Women in Construction Week Interview With CEO Dawn Matze

Written by Eva Goetze
Published on March 12, 2023 · Updated on March 23, 2023

Women in Construction Week Interview With CEO Dawn Matze

Written by Eva Goetze
Published on March 12, 2023 · Updated on March 23, 2023

What Is Women in Construction Week?

Women hold about 10.9% of construction jobs. Though still a minority, women in construction trades are considered strong “pay equalizers.” In fact, they make about 95.5% of their male counterparts (over 12% more than women in corporate jobs)! 

This week, we are celebrating Women In Construction Week. Since 1998, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), celebrates women who have overcome challenges and taken bold steps in an extremely male-dominated industry. This celebration is meant to encourage women, past, present, and future, to break into the construction industry.

What is a Trade School?

A trade school is a postsecondary (post-high school) educational institution that blends hands-on training with real-world experience to prepare students for fieldwork. Focused on specific courses, trade school programs ensure students are skilled in mechanical trades. 

When researching trade schools, explore specific course offerings. For example, when looking at an automotive trade school, focus on an auto mechanic career versus a general school that offers too many options. Students have tons of options when it comes to choosing the right trade school! Just think - within a few months, you can jumpstart your career and be on your way to success.

What are some trade school specializations?

I bet there are more trade school specializations than you’ve ever thought about. In fact, there are over 32 trade specializations. Here are just a few:

Interview with Dawn Matze, General Contractor, Founder of Woman Builder

How did you get into construction? 

After pursuing Marriage and Family Therapy for a few years, I decided to go back to my midwestern roots and dove into construction at the age of 29. Originally, I grew up in Chicago in a construction family, which was paramount to my love for all things construction. I was expected to be able to help in all facets of the building process whenever needed, even at the tender age of 10, and even shoveled pea gravel in a basement foundation. 

At 29, I graduated from my MFT job and jumped right into construction, building two spec houses. Then, I got my GC (General Contractor) license. I think it’s important to understand where your skill set lies. I really like managing people and being on the job site. Building and coaching became my passion and love. 

What is your expertise in the construction industry?

I have done a wide spectrum of projects for over three decades. From hand-crafted homes of sound structural integrity to custom builds, remodels to specs, and flips and investment partnerships. This has accounted for almost $100 million worth of projects. 

I love construction from the ground up and staying with the trends. Currently, there is a lot of remodeling going on right now. For years, I was an “on site” general contractor, and I enjoyed watching every process of the building cycle to ensure it was completed accurately and safely. 

Now, I teach a Master Class on Bathroom Renovation, coach clients one-on-one with expert guidance through a variety of consultation packages, and I’m a guest speaker. I also have a book coming out soon! I love all things real estate, especially building homes and large remodels for homeowners and investors. 

What is the path to becoming a general contractor? 

There are many different paths to becoming a general contractor. If you want lots of experience beforehand, I’d suggest working for a general contractor first. This is a really great way to learn before taking a risk on yourself. 

For me, I like to jump in first. I like just figuring it out. I enjoy getting a rough outline and I am really great at problem-solving and coming up with solutions when surprises arise. And believe me, there are a lot of surprises that will come your way in the world of construction. If you are an entrepreneur type, you might want to figure out your niche. If you like being in control and in charge of many people, then the GC (General Contractor route) might be for you. Think – What would you like to renovate and manage, and how big do you want to go? 

What skills do you think someone needs to work as a woman in construction?

There are a lot of different skills when working in construction. I think you need curiosity, solution-focused problem solving, laying out budgets, communication, purchasing products, being in sales, negotiating, calling people’s bluff, and not being afraid to hold your own, get gritty and dive in. Also, a thick skin…which I’ll touch on later. Women can learn so much in this industry.

How can women figure out which area in construction to pursue?

First, take a personality test, like the DISC or 16personalities.com. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What makes you happy?
  • What do you enjoy?
  • Do you like to be around the action, or do you prefer more one-on-one?
  • Do you enjoy looking at job sites? Construction? Design? Open houses? Or does this bore you? 

Personally, I am bored with the shopping aspect, so I’d much rather be on the job site. I think asking your “why” and knowing your skillset and where you want to grow and learn are key. 

I’d recommend for women to first shadow a range of construction outlets they find interesting. After shadowing, you can take classes, get your General Contractor license, etc. However, it’s important to ask yourself:

  • What would you like to do by pursuing this career?
  • What is the long haul?
  • What is the total picture of your career?
  • Do you want to grow in a company and eventually get a lot of cash in your IRA, or would you rather invest in yourself and your financial freedom?
  • Buy a wholesale house and work on your property?

It’s wide open really. 


What has it been like being a woman in construction, and how do you see the industry changing?

Women make up less than 11% of the construction workforce. Though, it is definitely growing from where it used to be. I think it’s important to grow that thick skin in construction. You are going up against other males, you wear a lot of different hats, and communicate with a lot of different personalities, which is a fantastic experience. 

When you start getting successful you’ll get so much cr*p thrown at you. And this is good - and here’s why…you get to decide, do I want to continue? Do I like it enough? Do I love construction enough to not let that stuff bother me? I used to get all kinds of fludd flung at me. I was called the tupperware builder, the mom doing this as a hobby, a witch…ah, how cute, and I was making some serious coin! 

So, you just have to laugh. And, that grows your thick skin. I just say thank you. This means you’re in the right place. I love the attention. Let’s go bring it some more. Women are becoming more and more accepted in construction. Construction is a huge arena where women can make so much money and go in so many different areas - and just say thank you as you rise up.

Instead of being the only woman, I see more women getting into the industry. It is so fun having more friends that are women getting involved. It is so cool how many different sides women are coming at it. For example, the agent side. Women want to be in charge of their own investments and flips. Some are coming in from the design end. More women are in CEO roles. I would love to have more women on other platforms, like InvestHer, where women can elevate their own financial wealth, in construction and beyond. 

Why are you excited about Women In Construction Week? 

I really feel excited about this week, because I don’t think “Women in Construction” are highlighted enough. 

Women in Construction Week is about celebrating women who do what they love in construction. It could be someone making cabinets - like Built By Stevie, a woman who has built something humongous in her carpentry. It could be not just for general contractors; it could be large construction firms. This week can be highlight general contractors and any sort of avenues where women are doing work, whatever niche you love. Women in the construction world who are brave enough to enter into a still-man’s world. 

March 5-12th - I love celebrating this week because I love coming across women in construction, especially general contracting, because that’s the big cat, especially subcontractors in the leadership role. 

What are the pros and cons of working in construction?

Pros of working in construction

Your time is your own. You get to see the secrets behind the curtains kinds of things that go on behind construction. You don't have to punch a clock, it’s a looser kind of schedule, and you get to learn so many different areas. You can niche down or go wider. You can jump into ADUs or be a big builder.

Cons of working in construction

It’s very male-dominated and can be very isolating. It is tough for me. Unless you want to go big and manage a lot of employees, it can be lonely, especially if you are a general contractor without wanting to manage employees, you’re alone. It can be good though, because it pushes you to reach out.

What certifications or degrees would you recommend to someone looking to start in construction?

It all depends on your confidence level. I did not need a certificate right from the start, because I had a little experience growing up with my family. Plus, there wasn't anyone available I could ask…there were no cell phones or Google, and it was a man’s world.

But from an education point of view, I think getting a certificate/degree might give you more confidence, though it’s not required. I think many women want more confidence and can learn a ton through education to start. Before a certificate, I’d recommend researching and learning online, reading books, and figuring out what you like. Then, take courses and get a certificate or pursue a trade school specialty. 

I think an apprenticeship would be a great avenue as well. First, shadow someone for a week and see if you like that trade. For example, you can shadow a GC and help them with what they need help with, organizing, social media, or cleaning up their truck. Then, you can continue and get your GC license if that sparks your fancy. Ask yourself what you are really good at, and see if you can offer your creativity to that GC. Shadow them for small projects and follow for a few weeks. There has to be something mutually beneficial.

What are the highest-paying fields within construction?

I think the highest paying subcontractors are electricians, general contractors (high-risk spec houses), plumbing, then roofing, and concrete (material costs are costly).  

Which construction specialty do you not like?

Tile. It’s not necessarily the worst, but it is super messy and heavy and is a job I wouldn’t want. Tile setting, concrete, and framing - it’s very heavy and is perfect to be delegated. A lot of women think construction is physical, but not necessarily. This is perfectly set up for women to not be the heavy lifter, but rather, to be the boss, to delegate, as long as they know what they are doing. Overall, be the boss. This is the way it should be. We are meant to rule the world!

What advice would you give to young women looking to pursue a trade or construction career?

I’m very Type A, and I love the leadership aspect and being my own boss. I love pulling a lot of complicated things together and seeing them through to the end. If you are kind of like that and not intimidated by municipalities, accountants, lawyers, and clients, then being a manager could be your thing. 

If you would like to get into construction, figure out what you want your niche is. If you like tools, enjoy working with your hands, and have a desire to pursue management (superintendent, back office), then be curious and get involved. From there, get more narrowed down. Know your personality. Do you like being outside or do you prefer to be in an office? Knowing what you love and what your skill set is. Are you more accountant-like, or more like me enjoy being out in the field and managing the whole piece?

Women many times think they are the underdog. Being a woman in construction is actually an honor and it is where women should be. We are the diversification in construction. Companies and management want more women. Get into a group where you get a lot of support. It is amazing. It gives you a lot of personal power too. 

Women in construction…I used to think I was a freak, but then I realized that freak is absolutely the perfect position to be in. I want women to understand when you realize that aspect of investing and building combined you really own the market because this is where a lot of people get taken advantage of.

As a woman, we are perfectly made for chaos. We are the underdog, and we are the diversification in this industry. 

One Piece of Advice For Women?

Jump in! Shadow! Apprentice, even if it’s just for a short time. I think women need to really get to know themselves. Jump in and learn what you hate and what you do like. If you are leaning toward an area of construction, lean it, jump in, and pick up a few books. Which books are you attracted to? I’m not talking about ‘how to.’ I’m talking about investing, or what you really want over the journey long haul. Google any topic that you are interested in and learn. 

If someone wants to become a member of a women-led construction group, where would you recommend? 

Get involved with the National Association Women in Construction, local here in San Diego. If you'd like to connect with Dawn, please check out her website or reach out to her on Instagram!

What Are Some Careers for Women in Construction?

Construction (Project) Management
  • Median Salary: $86,000 
  • Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)

Construction project management oversees the planning, design, construction process and closing of a project. This specialization uses a variety of skills where many women thrive - communication, curiosity, follow-ups, project management techniques, and software to oversee timeliness and close out projects.

  • Median Salary: $62,533 
  • Career Outlook: +7% (2020-2030)

Electricians specialize in all aspects of the electrical wiring of factories, buildings, transmission lines, businesses, stationary equipment, and homes. This could include repairing, installing, and maintaining of electric power, communications, control systems, and lighting of new or existing electrical infrastructures.

Carpenter Foreman (Forewoman)
  • Median Salary: $48,260 
  • Career Outlook: +2% (2020-2030)

Carpenters measure, cut, repair, install, construct and inspect building frameworks, windows, and molding structures made from wood and other materials. They follow building plans and blueprints to help clients.

Source: BLS 
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