About the Author
For our Women in Building and Construction series, we interviewed Shonna ver Kuilen. Before joining ECI as the Customer Success Manager for BuildTools, Shonna worked in the construction industry for over 30 years and helped build more than 29,000 homes during that time. With her extensive career and unique perspective as a woman working in a predominantly male industry, in this interview, Shonna shares thoughts on how the industry has changed, the challenges she faced, and her advice to other women.
How long have you been working in the construction industry?
I have been in residential home construction for over 30 years. I have had several roles over the years, from Office Manager to General Contractor.
My father was a General Contractor, so I followed in his footsteps. We used to joke around and say I was ”The son my dad never had!” So, in short, my career path has always been construction—it's in my blood.
How have you seen the industry change in the last few years?
The home building industry has always been evolving and changing, especially when it comes to women. I was the second woman in Southern California to have my Class B General Contractors License. I was made aware of that fact from the Contractor State Licensing Board in Sacramento, California, when I went to get my license registered. I was very proud of that and still am.
As my career grew as a General Contractor working for large-scale tract builders, I saw very few women in the field which saddened me. Unfortunately, at times I was looked down upon. I had to prove time and time again that I knew what I was doing and that I had a right to be out there just like the guys. However, as I carved my way through my career, I started noticing that many General Contractors preferred having women on their teams because of the different way we handle and process business.
When COVID-19 hit, companies really had to re-strategize in their way of doing business. It was uncharted waters that they experienced before. They were trying to hold on to what they currently had and still grow in a struggling economy due to this horrible pandemic.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced being a woman?
Being a woman in construction has its challenges. Being overlooked does occur no matter how good the resume or reference or even educational background. It’s still similar to the ‘80s and ‘90s, but I do see many more women out in the field, and I love it. I encourage women to get out there and show everybody what we're made of. It never stopped me, and it never will stop me; bad and good experiences have made me the person I am today.
What was the best career advice you received? Do you have any tips or advice for other women interested in entering the home building industry?
The best advice I ever received was from my Dad. He always told me, “To keep looking forward because you're not going back there.” It took me literally 15+ years to figure out what he meant.
If you're a woman and you want to blaze out in the construction industry, you've got to grow a thick skin. Mean what you say, do what you do, and first and foremost, respect yourself and others! Everything else in your career will fall into place.
It will not always be easy, but if you are honest, hardworking, and treat others like you want them to treat you, I believe things will work out the way they should. Maybe not always the way that we want them to, but always the way that they should! It took me years to find this career, and I plan on it being my last, so be patient, work hard—watch, it will come!
The industry has been a bit slower to adopt technology. What’s your advice for others in the industry?
If you’re not working with pen and paper, it’s Excel and QuickBooks, which is was typical. But it’s difficult to manage all that information using these as you grow.
I’m a technology junkie and throughout my career, I am always trying to bring in new technology. It is definitely challenging to get people to move away from "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The problem is that it *is* broken.
I am lucky to have used a system like MarkSystems ITK with the builders I have worked with. Having the right technology helps make it much easier in the long run, even if there is a learning curve at the beginning.
Do you have any specific successes you'd like to highlight?
Being in the construction industry for over 30 years and managing the builds of over 2,900 homes and I have probably managed over a trillion dollars’ worth of work.
What are your favorite activities to do outside of work?
I'm married to a wonderful man, Vince, for almost 15 years now, and we have a beautiful 13-year-old daughter, DeAnna. I started late in life having children. I had her two weeks before my 40th birthday, and she was a true miracle, so I spend a lot of time with my family. I also love Guinea pigs, yes, I said it, Guinea pigs! I have a small rescue to rehome and, in some cases, rehabilitate, and educate people about these fragile loving little creatures that everyone misunderstands. I also love old hot rods, anything pre-1970s that I do not need a computer to work on them!
Stay on top of industry trends and insights.
Subscribe to the Big Ideas for SMBs blog.
About the Author