Women in Drywall: Part three
As anyone in the industry can tell you, there’s a real shortage of skilled labor in drywall, and in the trades generally. What most people don’t talk about, though, is how few women work in this industry – and what an untapped resource they represent.The fact is, construction is not an industry that has historically been very friendly or welcoming to women and if we want to get more women involved (and we should want that) we need to make it a place that appreciates, respects, and welcomes them. One of the best ways to do that is look to the women who are already doing a great job and use them as role models to encourage the next generation of young women to get into the trades.
In part three of our “Women in Drywall” series, we speak with Lydia Crowder, a drywall finisher and Instagram influencer with some big ideas for how to get more women involved.
Lydia Crowder owns Trinity Drywall, an independent construction company in Bozeman, Montana, focused on drywall finishing, with her husband, Ryan. The company is small, still – just the two of them – but already starting to make waves thanks to their talent, dedication, and down-to-earth attitude. Lydia is easy to talk to, with a straightforward style that’s both accurate (she followed up with me by e-mail to correct an estimate she gave me over the phone) and warm. It’s easy to see why people want to hire her. We spoke with her to learn a little bit more about how it all got started, where it’s all going, and how social media is helping take it there.
On the Typical Job
Trinity does primarily finishing work on residential properties.
“We come in after it’s hung and we tape it, top it, and skim it. If it’s a specialty texture, we might do that by hand,” says Crowder. “It really depends on the finish, though. If it’s spray texture, that’s another team.”
“Ryan and I do about a house and a half a week; depending on the month, maybe 5-6 houses,” she says, which is pretty impressive considering it’s just the two of them and their average project requires them to finish roughly 10,000 board feet a week.
It Runs in the Family
“I actually started with my dad,” she explains. “Then my [now] husband and I started dating, and he needed a job, so I brought him in and now we work together. My dad still has his own company.”
It started small. “I always gave [my dad] a hand here and there when he needed some extra help. I would go in and spot screws or scrape floors…just help here and there. I went to a college for about a month, but it wasn’t the right fit, so I asked him for a job!” she laughs.
Of course, now that she works with her husband, too, it doesn’t just run in the family – it stays in the family, which Lydia says is both challenging and deeply rewarding.
“I think the biggest challenge is separating your work life from your home life. When you’re self-employed, your work life is…just your life. How are you going to make money that week? It’s always something on your mind – how can you do the best for yourself and your family and also not work yourself to death?”
Still, while it may not seem obvious, she says working with her husband can ease the burden of defining the boundary between home life and work life. “When you have a long day and there’s a lot on your plate, there’s a lot of understanding there. The understanding and the teamwork, you know, they have a patience with you because they know how hard you work – they were there with you. [The danger is] that’s also all you talk about sometimes.”
Speaking about why she likes working in the trades and where she’d like to be eventually, Crowder has a very specific, very clearly thought out answer ready (no surprise, given her penchant for accuracy).
“I’ve always wanted to build. I would love to be a builder some day. It would be cool, as a woman, to have those special touches that maybe others don’t think about, like about functionality: a laundry room that’s functional, for instance. We do a lot of these jobs where the laundry room is tiny and not in a practical place. We did one where the laundry room was in the kitchen with a bi-fold door…but you shouldn’t have to close doors to hide a mess. It’s just not practical. If I was going to build it, I would do as much of it as I could myself, because that way I could control the quality, take the time and really make it special.”
This love of her work – the care she puts into it, and the special touches she mentioned above – is obvious when you speak to her. It comes out organically in conversation, Crowder sometimes answering questions before they’re asked, such as what those special touches might look like in the customer experience:
“It’s super satisfying to do something with your hands, to look at it and know you did that. You made it. You made a house into a home for someone. Especially for homeowners that don’t have experience seeing everything come together…doing the best you can for them, taking pride and leaving them with something that will stand for who knows how long.”
A big part of Crowder’s future is sure to be connected to social media. She’s recently become something of an Instagram darling in the trades community (you can find her as @drywallshorty on Instagram).
“I just hopped on there, not expecting to do so well,” she says. “But now it’s like 13k [followers] and I only started six months ago.” Beyond the recognition from the broader community, Lydia is also an ambassador for Columbia Tools – an honor bestowed on only a few craftspeople – and uses their tools exclusively.
“I got to go to Intex Expo and do demos. That was super cool, especially as a woman, to be recognized that way. To be taken seriously. The way they [Columbia] encourage us and are so embracing of women in the field, plus the messages I’ve gotten from women saying that I’ve encouraged them to tackle a project or look into a job in the trades. A lot of men, too, actually…It’s been a really positive experience.”
Recruiting More Talent
Crowder’s specificity flows into everything she does, it seems, and her ideas on getting more women involved are as specific as anything else.
“I think it’s something we’re going to have to do if we want the trades to survive. Women are an untapped resource and a huge asset. Their attitude can be totally different and bring a breath of fresh air to a field that’s male-dominated. A lot of women think ‘I’m not big enough or strong enough’ or ‘I don’t want to get stared at all day.’ Things have come a long way, but the industry needs to tell women ‘we need you. You will make this industry better.’
“Otherwise, it can be very intimidating as a woman – maybe you’re the only woman out of 30 guys and they’re staring at you like ‘what can she really do?’ If we can teach women in an area where they’re not feeling intimidated or judged, like women’s training centers where it’s just women teaching women – that would encourage women to sign up, give them an incentive to try it. Women showing women what’s possible in the field. As a woman, I’d prefer that!”
As her ideas roll out more and more rapidly, take on a concrete shape, she refines the idea, hones in on what makes it tick, gets more specific, just as she did with the estimate she sent me by e-mail.
“OK,” she says, her idea complete. “OK, what would be cool is if there was something like a group, maybe an organization that put together women in different fields that went to different places to hold events. That would be super cool. Like maybe a framer, a painted, a drywaller, and an ironworker go somewhere so women can try all these things.”
If that sounds like a big pitch, don’t worry, Crowder’s thought through the execution, too, saying “they could go to high schools, career days. Women bringing it to women!”
As clear-eyed as her vision is, don’t be surprised if Crowder is doing something like this sooner or later, and in the meantime, keep your eyes on her Instagram. Man or woman, you’re in good hands with Crowder.