ROCK BRIDGE-GREEN MEADOWS-BEDFORD WALK-CEDAR LAKE
By KATIE MORITZ
Connie Leipard works daily to give girls the chance to do whatever they want when they grow up — including construction work.
Leipard, who owns Quality Drywall Construction, 165 E. Hoedown Drive, with her husband, Michael, is the Region 6 director of the National Association of Women in Construction. The all-female organization supports women in the construction industry, and sponsors youth events to build awareness and interest for construction work in the younger generation.
Region 6 comprises Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, and part of Illinois, and includes seven chapters with about 300 members total. Nationwide, NAWIC has 14 regions and about 4,000 members. The organization also has chapters in Canada, the U.K. and South Africa.
NAWIC sponsors the Block Kids Building Program, which challenges elementary school-age children with the MacGyver-esque task of creating a structure in one hour, using only 100 Lego bricks, a rock, a string, a piece of aluminum foil and a poster board. This year, a second grader from Region 6, Augustus May, won first place at the national Block Kids competition and will be honored this fall at the Construction Innovation Forum NOVA Awards banquet in Orlando, Fla.
Leipard said the most influential youth program NAWIC sponsors is Mother-Daughter Construction Career Day at Linn State Technical College in Linn.
“We try to get out and help the girls think that in real life they can be successful at anything they really want to do,” she said.
Through the career days, fifth through seventh grade girls get the opportunity to use heavy equipment simulators, operate a backhoe and read blueprints while visiting the college with their moms.
“We’re focusing on that middle school age, and bringing the mothers in, and giving them information on salary ranges and careers,” Leipard said.
Leipard said programs that incorporate parents are the best way to get girls thinking about careers in construction.
“Sometimes kids are just groomed,” she said. “You don’t think outside of the box on nontraditional things unless somebody around you comes from a nontraditional background. So, a lot of times, the moms are like, ‘Wow, I wish I would have had this when I was a kid.'”
Leipard has worked in construction for about 30 years, and joined NAWIC about 16 years ago. This is her first year as Region 6 director, but she took the position after being her chapter’s president two times. After a member serves as chapter president, they are eligible to be voted in as a regional director.
“I had to campaign, give speeches and all that good stuff,” she said.
Leipard said she feels comfortable turning to anyone in the international organization for advice or help.
“That’s just how NAWIC women are,” she said. “It’s kind of like a sisterhood, and that’s a huge support, especially if you’re a newcomer in the industry.”
With her father and grandfather both working in construction, Leipard was exposed to the field at a young age. When Leipard started out in the business, she helped her husband on weekends by working on finances and paperwork. The couple founded Quality Construction Drywall in March 1978.
Leipard began working as the president of the company 16 years ago. She said no two days have been alike and the job has been extremely rewarding.
“I think I could write a book about all the things that have happened in the course of 30-some years,” Leipard said. “You see the fruit of your labor, you know the projects you’ve worked on and completed. That part of it is very fulfilling.”
One of Leipard’s three children, Amanda, 28, is following in her mom’s footsteps, getting a civil engineering degree from the University of Missouri — Kansas City. Leipard said she’s one of three female students in the degree program. Stressing math and science for girls at a young age would influence more of them to get engineering degrees, she said.
Leipard said being a woman in the male-dominated field of construction is not always easy, but it has improved since she first started her career.
“In office environments, women are more accepted,” she said. “The last five years, 10 years, have been so much easier. When I was younger, and I would go on job sites, it was like they had never seen a woman in their life, and you know that’s not true.”
Women are still less accepted in the field than in the office, she said. However, she wouldn’t change anything about the job.
“I’m not much of a complainer on that, because I’ll tell you, I really enjoy working with guys,” Leipard said.
Being president of Quality Drywall Construction has constantly challenged Leipard, she said. She handles much of the paperwork for the company. But she also gets a chance to get back out in the field from time to time.
“I do go out on the job sites and I do safety visits,” she said. “I have to wear more than one hat. I do have a hard hat in my car.”