need to be prepared to demonstrate that you are more than capable in your position.

    —Eric Veronikis

  • Business Events

    Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

    Wednesday, March 29, 2023
    Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

    Health Care Heroes

    Tuesday, April 04, 2023
    Health Care Heroes

    Nonprofit Innovation Awards

    Thursday, May 18, 2023
    Nonprofit Innovation Awards

    Women of Influence

    Tuesday, June 27, 2023
    Women of Influence