Communicate with people as if they are intelligent adults, and look inward for your biases
"There's a different liability when the buck truly stops where you are, right? So when you are the last line of defense, when you're solely holding the liability, that's a different way of being in the world."
Welcome to ProTradeCraft's Career Toolbox, I'm Fernando Pagés and I'm here to help you turn your day job into a career.
Today we have a treat. We have a very interesting guest with the most interesting career path. I know you're gonna draw inspiration from her journey. It involves both climbing the career ladder and blending this professional ascent with her life's mission as a humanitarian, giving back to society, and to our industry.
Dee Bailey is a highly respected woman in the remodeling industry, who has held a hammer and run the company. All the while she's been finding ways to help others, women, and men to grow in their construction careers and to gain the life skills needed to succeed in any industry.
01:08 Fernando Pagés: I like this interview particularly because it clearly illustrates that there are many paths in the trades, as many paths as there are in life. If being a carpenter, roofer or contractor does not fit the image that you have for yourself, never fear. You can mold your career to your most personal aspirations, financial and as a human being.
Construction affords creativity, freedom, physicality, the self-satisfaction of seeing your hours turn into something tangible every single day. And it's a pleasure and a benefit that should be shared by all, men and women included. We have a labor shortage today. Yet, even as women are excelling in so many industries, the construction industry lags. Our guest, Dee Bailey tells us how this can change and why it must.
Dee, it's such a pleasure to add your voice to the ProTradeCraft Career Toolbox.
02:08 Dee Bailey: Well, thanks for that, it's a pleasure to be here today.
02:11 FP: You started as a carpenter I understand. How old were you when you started working as a carpenter?
02:16 DB: I actually started when I was very young. I was the youngest of three girls and my father needed to build a lake house. [chuckle] The other two just really didn't... Weren't interested. So I was really six years old when I picked up my first hammer. As a career, I wanted to make some money during college, and that was actually the easiest money to make, and it fit with my lifestyle.
02:41 FP: How so? How did it fit with your lifestyle?
02:43 DB: Well, I was... I'm active. At the time I played rugby. So, carpentry worked really well, in that, I think there's a lot of reasons that other people go into carpentry. You get to use your hands. You don't have to dress up. You get to be active. You get to use your body. And I think it's a lot of the same things what appeals to people about being in the trades to begin with.
03:06 FP: Now, perhaps just 'cause I'm showing my male brain at work here, but I'm assuming you are a finished carpenter?
03:13 DB: Oh, absolutely not. Framing, as well as... And that's definitely one of the things about remodeling is, you have to know a little bit about a lot of things, but you don't have really the luxury of saying you're gonna be a framer, and you're gonna be a finish person.
03:29 FP: Were there other women in the crew?
03:30 DB: You know, I had a very unique and fortunate experience that I had two female bosses when I was young. One was a painter. She owned a painting company, and she gave me kind of my first toe in for a real job into the construction industry. And she had hired two other women painters. And then my next big break is when I joined Harrell Remodeling, and the owner of that company, Iris Harrell, definitely was open to hiring women and in fact, really wanted to have women on her crews. So I had a very unique toe into the industry, for sure.
04:13 FP: Now you eventually became president of Harrell Remodeling.
04:17 DB: Yeah, yeah. Well, it was an exciting time for the company, back in the early '90s. We had a winning formula, we were in Silicon Valley and we were poised for growth.
04:28 FP: Now you said that she had certain core values, that's what was helping Harrell Remodeling to grow. What were those values? And how were they different than other companies?
04:38 DB: Yeah, you know, she definitely wanted this to be a full service company, the emphasis on service. Our tagline, I'm not sure when we actually came up with this, but our tagline is now, "We wanna be your contractor for life." And so that molds a relationship, that means really understanding what's important. Usually there's two owners of a home, so it's important to know what's important to both owners, the husband and the wife, was typically the way that that was set up. And I think a lot of contractors who are male, tend to only engage with the male of the couple. And in fact, and especially back in the '90s, more women were home, they were actually managing the job. They were on the day-to-day, it was so necessary to figure out how to speak to the person who's actually in front of you. And it's not always a woman, but certainly the majority of the time back then, and I think that's how that plays in to how her unique experience crafted and molded this company in that way. Also, just her... Personally, she takes great pride in her professionalism, in her integrity. She likes to have fun, she still believes in teamwork.
05:55 FP: Now we were chatting a little bit before I pressed record and we actually began this interview formally, and you're very personable, and I'm wondering, you referred to the ability to engage who's in front of you. In other words, that aspect that has to do with building relationships and initiating them, and knowing how to talk with people, how important do you consider that? And how important is that in terms of the business? How important is that to be able to really engage people and build relationships?
06:28 DB: Yeah, absolutely. It's a great question. I think it's most of it. And I know that not a lot of business owners want to hear this, in that when you're looking at money and bottom line, and what motivates your company and why your business even exists. Of course, we have to have money and of course, that is part of it. But honestly, I think that it... Relationships is truly the motivating factor. And your ability to communicate, right, and nurture those relationships and go through the hard times, as well as the fun times. And we bring it back to remodeling, like you bring it back to how do you communicate with these clients, and how do you serve your clients by shepherding them through this process? So if they're upset, you have to be able to listen and understand their feelings and also provide a solution instead of just reacting.
07:28 FP: Reacting to the problem.
07:29 DB: That's right, that's right.
07:31 FP: You know, you bring up... You use the word service a lot, there is the concept of the servant leader, leadership as service, which is different than the heroic leader like Alexander the Great that commands the armies and... [chuckle] As a leader, in terms of now you became president of the company, you became a leader, did you apply that service... Philosophy of service to your employees and to the people you were leading too?
08:02 DB: Yeah. I wanted to also just paint an accurate picture. My time at president was very short, because Iris and I decided to go separate ways. And I think that I...
08:15 FP: So you left Harrell Remodeling to create your own company, is that right?
08:20 DB: Yeah, that's correct. I actually bought an existing company first, and then eventually created my own company. But I really love that question, and I wanna get back to types of leadership and how service works with that. I think that's very crucial and important. And I think that I learned or am still learning. I think that I have been molded and shaped during those times away from Harrell about what kinda leader I am and how I want to... It was just how I want to contribute. I think the... It's Lao Tzu who said that, "A great leader is one that when their work is done and their aim fulfilled, they will say, 'We did it ourselves.'" And that kinda sums up how I think I can contribute, if I can do it in a way that, or if I can lead in a way that allows people to be their best self and recognize their own growth and also find their own desire and hunger of what motivates them, then I will feel like my aim is fulfilled.
09:30 FP: Lead them to self-fulfillment.
09:32 DB: You got it.
09:33 FP: So that in the end they say, "Look what I did." So what was the difference in working for yourself versus working for someone else, 'cause even as president, you're still working for somebody else and now you went off on your own, what did you learn?
09:50 DB: Yeah. And life's lessons are sometimes very painful and hard [chuckle] and difficult, and those are the ones where you learn the most sometimes. There is definitely... What I missed the most, I guess it was laid out to answer that question. What I missed the most was having a team to be a part of. And it is definitely a different place when you are... You're solely responsible for the decisions of your business. There's a certain burden that you go to sleep with at night when you're thinking about, "Oh, is it gonna rain, and is the roof covered up? Do I have enough work so that my apprentice carpenter can really work the next six months that I promised her that she would be able to? Did I really get that estimate, did I read that plumber's estimate correctly, or am I liable for another 10,000 grand or something?" All of those things hit you in a way when you are holding... The buck stops there. So that was definitely eye-opening, and I grew a lot when I was faced with those challenges. And you have to dig deep, you have to dig deep into your own inner faith of who you are and why you do what you do.
11:02 FP: When it's your skin that's at risk.
11:04 DB: That's right.
11:05 FP: I guess the bottomline. I love that you said you acknowledge the hard times. Because in... Typically in a business interview, the businessperson only wants to talk about the successes, which makes... Which paints a picture of you just get started, and there's one success after another success, and it's all glory. But often between successes, there are some long periods of, not necessarily failure, just kind of hard work.
11:30 DB: Yeah, far from it, I agree. And I go back... It really does work to use remodeling as an analogy. You start with this getting everyone very happy and jazzed about this vision that you're painting, and the designer is helping the client, shepherd them through that and guide them through that. And the first thing we do is come in and demo your house and make a lot of dust and a lot of noise. Then you kinda build them back up for excitement, and then there's sheetrock, and there's sheetrock dust, and so there's ebbs and flows of the project. It's kinda the same thing with a business, if you're building a business. There's gonna be times when you're ecstatic and everything aligns, and everything is beautiful, and it's coming to fruition. And it could be the very next day that you're hit with something that you didn't even think about, and it's how you get through it.
12:23 FP: You mentioned earlier giving back, something that you were keenly interested in, your philanthropic side. I know that looking at your website, seeing the work that the company does in terms of the social contributions and all of that.
12:40 DB: Yes.
12:40 FP: And you worked with a non-profit, that's a big change. Tell us about your experience with Habitat for Humanity.
12:48 DB: Yeah, I would love to. I knew about them for a while, and it... Just personally, it resonated with me about how could my career and my desire to give back, how could they come together, and this seemed like a really great organization for me to work in. So I worked in it personally, and then I actually got HRI to participate in a blitz build, we sponsored a home, and we had some of our employees go out and worked on the site for a week. And then after I left Harrell, the Silicon Valley affiliate approached me, because they were gonna do their first women's build. And we ended up building a single family home, 90% participation from women volunteers, which was pretty incredible. And I stayed on for a few years after that helping that affiliate, kinda just deepen their reach and understand their structure a bit. So it was a very good experience for me, for sure.
13:52 DB: I'm curious, from that first women's build in Silicon Valley, did any of those women that volunteered then take off in the trade?
14:00 DB: You know, I don't know, but I hope so. The very first volunteer crew that I had on-site was a group of Girl Scouts. And the very first thing I made them do was move the porta-potty from one side of the lot to the other. And then the next thing I had them do was actually start digging a foundation. And the best feedback I ever got was this young gal, I guess, she was probably a junior in high school, and she looked at me and she said, "I'm taking a photo of myself, and I'm putting it on my bulletin board. And when I finish my college exams, when I'm writing my college applications, this is gonna be my motivating factor. I don't want to be digging ditches [chuckle] for the rest of my life."
14:47 FP: Oh, that's wonderful.
14:51 DB: But I think that I also, we definitely met a lot of women that were interested. I didn't keep up with all of them. I'm hoping that the gal that was digging trenches is an engineer somewhere, my hope for her is that maybe she wanted to be an architect.
15:06 FP: Designing trenches.
15:08 DB: Yeah, yeah. She wanted to use her brains and understand and appreciate the brawn aspect of it. So, there's a lot of different ways of being in the construction industry, not always getting bags on and hands dirty.
15:24 FP: That's one of the points I wanna make on this. [chuckle] The reason for this podcast is it shows a lot of different paths, as many paths as there are in life, there are through the construction industry, and I love that you're using remodeling and all this. An analogy of something that begins with an idea then requires tearing things up to rebuild.
15:46 DB: Yes.
15:46 FP: There's kind of a rebirth involved. Now, and I like the idea of inspiring not only women in the trades as a career, but heck, women to re-tile their own bathrooms, [chuckle] to take up the tools and do some of that home improvement. So I imagine...
16:03 DB: Or how about just being able to, again, with some confidence and competence to direct the people that they hire? I think that that's an important part.
16:16 FP: I apologize for the next question, but I gotta know, in your role as Boss Lady, do you approach leadership with men and women differently?
16:26 DB: That you asked the question that way, is very tied up into my answer. I give everybody a lot of space to be themselves, and that's part of it actually. Lady isn't my favorite term. But I also certainly accept that it works for a lot of people. And to answer your question, honestly, whether I approach men and women differently? It's no and yes, my best approach is to see each person as a human adult. Especially someone who I am leading or someone who has employee... They're my employee. I want to see them as someone who needs something from me, and I want to see them as a person who can contribute their talents. And that's ideal. That's the best way is to just see them as a human. Ideally, I'll respond in the way that's most effective to what they can hear from me. And that's based on how they see me, right?
17:31 DB: So if they see me. Now I'm kind of an old lady. If you wanna say, Boss Lady, I'm the old Lady, I'm in my mid-50s. So there's an age component to that. My biological sex, they see me as a female, they're gonna come to me with their own expectation of what that means, right? And how I approach them with the choice of words that I use. The onus is on me to read them and to work with them effectively. So if a woman approaches me, so again, your question is, do I approach leadership with men and women differently? Ideally, I don't want to and yes, practically I have to, because they're bringing their own unique experience, and I'm responding to that.
18:19 FP: You're back at Harrell now, right? You were away for how many years?
18:24 DB: Yes. 17. [chuckle]
18:25 FP: 17 years. And when did you come back? I understand it was recently.
18:28 DB: I've spent about a year and a half.
18:30 FP: You've been back about a year and a half. You're not the president though?
18:34 DB: No.
18:34 FP: How have things changed at the company?
18:37 DB: The main change is that we are now a 100% employee-owned company. When Iris Harrell, the founder decided that she needed to make some arrangements for when she retired and when she moved on, we started way back when investigating the option of an employee stock ownership plan. And for people that don't... It's not very common and most people don't know what that means. It's a benefit plan that gives workers ownership interest in the company. And it also gives the selling shareholder and participants, they both receive tax benefits so it makes it a qualified plan.
19:25 DB: The NCEO which is the National Center for Employee Ownership, they're a great resource if this sparks any interest for anyone else, especially for smaller companies, and you do have a retiring owner, I think it's a great plan. And I think it's a great way to, at least, create the opportunity for a legacy. And to also, in my opinion, reward the people that helped you build the company with the opportunity to build something else. So that's the biggest thing is that, Iris retired, the company didn't fall apart. They absolutely, in fact, they have thrived, and we just last year, paid off all of our debt. And that was a big accomplishment. So it's an exciting time to see where this company is gonna go in its next chapter. And that was part of the draw of why I have returned.
20:25 FP: And the folks working at Harrell, has their attitude changed or how has it empowered them to be owners?
20:31 DB: That's a great question. And that's the one that we actually are asking ourselves. And also very diligently working towards. I think that they're... So the success of an ESOP is certainly based on how willing the company is to educate. And we have a ESOP culture committee.
20:52 FP: And ESOP is?
20:54 DB: ESOP again is employee, stock, ownership plan.
21:00 FP: Okay.
21:00 DB: So we have a culture committee.
21:01 FP: A culture committee?
21:02 DB: Yeah, it's a way to identify ourselves, and to... A different way to think about ourselves. So we have employee owners. We don't just have employees. We have employee owners. So technically they actually have a... They get stock. There's a certificate of stock and we look at the value of that stock each year. And it's the cultural aspect of how does that change. Your question is an evolving one. Well, I don't have a canned answer. It's certainly part of the process and part of the journey of how can it affect and how can it improve. And also really have this company be a legacy company. I was recently at a conference in Whirlpool, I think was celebrating 100 years. And what a audacious goal to think of a small remodeling company that would last for 100 years.
21:56 FP: For hundred years.
21:57 DB: Whoever thinks that way?
22:00 FP: Passed all the warranties. [laughter]
22:01 DB: Passed all the warranties. That's absolutely right. That's absolutely right. And we're there. We're approaching 35 years of existence, And so we're remodeling remodels that we did. So think about that. And it's the steps. It's the steps. If you're a small company, if you're listening right now and you're a owner of a sole proprietorship, you don't have to think about a 100-year-old company. But what would that do if you had a solid growth plan for your company for the next 25 years. And then you actually had someone in place to continue what you are building, what you're working so hard for. It's not for everyone, but I think it's a very interesting and intriguing alternative for some.
22:48 FP: I guess it would take folks a little while to kind of let that settle in and understand themselves as owners as you give them the stock option and... But they report to work, it's the same office, it's the same people, it's the same job. Maybe takes them a little while to kind of come to terms with it and realize, "Hey I'm an owner here."
23:07 DB: Yeah, yeah, you're spot on. It does take time. And some of them won't ever get it. As I said, some of them won't... They'll just see it as a money bottom line thing of, "Oh, this is how much money I'm gonna be getting if I make it through to retirement." So you have to be vested, a certain... We have a vesting schedule. And it's not the same as... We're in Silicon Valley. And so there are startups and dreams of overnight millionaires and stock option from the big companies that are in our backyard, Facebook and Google and Twitter. All of these companies are... We're in the midst of this churning of stock and value. It's not that at all. There's certainly some money attached to it. But the thing that intrigues me is really taking ownership of yourself and how you contribute back to the organization that you're a part of.
24:03 FP: Now, what are you doing today to encourage more women in construction? What advice can you give any that might be listening on what it takes to succeed in this mainly male industry?
24:12 DB: To be honest, I'm formulating a plan. [chuckle] I am working with the realtor, a local realtor, who has been holding quarterly events. No, for her, she said, " Hey, Dee I really wish I knew a female plumber or a female electrician or I think it would be really cool if I could refer these." And so she, on her own, has started reaching out to the community to say, "Hey, do you have any women business owners that want to be part of this group?" So that's just a start. And there are some other small local groups that are again, kind of going the 'do it yourself' route of, "Hey gals who are out there and want to learn and want to try this out." And we're getting together to do again some charitable work, building tiny houses for different folks. But most exciting thing I've done is... Just recently came back from the Women in Residential Construction Conference sponsored by a professional builder and professional remodeler.
25:18 FP: Yes.
25:19 DB: This is their 5th year of doing this event. And I was on a panel with three other just dynamic, amazing women. And we have committed to working together throughout the year to see where this can go and what we can do, again, to give back to an industry that really works for us, that's really given to us. And I think it's exciting times. I mentioned I'm in my mid-50s. It was very inspiring to see the 20-year olds and the 30-year olds and hear them. There's a fierceness and a desire and no holds barred, not gonna let objections get in their way kind of attitude that's very infectious and fun to be around. And also bringing it back to Harrell. I'm working with the general manager, she certainly has said to me, "Hey, can we work together? How can we partner together to make sure that Harrell is still a place that's safe and inviting and welcoming of women? What are we doing to encourage this legacy that this company actually really holds?"
26:35 FP: You mentioned that the women that you were, the young women that you were working with at this women in construction conference had kind of a fierce determination. You described it something like that. [chuckle] Is that necessary? Is that like you gotta have that fierce determination?
26:51 DB: Here's the thing, Fernando. When I started, I think that the numbers that people said was maybe 3 or 4% of the whole industry was women. And that included architects, and engineers, and designers, and sales people, and business owners. And just last month, the numbers, they just haven't improved. We're at 9.9% of the industry, and that includes engineers, and architects, and sales people, and designers. So, when you look at the world and you look at our industry, we're way out of balance. We have been forever and there's a lot of work to be done. I think this is a really important point. The industry will improve when it reflects something closer to the population of the real world. When you bring women into the industry, all of those things that we talked about before, about engaging, and communicating, and effectively service... Your service to your client, it can only get better and I think there's a fierceness that's needed to tackle the challenge of those numbers.
28:04 FP: Having worked in the construction industry most of my life, and of course when I was young and actually swinging a hammer, I don't remember any women on the crew. Later, I've met one or two along the way and later on. It's a very, from even now, because I'm working now as a home builder, and I see my subcontractors, and all, like maybe one or two women on the whole process from beginning to end will show up on the job, and usually in painting or one of those trades. I wonder it still is very much a male world, and the way men interact on the job site, the way they speak to one another, and the way they... It's still very much kind of a male environment. And I imagine a young woman coming into that environment, likely the only one, luckily maybe there's two on the crew. What advice do you give, not to women, but the males in the industry on how to work with those new women in the crew?
29:13 DB: Right. This is such an important question, and it sounds like from you speaking, that your experience validates those numbers, 3% or 4% or at best 9%. So, the only way to really change the industry is that we have to have allies amongst the men in the industry. They have to understand why it's worth their effort. But my best advice is be very aware of how you present yourself to this human in front of you. We're going back to that same question. Be very aware of who you are in the lens that you see this human in front of you. Be professional. However you treat a man who's walking in front of you for the first time. And again, it's how you're viewing them. If you think that they have something to contribute to you or to help you, like so if it's a subcontractor and you've never met him before, you're gonna be on your best behavior, and you're gonna be professional, and you're gonna state your needs really clearly to him. And you're gonna expect that he has confidence, and competence, and that he's gonna give you expertise. So, don't question, I mean I think that some people get caught up in, "Oh, does she know?"
30:46 DB: She sees a woman, you see a woman. In all fairness, I'm really trying to state this in a way that's the most gracious way, because fighting the fight, some of us, we do get resentful, and we do... [laughter] We're just tired. We're tired of the nonsense. But be professional. Give them the same common courtesy that you would any man that's walking in your job site. The bottom line is we all have biases. 'Cause I have biases against males. I have biases against plumbers. [laughter] I have biases. And I love my plumbers, I do.
31:28 DB: So, here's another really great place to start. If you don't think you have a bias, then you absolutely have some homework to do, because I promise you you do. You can't live in this world and not have some preconceived notion of what a woman does, and what they can't do, and how they dress, and how they appear. Look at how you were raised. Look at your parents, look at your schooling, look at your faith, look at the literature that you read, and the television programs that you watch. And your opinions about women are formulated in all of that, in all of your experience. And I think the facts are out there. Do your research, but women typically are expected to follow. They're expected to not have the competency of years of trade experience. Is that resonating at all, to answering your question? Is that making sense?
32:38 FP: It makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense. And I think what you've proved, Dee, in this interview, is that women know. [chuckle] I think you've proven the fact. And I've learned from the conversation with you too, Dee. And I hope that many people do listen and learn.
33:02 FP: Well, that left me with a lot to think about. I hope it left you with a few things to think about too. By way of wrap up, I guess this week's homework is to look inward. Look at how you see people and what you expect of them. Do you expect competence or incompetence when you see a woman on the job site? What about a man who's wearing nail bags? Do you automatically expect competence? You might not think about it, but consider this: Do you feel threatened by a new guy on the job? If you do, you're probably threatened by his potential ability to outshine you. In other words, you expect competence. He's a man. If you smirk, maybe dismiss or demean the new gal on the job site, maybe you're patronizing. You expect incompetence. You've got some more inward-looking to do. The first part of overcoming a bias is to discover it in yourself. You don't necessarily have to share it or confess, but just be honest with your inward-looking. You'll find a lot that you can improve on. I know I have, even today.
—Career Toolbox is a production of SGC Horizon Media Network. I'm your host, Fernando Pagés. And the show is produced by Dan Morrison