Ep. 115: Doing the Work with Mary Katherine Harbin of Maymead Inc.

Mary Katherine Harbin MaymeadMary Katherine Harbin caught the attention of the industry when she established the nation’s first all-female paving crew. The area manager and equal employment opportunity officer for Tennessee-based, Maymead Inc., has worked her way up the ranks and built a successful career in construction.

As a nationally-recognized speaker on workforce development, Harbin joins host Missy Scherber to share expertise on mentoring employees, mitigating bias and discrimination and taking a progressive approach to hiring.

They also discuss:

  • Building your confidence as a leader
  • Creating unity among the office and the field
  • Breaking down barriers between your crew members
  • Advice for women in construction

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Women in ConstructionShow Transcript

Intro:

Welcome to CONEXPO-CON/AGG radio where we bring you boots on the ground perspectives from construction, business owners, and industry experts about their successes, challenges, and whatever else is on their minds. Consider them your own personal mentors on technology implementation, equipment solutions, business management, and more enabling you to apply their expertise to your business. Held every three years in Las Vegas CONEXPO-CON/AGG is North America's largest construction trade show. For even more ways to connect with the industry, visit conexpoconagg.com/connect. We've got another great guest on the show today, so let's dig in.

Missy Scherber:

Mary Katherine Harbin caught the attention of the industry when she established the nation's first all female paving crew. The area manager and equal employment opportunity officer for Tennessee based Maymead Inc. has worked her way up the ranks and built a successful career in construction. As a nationally recognized speaker on workforce development, we're excited to tap into her expertise on mentoring employees, mitigating bias and discrimination, and taking a progressive approach to hiring. Thank you so much for joining us today on the show.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Missy Scherber:

Of course. Well, why don't we just jump right in and talk about Maymead. I know there may be some listeners out there who don't know about Maymead. Your roots date back to 1747. So tell us a little bit about the legacy of your family's business and what it was like growing up in the industry.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Well, I'm really proud of my family's heritage. You're right, in 1747, my family was given a land grant from the King of England. And at this point, my generation, my brother and I are the ninth generation to live on our family's farm that is still an active farm. And three generations ago, the family transitioned into more of a contracting role, an aggregates producer role. And we have been in business as our current company for four generations now. Yeah, it's really special. My grandmother is 90, she turned 90 last month and still comes to the office. Now, not as much with COVID going on, but it's really, really special to be the third generation actively working and participating in our business.

Missy Scherber:

In the company. That's pretty amazing that your 90-year-old grandma, and it's May, correct? That's her name, May? She is still coming into the office. That really shows a lot of pride that your family has in this business.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

It does. I had not planned to come back to work in the business and life throws little curve balls. And 15 years ago, I called my dad and said, "Hey, do you think you have a spot for me?" There's no doubt that getting to be involved and see how much hard work and effort and passion goes into what we do has impacted me and my outlook on what my role should be.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. And what was it like growing up in the industry? That's there's two unique perspectives. People either did not grow up around the business like me, I never experienced construction until I was older or they grew up around it. And I'd love to know what was that experience like for you to grow up around the construction industry? How did it impact you to be close to it?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Well, I think that the assumption when I came back was that somehow I had learned all about the industry growing up through some kind of absorption. More than that, I understood my dad and his philosophy, his way of thinking, because he would come home and talk at dinner about things that had happened during the day. And I was his sidekick. I'm the oldest and my dad does not do babies. And so when I was out of diapers, Saturday morning was right around with that time. And so we spent time in the office and we rode around to the cruise. So I enjoyed the being with him part, but I don't really feel like I grew up, I did not grow up running the equipment or understanding the mechanics of what we do.

Missy Scherber:

Of the business, awesome. And tell me this, you bring it up and we just had Father's Day. And I love that you talk about how much it impacted you to be your dad's sidekick in the industry. There are a lot of dirt dads out there on Instagram who I see hauling around their daughters on the job.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Don't you love it?

Missy Scherber:

It's so amazing. What was one of the top things you learned from your dad? Just kind of an honor of Father's Day, which we just celebrated. I'm throwing you a curve ball.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Wow. I don't know what to say. My dad has two sayings. And one would be, the whole time we were growing up, it's going to sound terrible, but a military saying of doing it is mandatory liking it as optional. And I think that while that may sound a little harsh from a family perspective, it really does instill the grit of not everything you do is fine, but you have to do it. And so the sticktuitiveness that he demanded and really instilled in us has really shaped us.

Missy Scherber:

I think that's a great principle to bring up, especially as the next generation comes into this industry. It's going to be great, it's going to be exciting, it's cool all the equipment, but it's not going to always be easy and it's going to takes some grit.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

That's right, that's right. And then the followup is a pin with no head is no good. And so it's a constant keep your cool, we're all pretty type A, have strong personalities. It doesn't take a whole lot to get our crowd wound up, but he's right. If you lose your head, if you can't maintain a certain level of steadfastness, then you're not effective.

Missy Scherber:

Wow, I love that. We come from a very German family of hot headedness. So I love that saying ,I might put that up in my office. For people that don't understand, so you've been going for almost four generations as a business. How big is the business now? And what kind of projects are you guys doing? Tell us a little more about Maymead.

All-Female Paving CrewMary Katherine Harbin:

We have approximately 300 employees currently. We are an aggregate producer, we produce granite and limestone. We are an asphalt producer. We have 10 facilities in Western, North Carolina and East Tennessee. And then we're also a contractor. And so we are a heavy highway contractor, we do predominantly North Carolina DOT highway projects from dirt up. But we also have several subsidiaries that are striping companies, traffic safety companies that are all integrated in what we do.

Missy Scherber:

Into the business, which is absolutely amazing. So you guys don't just produce the aggregates asphalt, you're actually a road contractor and get all the work done. So what is your fleet look like? I mean, you've got to have quite a bit of creamy lineup of equipment out there.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

We do, we run four what we call mainline paving crews. And so we have quite a few pavers, we're predominantly a CAT paver customer, but we have a wide breadth of equipment sources throughout the fleet.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome. As Maymead has grown over the last few generations, I'm sure you've seen as a little girl and then now kind of in a leadership position that you're in, you've seen ups and downs in the industry. What would you say are the biggest challenges you're facing right now?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

It would be silly to not at least comment on the COVID concerns. It's crazy that in 2020 this is what we're talking about. I think going into January, I would have said an entirely different list of concerns, but now here we are in June. Of course, keeping our employees safe, making sure that we are using the right social distancing guidelines and temperature checks. We had a crew exposed just yesterday through an outside source. And so we're trying to handle that all in real time. So everybody's doing that. But I think specific to our industry, the lack of funding concerns from both the state and national level that rolls into what I think is really the biggest issue of attrition. I think that if we do not have the constant funding that we need from these DOTs, then we're going to lose people that are doing a stellar job and are just concerned that either the industry is not stable or they really aren't sure where their next paycheck is going to come from.

Missy Scherber:

And what do you mean funding? Where is that going to for you as a contractor? You're just talking about funding the projects that you're working on?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Eight. So we're primarily a public contract company. And so our work comes from the DOT. So the state funding for the DOT as well as the federal highway funding that funds those state departments in a number of cases. And so the drop in revenue, fewer drivers has really decreased the revenue from the gas tax in most states. We don't have ready federal bill to keep all the sites funded on that side. And so I think that we're looking at a true crisis in funding for our industry on the highway side.

Missy Scherber:

Wow, that's very interesting. I did know. Where's that bubble coming from? Is that just kind of the temperature from COVID or has it kind of been something that you've been seeing for a while, the government funding?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I think it depends on where you are. Across the industry, you would say that that has been a concern on the federal level. Specifically for us, North Carolina has been very steady and very consistent in the last five plus years. And now we've hit a crunch period, and there's real concern in our state about where the funding is going to come from. And there are quite a few states in the same situation.

Missy Scherber:

How are you guys kind of pivoting to deal with these challenges that you're seeing on the funding side? That'd be a very interesting challenge to combat. Are you having to get involved in lobbying? What are your pivots there?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

We are. We make sure that we're involved in a number of industry groups that lobby on a regular basis. So we have lobbyists, but then we try to be forefront with local legislators as well as our state legislators to really express how important our industry is to keeping the operations of the country running.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. I think one of the positive things that came out of everything happening in the world right now is that construction was deemed essential and more people saw, "Oh, there's this career out there, there are these workers out there, they're essential workers. They are building the world around us." And I was slightly excited about that spotlight, people seeing that. So now what do you see as the biggest growth opportunity for the construction industry in the coming years?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Well, I'm going to same that the funding situation is going to level out because we cannot allow our roads and bridges to just crumble and nobody doing anything about it. It will take an effort industry-wide to get that handled, but I have faith in our legislators that will happen. I think our biggest growth opportunity is really in the attraction of nontraditional workers. We have such a great story to tell, and we have so many amazing benefits. And what we do is so fulfilling in so many different ways. I think attracting the folks that have not traditionally come to work in our industry is really our biggest growth opportunity.

Missy Scherber:

I absolutely love the way that you just put. I've heard messaging of it's about the next gen, it's about women, it's about minorities. And it's about what you just said, attraction of nontraditional people out there who maybe have never looked at our industry. So that's a great segue into what I'm most excited to talk to you about. Caterpillar did an absolutely amazing highlight of your story and some of the unique things you've done at Maymead. I got a text message from one of the branding team members at CAT on a Tuesday. And they said, "We have a surprise for you. Wait till you see what's coming out tomorrow on women in construction Wednesday."

Missy Scherber:

And when your story came out of the all women's paving crew that you built, it just blew my mind. I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is a whole 'nother level." It inspired me to want to build a all women's driving crew and whatever. So let's talk about that because Maymead decided to take a progressive approach to hiring, employing what may be the first all female paving crew in the nation and opening the construction industry's eyes to an untapped market of potential workers. So tell me where this incredible idea was born for you.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Well, if you think about the context again, it's crazy that here we are in the middle of 2020, and things have so drastically changed in the last two to three years. But I would say 17 to 19, I would say was a boom for our industry. I mean, everywhere I went, we were hearing everything's great, we've got plenty of funding, the lines of credit are good, equipment's everywhere. We don't have the people to run it, we don't have the people to do all the things that we need to do. And I felt like I was hearing this refrain over and over and over again, I was participating in that conversation. Everybody was trying to think through how are we going to find more people? And at the same time, I would say a groundswell of women's leaderships groups were breaking through in terms of women of asphalt launched from the world of asphalt. I believe that was in 18, maybe off a year.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And Caterpillar was doing women in leadership conferences that they were just starting to open up to some of their customers where they'd been doing it internally for a number of years. And I wound up in all these different places. And it was just almost an epiphany of, yes, we are women in construction. Yes, we are really proud of our roles, but the rooms that I was in were more project management, executive level rooms where we're all kind of brainstorming and how do we do these things? And I thought what we're missing is the people doing the work. There's no question that the technology is in place for women to be able to run the equipment that's out there in the field. So I think that there's no question that 30 years ago, it probably wasn't as conducive to women doing the work. It was very heavy, body strength intensive work.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

But right now, it's really not. And so I leave these conferences and I'm going home. It's such a weird feeling because you've been with this group of women that is just so energizing and so motivating and inspirational and like, "Oh, I'm not the only woman doing this." And at the same time, I was really frustrated because I thought we've missed something, I can't figure out what we've missed. And that just coincided with a couple of weeks later. I had a perfect storm of several operators out on a crew and my superintendent called and he said, "We're going to shut down tonight because so-and-so is having surgery, ad so-and-so had a death in the family," and all these different things.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I said, "Well, I'll get a babysitter if you'll put me to work." And I said, "I'll come fill in the spot." And he said, "What are you going to do, run the paver." And it really hit me wrong. I mean, it really hit me wrong. And I said, "Yeah, that's what I'm going to do." And I have been in the industry for just over 10 years and had never run a paver. And I thought, "Why have I never done this?" I think when I started questioning myself, the answer was not, nobody would let me, that's not the answer at all. The answer is I was intimidated by it. I didn't want to mess something up, I know how hard those crews work, I see how much they sweat. I know how much time and effort and energy goes into every little thing they do.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And I didn't want to be a problem, I didn't want to mess it up. I didn't want them to have to fix my mess. I didn't want to be in the way, I didn't want to look dumb. You know what I mean? You put all that together. And I thought if I have access to this equipment and this level of knowledge from these crew members every single day and I haven't taken advantage of it, that's why we don't have more women in the industry because it's a little bit scary. And we may not feel welcome. And I know every single one of those guys and girls for that matter by name, so I wasn't afraid of them. I just was intimidated by the whole issue. And so I went out that night I said, "So-and-so is going to teach me how to run this paver, I'm going to run it all night," and I did. I was so proud of that.

Missy Scherber:

I'm so proud of you.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

It's a road that's not too far from my house. And I swear every time I'm on it, I'm like, "Do you see how straight that edge line is?" It's like no other road has ever been paved, but that edge is straight.

Missy Scherber:

That's amazing. So you're kind of saying no one was stopping you but you?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

No, nobody was stopping me but me, nobody. If I had called up and said, "Hey, I'm going to run this," or, "I want to run that." And I had done some of that in what I would consider a safer location, at a plant stacking concrete blocks, somewhere that I could tool around by myself and not really impact anybody else. But I think in general as women, we don't want to put anybody else out. We don't want to be a negative impact. And so after that experience, after the really great conferences that I had been in that spring, it all just was swirling. You're chewing on it, you're in the shower, you're getting in bed. All your spare time is just swirling. And I thought, "That's what we need. We need an all women's paving crew so that you're learning at the same time, everybody comes in at an entry level. You don't have a bunch of men screaming," because on the road they scream all the time. It's not ugly, it's really a matter of-

Missy Scherber:

They have to.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Have to, but it's really disconcerting if you aren't familiar with that. I thought, "If you lower the barrier to entry, if you take away as much of the intimidation factor as you possibly can, then maybe more women would want to do this. Maybe they'd get the confidence that they need to then roll into some of our other areas." And I bounced it off of a couple of our leaders and we decided to roll with it.

Missy Scherber:

And how did it go? I got to meet a few of your leaders, we sat on a leadership panel together. And there were some of your male superintendents who are at our women's panel, which I thought was amazing. And I talked to them and they're like, "We're the biggest fans of this. We love this, we love what's happening." So it sounds like they were pretty receptive to it.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

They were, they were. It's no different than any other leadership role, you know your people, you know what their responses are going to be. You know who's going to be most on board with different ideas. And so I talked to a couple of those guys internally, but then I thought it's really not fair for them to work in our company and me have this great, big idea that I'm clearly excited about and them not have to say yes. And so I called one of our subcontractors who I really respect in the industry and said, "I need you to just shoot me straight because I know this guy and this guy, and this guy, they're going to be on board and they're going to support what I want, but I need you to tell me what you think about this."

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And he said, "Not only do I think it's a great idea, it's such a good idea that I'll sign on to train them if you can find them." And I was like, "Wow." That was Tim Looper, he was in the video, he did train them. He did a fantastic job. And then Chris was also in the video. He was my find it guy, he's our office manager. And I said, "I know this is crazy enough, we're not going to go out and buy a bunch of equipment. I need to know where our spares are, what we have." And he was the put it together guy. So we had a full plan together before we ever bounced it off my dad. Took him to lunch and I said, "Okay, this is how we can do this. I just need you to say it's okay." And he said, "Okay, go do it."

Missy Scherber:

Let's go for it.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And so from really getting the idea together to off the ground was about a six week window.

Missy Scherber:

It is quick, that's quick.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

We don't do anything slow. We started advertising, we talked to our folks because so many of us hire by word of mouth. And I'd like to say we had always said, "Well, what about your son? What about your brother? What about your dad?" And I said, "We don't ask about their sisters or their moms or their girlfriends." And that's what we did. This one kid said, "Hey, my mom would really love to do this." "Great, bring her on." ~ I really thought, and I will tell you this was a pitfall of this launching. I thought that I would contact the women that were already working for us because I don't want to lose sight of that. We have always had a blended workforce. But the women that we've had, I would say are the exception and not the rule. They don't mind being with all men or they're the wives of the foreman and they've been a payer team for a long time.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And so I thought, "Well, wouldn't they love to do this? This would be so great." And I started calling around, "Hey, do you want to do this? Hey, do you want to do that?" Thinking if we had some experience it would kind of give it a skeleton before we brought in new people. They were like, "I don't want to do that, no. I like working with the men, I am not interested. I like my job, that's why I do my job." "Okay. Well, I guess I'm going to have to get started some other way then."

Missy Scherber:

So you were left to start fresh will all new?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

We started fresh, all new.

Missy Scherber:

And from what I understand, those women on that crew learned very quickly.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Very quickly.

Missy Scherber:

It was more of a life changing, fulfilling experience for them, correct?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

There's no doubt in my mind that there's a psychological benefit of accomplishing something and being able to see what you've done. That's one of the things that I love about this industry is that at the end of the day you can turn around and literally see the road behind you that I have done this. There's really something gratifying in that. And these women came from all different backgrounds and different career paths and some of them hadn't worked in years and some of them were coming out of ... Obviously, they were all coming out of different industries. And to feel the success of manipulating a machine as large as what we operate and know that you can make it do what it's supposed to is such a confidence booster. Some of the earliest pictures they're just glowing, they're so excited that they've done this unimaginable thing.

Missy Scherber:

Big task. Yeah, absolutely. So you were able to really capture them with the fulfillment that any person in our industry experiences, which is we're building the world around us. We get to see that, we get to see that growth. So now tell me, how were your recruitment and training tactics different for those candidates? I think this is an important one to talk about because I know there are a lot of great intentioned leaders out there who are saying, "We want to do something like this too, but what do the recruitment and training tactics look like?"

Mary Katherine Harbin:

We started with this model, and it's crazy, I don't know why we didn't do this before. Some of this is just low hanging fruit that seems so obvious to say out loud. But for years and years, and years, our job ads have all said experienced paver operator, looking for 5 to 10 years or whatever. And at this point, all those people have jobs, we're just poaching between ourselves kind of thing if that happens. And so obviously there aren't just a whole lot of women paver operators floating around everywhere. And so our job ads literally said now hiring women's paving crew, no experience needed, willingness to work hard. We didn't sugar coat it, I feel like my job is to make it sound terrible so that when you get there-

Missy Scherber:

It's awesome.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

It's great. Outside work, hot temperatures, heavy lifting, on your feet all day. I mean, you go through the whole thing. But breakthrough opportunity, huge opportunity for upward motion in your career. So a no experience needed philosophy. And all of our ads say that now, every single opening that we-

Missy Scherber:

Across the board.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Across the board. But I think you have to have an organization that is truly committed to training people when you to do that because if you advertise that no experience is needed and you're not working from an environment fully aware of the safety concerns, then what needs to be instilled in these people? You're asking for a really terrible situation.

Missy Scherber:

So you kind of changed the tactics to no experience, but you had the setup, you really built a big set up for them to be trained, to understand the safety, which is just awesome. So what have you learned since establishing this crew? You had this big idea, you put it into action in six weeks, you figured out the recruitment strategy to get the right women and you got it off the ground. What have you learned since doing all that?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

So I think there's an operational side and then there's more of a side note answer to that. But on the operations side, think what we've learned is that women really can do this and that they really do enjoy doing it when given the opportunity to excel. Every now and then you hear a naysayer, "Well, women don't want to do that." Yeah, we do. We just need to be given a safe place to learn and have the opportunity. So I think that we are seeing that it is successful. Does every woman in the entire world want to do this? No. Does every man in the entire world want to do this? No. It's just bad to wear people. Different people like and enjoy different things.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

That has been, one, it can be a huge success. But two, I think that on more, not negative, but just realistic side is that we've really confirmed societal gender norms in this experiment, if you will. Because there's no doubt if there was for anyone that women truly do carry family responsibilities differently than men do. And that has been something we've had to navigate and has really been to me the hardest issue to get my arms wrapped around because women typically, and I'm painting with a broad brush, but typically carry the childcare concerns, cover the doctor's appointments, are caring for aging parents, are the ones needing to do the shuttle run in the afternoon if there's not a bus from the school. This has been, I'm going to say difficult to figure out how to not be so hard lined to say, "No, you can't leave. No, you can't do that," because they're women. It's not that they need special treatment, but the reality is is that those things don't happen for their families if they don't do them.

Missy Scherber:

And you're absolutely right to say it is a societal gender norm, that is pretty common. Not that we're not seeing a change in that, but that women are expected to be at daycare, to be at the doctor's appointments. I had a woman that I know who her dream was to be an operator. She really wanted to be an operator. And a guy at a bigger company was like, "Don't do it because it's a 10-hour shift, and you will not see your kids." And I just thought that was so interesting. I'm like, "Wow, you're right. It's a difficulty to figure out to navigate the scheduling."

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And I would say, we don't have the answer for that yet. We've talked about, does it need to be shorter shifts? How can we work through some nuances to really help women succeed in what we do. And I don't think we have the answer yet. But it is something that has been really brought to my attention and heightened my awareness of we need to be user-friendly in our industry as well.

Missy Scherber:

So it's not just saying women join our industry not just in the office, join our industry in the field. But then it's industry, we're going to have some adjustments to make this user friendly for them for it to work, for them to not ... Because I do hear that a lot of women will join and a pretty high percent don't stay after three years. And I'd imagine that part of that problem is what you're bringing up the schedule. So I love that you guys are looking for solutions, and I hope we can have you back again when you have some solutions. We're counting on you.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Oh, give me a minute.

Missy Scherber:

We're going to let you enjoy right now the fruits of your labor. But what advice would you give to women in the industry? Let's talk about first what advice would you give to women in the industry who are in the offices and behind the scenes? And let's talk a little bit more about that.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Well, the first thing that I would say is the operations cannot go on without the support team in the offices. I think that there tends to be a divide, if you will, between we're doing the work, "We're out there in the field, we're this, we're that, the production side." And then on the inside, it's, "Well, nobody gets paid if we don't process the checks, the contracts don't go through." Everybody has a role to play. And I think that it's really important for all of us to respect those roles and understand how important everybody's role is. We're all women, all in the same industry. And just because we wear different hats doesn't mean that anyone's less important than anyone else.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. So you think it's important to mutually respect the roles because I have seen that divide as well. And at times it's been disheartening to see because I love to see all of us in this together, like women in construction, men and construction, both roles are valuable. Historically we have fulfilled a lot of office roles, now excitingly enough, we are starting to fill field roles. And the only way that's going to continue and make progress as if we're together, right?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Right. And to me, it hits me. I just don't like unnecessary divisiveness. I just want everybody to be happy, get along. There's enough problem in the world and not create problems. It kind of hits me like the mommy wars. And maybe it's just because I'm in the trenches with small children, but the stay at home moms versus the career moms and who's doing what. No, I haven't stayed at home, massive props to the women who do because I would be miserable. My mom did that for years. I mean, I have no idea how she did that between her career, she took time off. I think that the reason that that strikes me that way is because ... And no one questioned for most of history women staying home to take care of babies. That was the role.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And then mid century women started going into the workplace and that needed to be highlighted because it was different. Not because it was more important or not because it was better, it was just something new and it needed to be supported. And that's the way that I really feel about the conversation about women in the field and operations in our industry now. No one has questioned women, I don't think, women accountants or even attorneys more recently or the data entry, the payroll, all of the super important roles. Women have filled those for as long as I can remember. So that's 30 years in a construction office. But women haven't always been the one to just put their boots on and get on a bulldozer or start running a paver. And I think that that's why we need to highlight that specifically right now because there needs to be that extra boost of support not because they're more important, just because it's different.

Missy Scherber:

It's different, and it's new. And I absolutely agree with you. The more we highlight that, the more we'll come into the ranks. And I think women behind the scenes get excited about seeing more women in the field. It's a positive experience. It gives you purpose when you're behind the scenes. I love supporting my guys out there. I have an all male crew in our excavation company. But knowing Deb, my driver is out there, I just get a little bit added excitement like, hey, I love supporting Deb, this is exciting. So I agree, let's do better at highlighting that role, but let's see both roles as important. I absolutely love the way you put it. So what advice would you give to all women in construction? Just assuming we are all on the same playing field behind the scenes or not, what is some of the best advice you would give women in the industry right now?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I just want to start with, ask questions. There are no dumb questions. And what I find all the time in our organization and with the companies that we work with is that people in our industry love what they do. They love to tell you about it, they love to teach, they love to share their experiences. And if you ask questions that are genuine and really interested, then there's not a soul out there that isn't going to take the time to teach what they do and share what their roles are. So I would say number one across the board, any level in the organization, ask questions, ask what's happening. People will take the time to explain that to you. And then the one that to me is just a little bit more personal is be genuine, be yourself.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I spent the first few years of my career trying to imitate the personalities that were around. And of course, on a project management level, they were men. It was like call so-and-so and tell him such and such, brash. Men deal with each other differently than women do. And men and women interact differently than men and men or women and women. And it took me some time to feel comfortable in my own skin and to feel confident enough to handle things in the tone that I would want to use or that I can be just as effective doing things my way, the way that Mary Katherine would [inaudible 00:39:56] as Wiley is the way Wiley says them. And if I'm constantly trying to imitate somebody else, then not only am I feeling like I'm an imposter and I don't know what to do, and I don't know what the next phrase is because you only taught me the one thing to say [inaudible 00:40:14]. I don't know what the followup is.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Then to just say, "Hey, this is Mary Katherine, I need to ask you," blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It's amazing that learning to be yourself is a process. Being able to say, "No, I can make the call and I can handle it, I just need to know what the outcome needs to be." I don't have to do it the same way that Billy Bob does, I can do this my way. I think that you earn so much more respect that way-

Missy Scherber:

When you're yourself.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

When you're yourself. I think that's one of the hardest things to learn and one of the most important things to learn.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. I love that you're bringing that up because it is a challenge, I think we feel this added pressure to perform because we are in a male dominated industry. But really to me, most of them are very receptive and excited about our roles. And I feel like they get into a good groove when we just are ourself. Just be yourself, be who you are, ask the questions how you'd ask them. And I've noticed the majority of the men around me are very receptive to that and excited about that and saying, "Let's do this." So you've that the crew doesn't need to be all women to make it work, but the field jobs especially have historically been male dominated. What advice would you give men about working with women? I feel like it's a very important part of the conversation to talk about our beloved men out there who have done such a fantastic job at this industry. It's a new thing for them to navigate. What advice would you give them?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

This is also so simple. You're going to be like, "Why did I have her on to tell me all these basic things." But I think it's as simple as let us do it, let us do it. And again, we're in the South, and so I can only speak to my experiences. But there is an ingrained chivalry here, guys still opened doors for ladies, and you don't want us to lift things and all these things that are coming from a good place. They're positives in the right context, but there is something about the way that we're raised and maybe it's all people that guys do not want to watch a woman shovel something if they can do it instead. And that is just something that you just have to break down that barrier of, "No, I can shovel besides you. It's going to keep me from going to the gym later today. Let us do it."

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And it's not because they don't think we can, it's not coming from an ugly place. I think we need to keep space to assume that people are coming from things with the right motive. So I don't think it's a negative thing, I don't think it's because they don't want us working beside them. I think that it makes them uncomfortable to feel like they are not doing what they're supposed to be doing on a societal level. My advice to men is I know that's going to go against the grain for so many of you, but let us do it. Just let us try it. If we can't do it, that's going to be up to us to say later, "I just can't, I can't hold out here." But hand us a shovel, let us try.

Missy Scherber:

Let us try, I like that. I like that you're bringing up the barriers that men might have that are coming from a really pure place. They're used to being expected to jump in and help us. And it's like break down your barriers, there's barriers there and let us do the work. I absolutely love that. Now, in this whole conversation of women in construction, I know I've really struggled with this because I am pro women and men, I'm excited about both roles. I'm not more excited about one or the other, they're both so critical. And I've always loved team, teamwork between men and women, between my husband. How do men not get lost in this really important message of more women in construction? How do we keep them feeling respected and just admired for the work they do? I think this is important. I think they're such a critical part of the conversation. So what are your thoughts around that?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Well, I really try to be mindful in my comments and the way that we have handled the women's crew to not ever take away from the men. The men and the ladies who have been doing it long before I have have done an excellent job. There's no reason that they can't keep building roads. Nobody's trying to take their place or take away from what they've done for generations. I think that we're trying to make room for more people who look different, who think different and who need a new opportunity. So the way that I like to think about it, I took my kids out, It was actually just a night or two before CONEXPO, I was getting ready to travel for the week. And they love to go to this little local pizza joint. And so we went there, and there was a man who was a balloon artist. And he was going from table to table and he'd do a balloon for one child and go to the next table.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And so he comes up to Jack, my son and makes us a balloon sword. And he hands him the sword and Jack was stoked and he hands a boy at the next table his sword, and he keeps making his rounds. Comes back through and he gets to our table and Annie goes, "Mom, I'm going to get a sword." And he starts making this balloon creature, and it's beautiful, but you can tell it's not going to be a sword. And he hands her a bunny rabbit. And she's this little outspoken six-year-old. But she just looked at him, her face fell. I mean, it was visible. And she said, "Thank you. And then she looks at me and says, "Why did I get a bunny rabbit, I wanted a sword?"

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And it was just this light bulb moment of she was fine with the bunny, she likes bunnies. There's no problem with the bunny, but she wanted the sword. And she wasn't given the opportunity to have the sword. And I've put the point in all of this conversation that I hope that the men will really take away from it is it's not that we don't want bunnies, it's not that we don't want to have opportunities to be moms and wives in the feminine side of life. But so many of us want the sword and just want the opportunity to have the sword, to have a spot at the table, to hold a shovel, to run a paver. And that the idea is that we need to open the doors to allow women to have that opportunity. Not all of us are going to take the sword. Half of us want the bunny rabbit and don't care about [inaudible 00:47:30]. So there are not so many women that we're going to take over all of the men's jobs.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And the more critical piece is that they're going to have to give this sword because there are not enough women in the industry who know how to do it. So we can't do this without them teaching us, welcoming us, handing over the shovel or standing there to help them learn how to run the paver. There's not a picture of women in our organization initially or as we train more that don't have a man standing there. They're critical to this piece of the puzzle and they don't need to be defensive or upset about it. The idea is to even the load, bring in more people, show them what a great industry we are.

Missy Scherber:

What is so cool about what you are saying is that it's one thing for women to be out here saying more women in construction. But I feel like what you're compelling men to do is to hand women the sword. Don't wait behind the scenes as women promote more women in the industry, come out to the front lines, have the sword and hand the women the sword, compel them and let them say ... And to me, I'm thinking about that. If a woman came to me and said, I want you to be in this industry, you can do it. I'd be like, "Awesome, let's go." If a male came to me and said, "You can do this," which really is kind of what my husband has said for me. He said, "You can run a dumpster company." And I'm like, "What." He's like, "You can do ... That was so empowering for me to have a man say, "Here's the sword of a disposal waste management business, go do this."

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Same thing with my dad.

Missy Scherber:

So you've had that same experience, and that's more powerful. And so the men are to me the most important part of the conversation of more women in construction. The sword, the sword, hand women the sword. I think that's such a great visual story for men and women to think about. That's such a good take away. Let's finish up this conversation with this. There's a recognized value in building diverse teams, which is really what we're talking about is diversity and encouraging underrepresented groups to join the trade. What are some of the things Maymead is doing to create more inclusive job sites and create a more welcoming culture to non traditional workers?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

So I've been our equal employment officer, I guess going on 10 years now. And so that has really been a priority for me. I don't like to make things harder than they are. I just don't think that that's necessary. And so our goal is to make sure that our crews look like the communities that we're working in and that we're from. Because our geographic footprint is so large, every community does not look the same. The way that we run up and down the Western side of North Carolina, those communities look different, the more rural communities look differently than the more urban communities do. And so I like to look out and see that our crews reflect where they come from and where they're working.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

So we are not there with women yet, but we are running ... I had this number run last week, we're 15% female in our company where the industry average is somewhere less than 5% I believe currently. So I'm really proud of that. Obviously we're not 50%. We may not ever be 50%, but we are certainly increasing those numbers.

Missy Scherber:

That's amazing.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Well, thank you. I think so too.

Missy Scherber:

It's amazing.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Certainly a deliberate effort. And we do the same thing for other minority groups in terms of our recruitment levels. And one of our new general managers, he's been with us two years I guess is an African-American. And I love having him on our team, I love having him there with a seat at the table because I think it's so important not only for women, that's what we've been talking about, but for everybody to be able to look up the management structure and see somebody that looks like them. When you and I look at a board of directors and it's all men, you're like, "Well, they don't think anything about us." I feel like the same applies for minorities, that there needs to be somebody with a seat at the table that they can look up to and aspire to be like. And he brings a really new, great dynamic to our team to keep us aware and to keep us real and to make sure that we're having the relevant conversations and to really be a mentor. I think it's really important if possible to have someone who more closely reflects you.

Missy Scherber:

Reflects them in management. And it's just exciting for me to hear you say this because I think the inclusion conversation is so much bigger than just women. It's diversity, it's minority, it's different races being represented in our industry. And we here in Minneapolis recently had our city kind of torn down and a lot of destruction happening right now. And we're working on cleanup crews to get down there. And I said, "We have to hire within this community. We can't bring our crews out here from the West side to in and clean up. Let's empower the local community here to clean up their own community. Let's give them jobs, they're jobless right now, their city is destroyed." And you just put to words what I've been trying to think of, let's have our crews look like our community around us. What a unique idea, because every community is so different and unique. Let's celebrate that diversity.

Missy Scherber:

I want to quickly just say, I really consider you Mary Katherine, a thought leader in our industry, in our space. Not just as a woman, but as a manager, as just a great working mother. There's just so many ways where I'm like, she is just a thought leader. So I want to just say my takeaway is quick. And I haven't done this on any other episode, but here's my biggest takeaways from what I learned from you today is one let's look at nontraditional roles more closely. Let's not just look at women. You came out the gate and said nontraditional workers, let's get them into this space. Let's make our crews look like our community, that's a very powerful takeaway for me. Let's work on our confidence specifically for women. Let's get the confidence to not play small because chances are as it was for you no one was saying no to you, you were saying no to you.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I was saying no to me. That's right.

Missy Scherber:

So I'm looking at myself like, what am I saying no to myself for? Another thing is just to have unity among the roles of women in the industry. Let's have unity among the office and the field roles, but let's get better at highlighting those field roles because that's new, because it's different. And then another big takeaway, the last one I want to just mention is the barriers that men are dealing with come from a very genuine place of wanting to help. But step back, break down those barriers, let us do the work. That was just such a powerful take away for me. So I cannot thank you enough for your time. I know you're very busy in your role at Maymead. But this was very powerful, I know there's great takeaways for men and women. So thank you, thank you so much for your time.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity. You have been such a leader in social media and the platforms that you hold and your company. And I'm just honored to know you. Every time we get together, whether it's girl time in the construction world, it's fantastic.

Missy Scherber:

I know, I can't wait. I think the next conversation I'm just coming in to visit because I have to see this operation and how you've built this because I would love to put more storytelling out there of what you've done. So we'd like to end it with a little fun rapid fire round. So what was your very first job? And this can even go back to lemonade stand, but I guess what child didn't have a lemonade stand?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I was a ticket entry clerk in the Maymead office, shocking.

Missy Scherber:

So all the trucking tickets, are you saying?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Yes. The stone tickets. You had to enter the stone tickets and that's when I decided I was not coming back to Maymead.

Missy Scherber:

And here we are.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

And here I am. That's right.

Missy Scherber:

What was your first car?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

It was the Ford Explorer.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome. Hey, you were right there, you were right there.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

It's a great car.

Missy Scherber:

Great car. If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

No doubt I would be lobbying full time or running for political office.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome, I love it. What song gets you pumped up in the morning?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I am just a sucker for teeny bopper country music. I am a Southern girl, I love it. So right this minute, Just The Way by Parmelee and Blanco Brown is my jam.

Missy Scherber:

It's your jam, okay. I'll look that one up on my way out today. Who is the one person you wish you could have dinner with?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I will tell you one of my just amazing women when I think of impact in my life that I have never met is Brené Brown, and her books are phenomenal, As I was going through my separation, I read Rising Strong, and I refer to it so often. And then her series on leadership. I just think that I'm a better person and I'm a better manager because of Brené, and I would love to have dinner with her.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome. I love that you're bringing up her new leadership series. I just downloaded that and I'm very excited to jump in.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I love it.

Missy Scherber:

I've heard it's awesome. So we're going to put that out into the world, dinner with Brené Brown.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Dinner with Brené, call me.

Missy Scherber:

I expect a text if it happens or a selfie. What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

The 1055F is the paver that I ran that night on night shift. And I think that it will always hold a special place in my heart because it is the workhorse in our fleet. It's the highway size paver, and we have several of them. Special bond there with that straight line that night outside the road.

Missy Scherber:

We got to get you die-cast model of that in your office, huh?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

That's right.

Missy Scherber:

Now, what was your favorite memory from CONEXPO? I loved meeting you at CONEXPO. Weren't the education sessions awesome?

 

I've literally been talking to the team over there saying we've got to get these out, those sessions were awesome.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

They were great, they were great.

Missy Scherber:

But what was your favorite memory from the show?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

This is going to sound so corny, but meaning you all, we have never met before. This group of five or six ladies sits down at one table, we've never met. We don't know each other at all, I don't think. And it was just this immediate bond. We ended up taking a group picture that felt like a family photo. And I think that it's just so common that when we find people that love what we, there's a kindred spirit thing that happens there. Participating in the panel, meeting you all and starting those new friendships I thought was really, really special.

Missy Scherber:

It's exciting. Your mentors and friends in the industry, they're hard to find. And we're all working so hard and to get a minute to pause. And I would say that that was one of my favorite things as well is I got to meet other women leaders in this industry. And like you said, it wasn't this serious business thing, it was this bond. It was like this is exciting. So I love that. Now, here's my favorite question because I feel like when you're in the construction industry you have to have a favorite gas station food? Because the reality of being in construction is you stop up at the gas station for food as healthy as we try to be. What is your go-to gas station food?

Mary Katherine Harbin:

So I have tried to make good decisions lately. So we have sheets, I don't know if they're nationwide or not. But they have a little protein box, and it's little bites of string cheese, pretzels, and apple slices.

Missy Scherber:

There you go.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I know that's not real exciting, but it is just yummy.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, you're inspiring good places.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

I'm trying, I'm trying.

Missy Scherber:

You're our first guest that is inspiring a good choice at the gas station. I appreciate it. Mary Katherine.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

It goes great with a Kit Kat.

Missy Scherber:

There we go, there we go. All you guys out there, that's a good combo. Well, I can't thank you enough. I know you have some time off this week with your family. We can't thank you enough for sharing your leadership principles and advice and wisdom in the industry. And I hope we're going to be hearing more from you. I think we're going to have to set something more consistent here.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Thank you, Missy, I really appreciate it. And just the opportunity to share what we're doing and the vision for what our industry could become on a more inclusive level. It's exciting, it's really exciting. I love talking about it and thinking about what fits. Thanks for having me.

Missy Scherber:

Well, I can't wait for another episode, enjoy your week and we will talk soon.

Mary Katherine Harbin:

Thank you.

Missy Scherber:

Bye-bye.

Outro:

And that's going to wrap up this edition of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. If you liked the show and think other people should listen too, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. We'll be back next time with another great guest. Until that time, be sure to visit conexpoconagg.com/connect for even more ways to connect with the industry.

Mary Katherine HarbinAbout Mary Katherine Harbin

Mary Katherine joined Maymead, Inc. in July 2007 as an Assistant Area Manager for the company’s Foothills Division, where she focused on commercial and municipal paving projects. Upon completing the NCDOT estimator and project management training program, NCDOT roadway technician program, and Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association joint training, she was promoted to Area Manager and began working closely with the NC Department of Transportation on numerous highway construction projects.

Shortly thereafter, Mary Katherine was named the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer by the Board of Directors. In this role, she ensures equal employment, training, promotion, and wage increases for all employees. She additionally oversees the EEO programs of all subcontractors on Maymead’s federal construction projects.

In 2016, in conjunction with Mitchell Community College, Mary Katherine developed the curriculum for Roadway Construction Basics—a classroom curriculum that was initially taught by herself and various Maymead managers, and has been used throughout North Carolina by the Board of Workforce Development, in an effort to prepare individuals to enter the construction industry.

In November 2017, Mary Katherine helped found Western Carolina Safety, LLC to provide traffic control services for Maymead, Inc.’s highway construction projects. Through 2018 and 2019, this company has been tasked with providing advanced work zone signs, highway closures, and traffic diversion on projects located throughout western North Carolina.

Mary Katherine’s professional development includes completing the ASTEC Executive Training Program in 2009, ARTBA’s Young Executive Development Program in 2010, and Caterpillar’s Generation to Generation Leadership Program in 2012. Mary Katherine holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Political Science from Furman University. She has found a passion for workforce development—specifically working to develop the role of women in the asphalt industry. Most notably, she has started an all-women’s paving crew to help attract women into the construction trades, and has become a nationally recognized speaker on the topic. She is an active member of the Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association Board of Directors, BB&T Local Advisory Board, Iredell Memorial Hospital Community Board, Mitchell Community College Endowment Board, and the City of Statesville Stormwater Advisory Commission. Mary Katherine resides in Statesville, NC with her two children, Jack and Annie.

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