It’s been nearly ten years since Laurie Moore took over Kreiling Roofing in Peoria, Illinois, the business her dad had bought and run before handing it down to her brother. Her brother was ready to step down, and she was already part-owner—so she bought him out and took the helm. After all, she had learned a lot about the business over many years, starting with working on the roofs one summer (despite her dad’s reluctance).

Jenna Kramer joined her family’s fifth-generation Ohio roofing business soon after she finished college, gradually moving up in the ranks to HR coordinator (though she handles a bit of everything).

“We aren’t in competition with each other. I use different groups to help expand my knowledge in different ways.”

Moore was the only woman on the board of the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association when she was tapped to lead a new group for women in the roofing industry. She soon found herself heading up the MRCA’s Women in Roofing group, known as WinR, which focuses on supporting roofing contractors (not to be confused with National Women in Roofing, which encompasses both men and women who are everything from manufacturers and architects to suppliers and safety specialists).

Nowadays, Moore is involved with two women’s roofing groups, and she still sits on the board of the MRCA.

“We aren’t in competition with each other,” she said. “I use different groups to help expand my knowledge in different ways.”

Stepping forward into greater involvement

Kramer did bill collection for her great-great grandfather’s Cincinnati roofing company—which by then was owned by her father and uncles—back in high school. She got a degree in business administration and moved to Nashville, but quickly discovered cubicle work wasn’t for her. So it was back to Cincinnati to dive head-first into the family business. At that time, the only open position was in the warehouse. “I had my forklift license, so I was out rigging things. That helped me get to know the field guys.”

Kramer prefers not to focus on being a female in her work—but she quickly saw how valuable the group was for her.

Wm. Kramer & Son has grown a lot since it first started as a residential roofing business in 1907. Today, they specialize in large projects, such as high-rises, hospitals, and churches. They also operate a union sheet metal shop. But some of the ‘family business’ habits have stuck. For example, there wasn’t a real training program in place for Kramer to learn the ropes.

“We had been members of MRCA for a long time. I decided to go a step further and get involved with the association so I could learn more,” Kramer said. “First, I got involved with the Young Contractors Council. Then the Women in Roofing snagged me.”

Kramer prefers not to focus on being a female in her work, so initially, she wasn’t interested in joining a women’s group—but she quickly saw how valuable it was for her. “I get to sit around with some amazing executives from around the Midwest and gain awesome knowledge from it.”

A hot topic for all of roofing—but especially women

At the MRCA Conference & Expo in Omaha on October 24, WinR are hosting a panel session called “Software driving you nuts?” Many women in roofing have organizational roles, according to Moore. “We tend to focus on that for whatever reason. It’s a different perspective.”

For the panel, Moore and her cohorts sent out a survey to a dozen construction software businesses to try to get a clear understanding of each platform’s offerings and value as well as its compatibility with other industry software.

“It’s something roofing contractors are talking about more and more now—which software are you using for this, which are you using for that, what works with this, what works with that,” Moore said. “To invest the money and time into a software choice is an expensive decision, so it’s important.”

Dealing with high liability

Roofing work is not for the faint of heart. And running a roofing company is not for the risk-averse.

“This is a high-liability business,” Moore noted. “It’s important to be knowledgeable about your liability so you don’t get stuck.”

After rejoining Wm. Kramer & Son around four years ago, Kramer hopped from warehouse to service department, where she instituted a CRM platform that moved the company away from paper, and finally onto human resources administration.

Now Kramer has intimate knowledge of the liability issues roofing companies face, especially those that work on high-rises.

Now she has intimate knowledge of the liability issues roofing companies face—especially ones that work on high-rises—from OSHA rules and regs to safety training and insurance costs.

“We hold one of the highest risks in construction as far as what our workers do. It’s a huge financial burden, a huge burden altogether on every department of the company.

“We rely on the union to [safety] train our guys,” Kramer said. “They go through the union schooling, and we expect them to come to us and know what they’re doing. They don’t always.”

Both Moore and Kramer attested to the fact that this makes roofing uniquely challenging—and working on operations for a roofing company plenty complicated. “It’s crazy,” Kramer noted.

Unconscious bias

Here are a few of the tenets of WinR that Moore wrote out around the time of WinR’s founding:

  • We are a group for roofing contractors who happen to be women.
  • We support others actively managing roof contracting businesses through education supplied by experts in the industry as well as other contractors.
  • Our goals are to help contractors on their paths and help them increase levels of professionalism while decreasing liabilities for their companies. We also want to contribute ideas and resources to the industry using our unique perspectives.
  • This group helps contractors know they aren’t alone in their struggles, it can help current owners see potential and move women up through their ranks, and it can change the perspective of others towards women in the industry.

“There are a lot of assumptions made about women in the industry,” said Moore. “As in, ‘She probably doesn’t really run the company—her name’s just on the stock certificate.’ Guys feel like they need to tiptoe around things when you meet them, instead of just asking ‘What you do in the business?’ Meanwhile, you usually have a lot more knowledge than they think.”

“Women in this industry had to really know what we were doing to stay here.”

Moore calls this ‘unconscious bias,’ and she’s quick to acknowledge that everybody, regardless of gender, has challenges. However, she points out that it is different to be a female in a male-dominated industry.

“We don’t want to be recognized in the industry for being female,” Moore said. “But women in this industry are here because we had to really know what we were doing to stay here. And when you aren’t necessarily welcome, this isn’t easy. It makes those who’ve stayed somewhat extraordinary.

“As we move through this industry we make a path. And hopefully, we make it easier for other people.”