As anyone in the industry can tell you, there’s a real shortage of skilled labor in drywall and in the trades generally. What most people don’t talk about though, is how few women work in this industry—and what an untapped resource they represent.
The fact is, construction is not an industry that has historically been very friendly or welcoming to women and if we want to get more women involved (and we should want that), then we need to make it a place that appreciates, respects, and welcomes them. One of the best ways to do that is look to the women who are already doing a great job and use them as role models to encourage the next generation of young women to get into the trades.
Kayla Beckett is a multi-talented drywaller/small business owner who’s gone above and beyond to build not only a successful business but one that actively strives to employ more women in the trades.
Kayla Beckett is based in Edmonton, Alberta, where she runs her business One Chick Taper & Co. Of course, at this point, One Chick isn’t quite accurate—she has 11 employees, including an all-female taping team.
“In my business—for the taping side, I only hire women because I want more women in the industry and a lot of men won’t train women,” Beckett explains. “Women are stereotyped into having babies, getting married, staying home but I’m none of those things. That isn’t me.”
Beckett’s passion for getting more women into the trades and on the jobsite is clear from the first moment you talk to her, and that passion, along with more than her fair share of talent and hard work is paying off. Her company has grown to cover two cities, maintains a talented team of builders—and perhaps most importantly—is constantly at work.
“Between boarding and taping, [we do] approximately six jobs a month,” she says. And if that doesn’t sound like much, consider that “these jobs are big houses: 10,000-plus square feet … I try not to do smaller projects. We do take on some smaller renovations occasionally but our specialty is these bigger jobs.”
Before she got started in drywall, she attended a wood tech manufacturing program.
“My passion for wood came from my dad. [He] is a carpenter … my whole life growing up, I was always in the trades. He was doing flooring or installing doors.”
Despite growing up in the trades, she didn’t get into drywall until much later, at the wood tech program. “That’s where I met Pat, who was a real mentor. He shows me to his daughter now as an inspiration for women in the trades. I got into drywall in college but I didn’t mind switching my career path because I’m passionate about seeing a finished project.”
Beckett’s ability was quickly rewarded. She started working with drywall in 2006, and in just five years, managed to open her own business. Since the company’s opening in 2011, they’ve grown quickly, thanks in equal parts to the excellence of her work and to her head for business. Still, being at the center of it all can be difficult. Asked what the toughest parts are, she says:
“Running a team and coordinating us all together, from a schedule standpoint. I’m never not busy—I usually don’t even take holidays. I haven’t taken a real vacation in six years. I might go visit my family a little, but it’s always full tilt into the business. Also not being able to find enough women in the trades…I felt the need to hire more women. And, of course, balancing work with personal life, right? I’m the owner, the taper, I do my own bookkeeping, accounting, taxes—I’m the one with all the tools.”
What could sound from someone else like a list of complaints doesn’t come off that way from Beckett, however. For every challenge she lists, her already confident voice radiates a little pride. You can tell by listening just how far she’s come and how much it means to her. Just to clear up any doubts though, she remarks casually that, “we’re always faced with challenges; most people don’t want to deal with that. But that’s why most people are workers and some people want to have a business—to deal with it on all aspects.”
Get It All Done
It’s clear that Beckett does want to take on all aspects, even in her business model.
“I usually take the full contracts: both the boarding and the taping. A year ago, [I did] a house (11,000 square feet) and I did the whole thing in six days. I only brought in one person on the last day to help with sanding. That was my greatest achievement … putting my skills to the test. Everything was round: round corners, round arches. Boarding, taping, painting, texture, carpentry (doors/trim/railings/everything). That house in Morinville, Alberta, was one of my biggest contracts that I made because we took the full project.”
Of course, she can’t (and wouldn’t want to) do every project alone. Her team is one of her proudest achievements. “It’s hard to find a team that has your back,” she says, but “the team are all really experienced, skilled tradeswomen. I don’t have to babysit them. There’s no headaches. That’s really nice.”
What’s more, they have her back so that she can work the way she wants to. In the male-dominated trades, being able to be herself wasn’t always a given, but between being the boss and having a supportive, independent team, she is free to focus on the work and get results. “I’m not a tomboy. I’m a girly-girl. I wear pink on the jobsite and I don’t try to blend in! It’s not so bad now, but when I first opened my company, I had trouble with guys taking me seriously as a professional. Now I’ve built my reputation and people know who I am.”
Despite her success and the breadth of her work, Beckett isn’t slowing down any time soon.
“I hope to see myself across five provinces, instead of just two. Canada wide, maybe international. I’d like to go to the States and get a visa.”
Beyond simply expanding, she wants to grow her team in terms of training and employing women.
“I have an amazing team of female tapers that I’m proud of,” she says. “I try to educate along the way, about the process, how things work. Women work within crews of guys because they don’t know how to run all the machines. That’s what we’re here for.”
Beckett is always careful to stress that her success isn’t magic and that she’d like to see more women follow a path like hers.
“My advice to women is just: give it a shot. No matter your age, your size, this industry, the machines. Anyone can learn it if you’re just willing to put yourself out there. When women succeed, it breaks the stereotype, but you have to push through, because it’s after you push through that you succeed. You can be whatever. I’m also linked with one of the high schools in my hometown and work with the teenagers there, so you don’t have to have family in the industry to learn this trade.” W&C