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April 19, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
As both the president and treasurer of her family’s company, Connie Leipard wears many hats, a hard hat being one of them. She’s one of few females in the construction industry; according to the National Association of Women in Construction website, women make up only about 9 percent of workers in the construction industry. Leipard, 52, started Quality Drywall Construction in Columbia with her husband, Mike, more than 30 years ago. She currently serves as the region six director of the NAWIC.
She attended her first local meeting in 1995 at a friend’s urging and was impressed by the knowledge the women had about the field and their willingness to share it with one another. The mother of three went on to serve as her chapter’s president before becoming the region six director and is now campaigning for a position as the national treasurer.
Leipard’s family moved to Columbia from Sedalia before she entered sixth grade, and she graduated from Hickman High School. The self-described shy woman with a slight Southern accent is an avid MU sports fan with season tickets to both football and basketball games. And as a female in a male-dominated industry, Leipard works to make sure that young women have the opportunity to enter any field they want when they grow up.
How does the construction industry differ from other male-dominated professions?
I’m particularly proud of the construction industry because if you go on the National Department of Labor website, the construction industry actually pays a higher dollar-to-dollar ratio of women to men. So when you think of the traditional career paths for women, like going into education or nursing, their male counterparts earn a higher wage than women. Construction careers, though it might be harder for women to break in, actually pay a higher dollar-to-dollar wage.
What inspired you and your husband to start your business?
He grew up in the industry, and I grew up around the industry, and we are really hard workers. We wanted to build a business, not only to earn a good living, but to affect the lives of other people, be a positive employer and leave a legacy for our children if they choose to go in that direction.
What is your specialty in construction?
For our business, we do interior metal framing, drywall, mainly commercial construction. We’ve done projects such as the two Hy-Vees in Columbia and the new Catholic high school, and we’re currently working on the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity house.
What character traits do you think you’ve developed through your involvement in a typically male-dominated job?
I came from a big family, and I’m pretty shy, so I don’t think 20 years ago I could’ve pictured myself doing presentations in front of 150-200 people. Now I can do that and be fine with it. The women are very supportive and encouraging of one another because those are the kind of skills you need to develop in a highly competitive environment. You need to be able to go into a room full of men and demand something in a way that’s graceful and knowledgeable.
What does your involvement in NAWIC mean to you?
Our whole core purpose is to enhance the success of women in the construction industry. We do that on a local level by learning about the industry, listening to speakers who come in and touring facilities to increase the knowledge of the construction industry as a whole. I put the majority of my time into NAWIC because it’s been a huge resource for me as a business owner.
How do you stress the importance of females taking on nontraditional jobs for their gender?
We’ve done, in conjunction with Lynn State Technical College, a mother/daughter construction fair. Middle-school-aged girls are introduced to a variety of different construction trades. It gets the girls thinking about different types of careers not necessarily on the traditional path. I think you have to be the personality type to fit into a nontraditional environment and do well, but a lot of times girls just don’t think about it. So we try to get them at a young age to expose them to it.
What’s the most rewarding part about what you do?
That you know that you’ve had an effect on someone who’s younger in the industry step out and do something they couldn’t have otherwise done. We try to bring a positive image to the construction industry. And most of the women who work in the construction industry like being in a male-dominated industry.
Who does the home improvement projects in your house?
That is definitely a combo. We both do things. I have been known to pick up tools and things on my own, and we pull friends in the industry and they help us out too. But we always have something ongoing, I’ll tell you that.
Why did you run for treasurer?
Throughout the past two years serving on the board, I have been encouraged by current and former board members to seriously consider running for either secretary or treasurer. I chose treasurer because of my experience working with financial reporting and budgeting that I do on my job every day.
Did your children participate in NAWIC events?
Oh yes, my son was the youngest one able to actually participate in the Block Kids contest. My other children did other things for me in NAWIC. The girls have both attended conferences with me. They were interested in it because they’d seen how it affected my life.
Did any of your children enter into the construction field?
My middle daughter Amanda graduated from Mizzou and is back in UMKC getting a civil engineering degree. She got a job at TRANE Corporation as the project administrator. As she was working with engineers, she was encouraged by them that she had a good engineering brain and to go back to school and get her engineering degree. Sometimes when you go out in the field and gain work experience, it gives you confidence in an area you didn’t really think about before.
Did you experience backlash in taking a job in a male-dominated field?
Thirty years ago when we started out, I think it was harder for men to take women serious in the industry, even though women only make up about 10 percent of the work force, and that’s in all facets of construction. But times have changed, and men are much more accepting of women in the industry than they used to be. After being in the business for a certain amount of time, you gain more experience and expertise. As long as you can do your job and do it well, you will have respect.