Demi, we’re going to make you a virtual cocktail for this conversation. What will it be?
Old-school Manhattan. With a big fat cherry and orange slice.
Tell us about your work.
I’m the Founder & Chief Spark Igniter for She Built This City, a young nonprofit based in Charlotte, NC. We empower women of all ages in construction, so that we can solve the labor shortage by closing the gender equity gap in construction and maker trades. That gap is currently a depressing 8%. It hasn’t changed much in my lifetime.
We ignite the equity sparks by introducing construction concepts as young as age 9, through scholarship-based trade workshops, camps, and builder clubs. Girls learn fundamental “hammer & drill” skills alongside 2028 skills—such as operating drones for high-rise jobsite inspections. We also host Women@Work Trade Circles & Expos—connecting women to jobs & training to change the immediate family wage delta.
We’re also rolling out an Airstream Mobile Tool Lab in July to bring our programs to the community. Only 5% of the Charlotte construction industry is comprised of women. In addition, 100,000 trade jobs are needed in the Queen City by 2028—positions we don’t have the labor to fill. So this is an opportunity to get our hands dirty locally, and then expand and share the toolkit.
What inspired you to kickstart this mission? How are you uniquely equipped to be leading it?
I spent over 20 years leading the trenches in residential homebuilding and moving the charge in the corner offices. I never saw enough women “in the room,” whatever the room looked like at the time. After a sabbatical, a journey up Kilimanjaro, an Ironman, and a stint at Yale University, I got the proverbial and literal “kick in the pants” to do something about it.
I used to think sitting in the actual seat meant representation. But I was never able to truly create scaled impact by mentoring 5, 10, 15 women in a year. With She Built That City, that’s a big part of our mission—to increase awareness of the industry, maker skills, and startup possibilities to girls as young as nine. Start them EARLY, and keep them AT IT. Scaled representation is by literally rolling up our sleeves.
She Built This City has a strong interest in technology as it intersects with trades. Tell us more.
We honor the hammer and drill skill heritage of the trades by teaching and inspiring women to use their hands. But we also have to “future proof” the trades, if we want them to thrive into the next generation, by adding the technology/STEM education that will propel affordable housing, mobility, and higher wages in the industry. So we teach 3D printing and drone inspection technology. One isn’t independent of the other, if we want to keep building America from within…
What has gone well for you thus far in your mission?
We have amazing partners who are right alongside our ethos of community, collaboration and culture—like Lowe’s Home Improvement, which is sponsoring our current Generation T Virtual Shop Class. We’re very careful to vet that ethos out when we talk to companies. It’s so important to align in mission—and we’re a little bit Princess Leia rebel spirit…much like Dovetail! So we realize that’s not for everyone.
We’re also scrappy. When the world changes, we come up with programming or earned revenue ideas to support it. No one ever said that a nonprofit can’t be nimble like a for-profit business. We’re as nimble as they come.
You’re a woman of skill and vision. What are you NOT good at?
Details. I can’t stand online forms, tax returns, anything I have to sit still and fill out. The best use of me is in a “big picture” role. I can sell the vision and get people to join me on the wall. Plotting the GPS coordinates of that first cavalry rush? Um, no—I’ll have you in a parking lot in Missouri.
What does great workwear mean to you?
POCKETS FOR DAYS. And give and stretch. I can speak to this as I’m remodeling this Airstream or in the workshop. I’m constantly bending, stacking, working with tools that I don’t always want a belt on—and Dovetail has all the stretch and give, plus the best hooks for tools, zippy pockets for One Bars…
Dovetail Workwear is the new “power suit” for me. Throw a blazer over it with steel-toed boots. Pearls and pins. I love this stuff. Seriously, I want to be buried in it.