Long has the building industry been reserved for men, but one young Australian woman is defying the gender divide and bringing a breath of fresh air to the sector.
Sky Stephens, 26, is the co-founder of the Association of Professional Builders (APB), a coaching service for custom home builders in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
In early 2012, the Gold Coast based woman left her business marketing degree because she found the course was “not current” and instead started a business with her father Russ which focused on generating quality leads for residential home builders.
By mid-2014, the duo co-founded the Association of Professional Builders, where Stephens personally coaches more than 300 builders to systemise their marketing, sales, operations, and accounts.
“The overarching goal is to improve the residential construction industry for both builders and consumers,” she said.
“We aim to transform custom home builders into professional builders operating a business that delivers exceptional experiences for their clients.”
While the building industry is a largely male-dominated space, Stephens has never found this to be an issue.
In fact, she views being one of few women in the sector as an advantage, because “you can stand out a little bit easier” and “you can achieve a certain level of cut-through”.
“Personally, I’m really comfortable working with and around males. And as much as it is male-dominated, there are an abundance of women in the (building) industry – the women in the industry are the business partners, co-directors, and even sole owners,” Stephens said.
Even though Stephens has found her footing in the building industry, she has certainly experienced some challenges along the way.
“There’s nowhere to hide. You truly have to know your stuff,” she said.
“Builders can tell if you know what you are talking about, and I think especially being female and especially being young – I was 17 when I started – they were maybe a little more sceptical.”
Also, when featuring in marketing and training videos for the business, Stephens said she received a lot of derogatory comments about her appearance, whereas her dad did not.
Subsequently, she had to adjust the way she dressed and presented herself to detract attention around her image. But this hasn’t bothered her, she said, and chooses instead to concentrate on solutions and move forward with doing her job.
“I had to change very much how I placed my hair and what I was wearing, to be taken more seriously from the get-go. But in my mind, that’s fine. I can mould and adapt. I don’t dwell (on it) too much, because fighting that fight isn’t worth it,” she said.
While Stephens has adopted small tactics here and there to thrive in a male-dominated industry, she said it’s not something she focuses on.
“I think there’s no real trick to it. Embrace the fact that you’re female and just get on with it,” she said.
“I’m a big believer in ‘know your stuff, know what you’re talking about’ because gender and then certainly age, as well, becomes much less of an issue.
“The more you know, if you have expertise behind you, that’s the bottom line. And if you can help people, that’s really what they care about, if you can actually deliver value.
“Opportunities are everywhere, so I don’t get caught up in the story that it’s hard for women… we can create our own luck here.”
Looking ahead to the next five years, Stephens has ambitious plans for the Association of Professional Builders to grow their membership base from 300 to 25,000. In that time, she hopes to grow herself so she can confidently bring her experience and expertise to a role where she will lead a much larger team.
“I never had that narrative spoken to me when I was young, so it was never ingrained in my mind that it’s harder for women, and I want to make that the norm and the culture (at the business),” Stephens said.
Her advice to other women wanting to make their mark in the building industry or other sectors dominated by men is this: “Know your stuff. Deliver with confidence. Earn it.”
“Create your own luck and go for it, but make sure you can back it all up with the knowledge and expertise that you can bring,” she said.