Carpenters and contractors in Nashville are a dime a dozen, so it seems, with our city’s building craze still in full force. Female carpenters and contractors, however, are a bit harder to find. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held just 9.9% of all construction jobs last year. For this special edition of our FACES of Nashville series, we spoke with three women breaking the construction industry mold — we found out how they ended up in this field, why it’s tough (or awesome) to be a woman in a trade job, and what gets them up and to a job site every morning. Welcome these three FACES of Nashville — Carrington Fox, Nolee Anderson and Pamela Leonard.

Carrington Fox

This award-winning carpenter pivoted her career from behind a desk to behind a saw. Her blog’s tagline is “middle-aged mom in construction,” but this FACE is that and so much more. Meet Carrington Fox.

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“From the first minute I enrolled in construction college, the faculty and staff made me feel like my success was their success. That’s a pretty great environment for anyone,” Carrington says.

When did you decide to go into carpentry?

Three years ago, after two decades of writing at a computer, I wanted to do something different. I have always loved making things with my hands but somehow I had drifted away from that kind of creativity. So I drove to Tennessee College of Applied Technology on White Bridge Road and asked them to teach me to build things. I joined the Building Construction Technology class, and for 16 months, I climbed up ladders and into dumpsters. I learned to cut rafters and solder copper.

My children gave me a circular saw for Mother’s Day, and I started making wooden games, garden gates, screen doors and little libraries, blogging about it along the way. I called the blog Build Me Up, Buttercup because it was about building, but also because it was about the new challenge that was building me up as a person. In 2018, I was named Tennessee Outstanding Technical Student of the Year. When I graduated from TCAT, I joined The Wills Company Design/Build/Handyman firm, where we renovate, repair and maintain houses.

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What do you love about what you do?

I love that every day is different and that I am constantly learning. I spend my days with experts in carpentry, plumbing, painting, electricity, masonry, ironwork, roofing and other building trades, and my internet searches range from interior design to building science. Now that I know how much skill and labor go into construction, I have a whole new gratitude for my house.

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Learning from different creative tradespeople on a daily basis is something Carrington treasures in this newfound profession.

What can you share about working as a female in a male-dominated industry? Hardships? Advantages?

Men are so funny. Bless their hearts.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?

Any carpenter will tell you, “Measure twice, cut once.”

Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?

Backyard chickens. Sidewalks. Estate sales.

Pamela Leonard

What began as some impressive childhood fort building has evolved into a contracting career in homebuilding. Pamela Leonard has grown a passionate team of builders and a book of happy clients through her integrity, creativity and roll-up-your-sleeves attitude.

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Pamela is a licensed general contractor and owner of Redmont Enterprises, and a new FACE of Nashville!

When did you decide to go into construction?

I was lucky enough to grow up with an engineer father and a mother with a keen eye for design, so it was just a matter of time. As a child, I was always building “next-level” forts in the woods with the neighborhood kids that were structurally sound (thanks to Dad’s lessons), but also symmetrical with lots of light. I decided to get my general contractor’s license after my husband and I bought a few fixer-uppers, and I realized how much joy it still brings me to renovate and build.

What do you love about what you do?

All of it really, from getting to know some really wonderful clients, to delivering a finished space that they will be able to use and cherish on a daily basis. I love that every day is different in construction: Some days you get to be super creative, some days you’re problem-solving, and some days are all about people and job site management. I love the challenges that come with bringing plans and ideas to life.

What can you share about working as a female in a male-dominated industry? Hardships? Advantages?

I knew going into a male-dominated field that I would encounter some gender bias, and I certainly have at times. I’ll never forget being the only woman in my General Contractor’s License class and getting a “slow clap” from the guys when I turned in my test. Beyond that, I have had a few subcontractors and vendors underestimate me or shy away from working with me because I’m a woman. But as opposed to hardships, I see all that stuff as motivation. I think there are some real advantages to being a female in a male-dominated industry. I’ve been able to build an incredible team over the years who work really well with me, and I’ve had a lot of clients seek me out because I’m a woman.

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Pamela works on some lighting electrical at one of her sites. She was happy to show us this project, and we loved seeing her in her element.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?

My parents taught my siblings and me the importance of telling the truth from a young age. “No one can take away your word,” my dad used to say. It’s a great policy for life in general, but in an industry that sometimes gets knocked for being less than forthcoming, honesty is super important. Earning and keeping my clients’ trust is crucial.

Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?

That’s a hard one. The three you mentioned are really all I need. My husband and I have a 2-year-old, and spending time with them is how I recharge. But otherwise, I would say running, lots of sunshine and chocolate.

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Nolee Anderson

Nolee Anderson, the youngest in our trio, already has an impactful track record of community involvement, and she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Let’s get to know Nolee.

When did you decide to go into carpentry?

I first decided to go into carpentry about three years ago when I was trying to pick a major in college. I had taken a few pre-requisite classes and had gotten to the point where I needed to decide on a direction. All my life, I had it in my head that I would study art or design. But when I stumbled into the Carpentry and Sustainable Construction program at the local trades school, I felt right at home. I got to use both my brain and my body every day, and I came out of that program with a really awesome set of practical skills.

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Last year, footwear and apparel company Wolverine signed Nolee as a member of Team Wolverine, which helps champion America’s skilled trade workers. “It’s been a great fit for me and has allowed me to see beyond my own career and give a voice to this industry and the opportunities it can offer,” Nolee says. Image: Wolverine

What do you love about what you do?

I love how creative my work is. People don’t really think of trades work as a creative industry, but carpenters are some of the most creative people in the world. I’m constantly amazed at the beautiful things people in the trades are building. It’s awe-inspiring.

What can you share about working as a female in a male-dominated industry? Hardships? Advantages?

It is tough. Sometimes it feels like being a carpenter is full-time work, but being a female carpenter is a second full-time job on top of it all. I’m singled out and under the microscope constantly. It can get exhausting. But there are perks, too — it’s easier for me to stand out, and I can use that to my advantage. I also have a small but fantastic community of female carpenters and makers who are always lifting each other up. We learn from each other and promote one another. That’s not something every lady has in her workplace — most of us have to go out and find it on our own while we’re off the clock.

I recently partnered with Wolverine to launch a program called JOIST that works to teach females in the Nashville community basic building and carpentry skills. We want to teach young girls that they can do anything they set their minds to. It’s a program I wish would have existed when I was growing up. It’s great to say that this is the most progressive and inclusive time in history for women to be entering the trades fields, but that should be taken with a grain of salt — the standard is not particularly high just yet. We are out here working hard to raise that bar.

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Nolee started JOIST as a way to help young women discover the opportunities and excitement that come with trade work in a safe and encouraging environment. Image: Sanford Myers for Wolverine

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

My father has always told my sisters and me, “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” and I fully subscribe to that idea. The hard work has only brought me good things so far.

Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?

I don’t think I would get very far in my job without having a sense of humor. When you’re building something, whether it’s installing a doorknob or a roof truss, odds are something is going to go wrong, so it helps to be able to roll with the punches. The second thing is the right gear. Crappy tennis shoes or work pants that don’t fit will end up holding you back. I’ve never been a clothing snob, but quality workwear has become essential to a good day for me. And lastly, time to make things for me. “Me time “ becomes a lot more important when your entire career is building things for someone else. It’s hard to keep from feeling like you’re always giving a part of yourself away at the end of a project or a build. So I have to make sure I’m doing something like whittling myself a spoon, building myself a little bench or making a frame for a postcard I love.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to this incredible trio of women for chatting with us, and to Leila Grossman for the fabulous photos of Carrington and Pamela.

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Dr. David Yi is a self-described life-long learner with an unwavering desire to be the best at everything he does. And at  TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center, he’s committed to making a difference in the lives of his patients. Meet this dedicated and passionate FACE of TriStar! Click HERE.

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