The Strength in Every Shingle: Women-owned Roofing Companies - PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

The Strength in Every Shingle: Women-owned Roofing Companies - PODCAST TRANSCRIPT
January 19, 2024 at 12:00 p.m.

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an live interview with Jana Zavala of Her Roofing and Wendy Marvin from Matrix Roof and Home SolutionsYou can read the interview below or listen to the podcast.

Megan Ellsworth: Hello everyone, my name's Megan Ellsworth-

Lauren White: And I'm Lauren White-

Megan Ellsworth: ... and this is the AskARoofer Podcast. And we are so excited to be talking about women owned roofing companies, why you should work with them, why they are more popular than ever and everything about being a woman in construction. And today we're chatting with Wendy Marvin and Jana Zavala. Hi, ladies.

Wendy Marvin: Hi guys.

Jana Zavala: Hello.

Megan Ellsworth: So, let's dive right in and just have you introduce yourself. Jana, let's start with you. Introduce yourself and tell us about Her Roofing.

Jana Zavala: Well, Jana Zavala, I started Her Roofing about four years ago. I have about, gosh, I started the industry back in '96 so about 28 years in the industry. And started in distribution, worked my way into manufacturing and now contracting is the last portion that I went into. And it's been going great. I'm sole owner, and I've been doing it for quite a while so it's been great. Here in Portland, Oregon, and we got some weather coming in, so it's been great.

Megan Ellsworth: Awesome. Wendy, let's hear it.

Wendy Marvin: Hi guys, I'm Wendy Marvin. I'm the sole owner of Matrix Roof and Home Solutions in Vancouver, Washington. We are a 17-year-old company, so we've survived. It's crazy to think about that, and like Jana, I'm the only person that's running it so I think it's a beautiful thing for that change to happen in our industry. A lot of times it's husband and wife, and I'm not demeaning that in any way, shape or form, but I think we are unicorns and it's good stuff. It's making some changes.

Lauren White: It's incredible. So, what inspired both of you to start your own company? Wendy, do you want to start?

Wendy Marvin: Well, I always laugh at that because people are like, "Did you grow up wanting to be a roofer?" And I'm like, "Really?" I don't know a ton of people in our industry that grew up wanting to be a roofer, other than if their family owned the company. But what's really cool is that we started the company based on really bad contractor experiences, and then ended up with me purchasing the company from my ex, who I started it with back in 2016, and just haven't looked back. And I'm passionate about helping people, that's the big thing for me. When we transitioned to ownership was we went from buying the next truck, buying the next house kind of money, money, money to community. And so, that change was big. Even if my company wasn't here today, I still would want to be part of this industry because our people are just incredible.

Lauren White: Definitely. And Jana, what about you?

Jana Zavala: Well, one of the things I found when I was in manufacturing, because I was a trainer, that a lot of the contractors were not doing what they should be doing or even reading the application instructions. So, I felt like I could do it much better than what I've been seeing out there in the industry. And so, that's what drove me to start the company. I felt like it had a need, and I was there to fill that need.

Lauren White: That's awesome-

Wendy Marvin: The key is we answer the phone and show up on time for appointments, and we're better than 90% of our competition.

Lauren White: She said it.

Wendy Marvin: The quiet part out loud.

Lauren White: Was that my outside voice?

Megan Ellsworth: I love it. Well, kind of going off of that, so I mean, as you know, historically the roofing industry has been a male dominated field. So, what are some challenges that you all have faced being women in working in this field, and owning a roofing company? Maybe who wants to go first, Wendy?

Wendy Marvin: I was like where Jana came from, she's got stories to burn. So do I. It's like 17 years is my unique part of it, and it wasn't pretty coming in early, still having people talk to my ex, not even look at me as part of the ownership, all the stupidity of the misogyny and the, "Oh, have you been on a roof?" But I just feel like it's really changed lately. And I would say maybe the last probably five to seven years has just been exponential. I'm on the board for NRCA now, I am doing Western States and I would walk into those rooms and feel really intimidated, and really almost embarrassed. Or you get that look up and down from the men, and it's like we don't really get that much anymore.

There's still some outliers, but I think we're aligning with the right people. And I don't focus a lot on that, because I could tell you stories that make your hair curl, and I'm sure Jana's the same, as men can be really not fun at times. But I've not seen as much of that anymore. And when it is happening, what I really like is I'm seeing other men in our industry call out those behaviors where I don't have to. And part of my success I think is just the fact that I'd be like, "You're an idiot." I don't even have to mince words anymore. If somebody's acting like that, I can call them what it is. But it's really nice to have the support from other men in our industry, for sure.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah, Jana, any challenges that you've faced and overcome? I'm sure plenty.

Jana Zavala: Yeah, starting out in the industry, when I was in distribution, most of the people that would come in and want to talk to a man, even though I could answer the question, in fact by the time I got to manufacturing it would be the same thing. They would come into the booth, and I remember several times a contractor would ask a technical question and the salesperson wouldn't know. So, they look at me and I'd answer it, and then they would get surprised that I would know the answer, because I'm not what they're used to maybe. But there's a lot of that.

And then early on there was sexual harassment, and that was pretty dominant in the very beginning. But now, just like Wendy, everything has changed for the better. And from what I can tell, because I'm not a newbie anymore, things have changed, so I know there's other women that are breaking into the market, into our industry. And I encourage you, if you do feel any of that, reach out to any of us women that have been in the industry and we can help provide some guidance with that. But I don't see it as much, but I'm not new anymore and I feel like I've earned my stripes.

Wendy Marvin: Well, and I was going to tell Jana, if anybody has that happen and they need to reach out to us, just do, because we probably know their boss.

Lauren White: There you go. Boom.

Wendy Marvin: Yeah, right?

Lauren White: No, it's really positive to hear that there's been significant change over the years for the better, versus continuing in that cycle. And so, as both of you are in leadership positions, both in your company and associations, how do you believe having women in leadership positions these, whereas contractors brings a unique perspective to the industry? What is that unique perspective that women bring?

Wendy Marvin: I think the big one for me is just collaboration. It's been real interesting to feel like when we used to be at meetings, even things like Best of Success, it wasn't as open and sharing, and somebody's talking about, "Hey, I don't know commercial contracting." And somebody else would go, "Well, I know it really well," but then they're all like, "But I'm not going to tell you about it," kind of thing. And now it feels a lot more like when we're at trade shows, or events or whatever, sitting around bars even, you get this sense of camaraderie and people are more willing to give you anything they can do.

Even Jana, Jana and I are in the same market. I'm literally five minutes across the bridge from her, and it's like if she needs anything all she has to do is call. And I know it'd be the same from my side. I think it's a difference in how women behave, but I'm seeing a big difference again on the boards, and the general feeling overall is not keep your cards close to your chest and not help anybody. We're getting a lot more collaborative.

Megan Ellsworth: That's great to hear.

Lauren White: Yeah, definitely.

Megan Ellsworth: Jana, what about you?

Jana Zavala: Yeah, I really feel that having women leaders, it helps increase productivity. And like Wendy says, it enhances the collaboration, not within the company but also outside the industry. And it really inspires organizational dedication. So, our employees seemed a lot more engaged and are more dedicated than what I have seen in past companies. And we're very team orientated. We have open communication between all of us, whether it's me or the office manager, or it's just we're all the same.

I don't put myself above anyone else within the company, and I have the open door policy. And so with that, I mean, women brings I think fresh perspective when it comes to building a company and having that organization. It also improves fairness. That's one thing that's been a topic, it's been in the news lately with equal pay. And that's something I'm adamant about, that women should be treated fairly and it is that way within my organization. And I think it helps with women being in leadership roles with other companies, whether it's manufacturing or distribution, that's just what some of the things that bringing women into those leadership positions does for a company. I don't think there's still enough women in the industry, but it's getting there. I don't get very many women walking in the door wanting to go work for us.

I work with other Oregon trades women to try to foster that, but it just doesn't happen overnight. But again, women bring a lot, I think to companies, and it brings a lot in the construction trade.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah. It would be great to see so many more women. And I know National Women Roofing Day is coming up, and those numbers have just been growing and growing, and they're I think over 2,000 members. But imagine the numbers of NRCA and it being for National Women Roofing. So I agree, would love to just continue seeing more. So, going off of women in leadership positions, what benefits do your clients get when they hire women-owned contracting companies, or work with women-led crews for their home projects or commercial projects?

Wendy Marvin: I think there's an attention to detail that females bring that gets lost, and you can have a detailed male relationship, but I think, and I'm overgeneralizing, but again, the question is what it is, is that from a female perspective I think we have empathy. And I think that's different, because there's a give and a take in a relationship when you're doing something that's unseen. And so, what we do is invisible to our customers. And because of that, it requires a huge amount of trust. And the empathy is us understanding what it feels like to our customers to be in that position.

And then we adjust accordingly. And Jana said it earlier, just talking about how she's running a company differently. We're more transparent, we understand that I'm not going to come out there on site and treat you like I'm doing you a favor by being there. It's your home, and truly still going on big time out there, which is good for us. But yeah, just a different perspective. And I think that empathy is what keeps coming up to me, because I can understand what it feels like to be a customer of a roofing company. I can understand what was really crappy about having that happen in construction in general.

Megan Ellsworth: Jana, how about you? What are some bonuses that people get when they hire a woman roofing contractor?

Jana Zavala: One of the things I hear all the time is the organization, we're a lot more organized and our work together as a team. Also, the transparency is pretty ... We get that quite a bit on the feedback is they really appreciate the transparency, and you feel more comfortable working with a woman. A lot of the customers do, because of the organization skills that we have and communication between each other. I think that goes a long way. And so, that benefits the customer in the long run. And so, that's how I think women can really help when you own a company, and help the customers, and they get a good product.

Lauren White: Yeah, absolutely.

Wendy Marvin: Yeah, a quick example. So, yesterday we're having windstorms in our area, and yesterday on Facebook we had a lady put a post out, and she was like, "Hey, I have a tree on my house and I've had the tree removed, but I've got holes in my roof. What do I do? Who can come out?" And so, we posted, and my operations manager posted a great post, said, "Hey, Matrix Roofing," whatever. And then I posted to her and I said, "Hey, Matrix Roofing, we're female owned, and I just want you to know that before you're off bidding." And she called us. And so, I ended up on site with her yesterday and she just shared horrible experience, after horrible experience, after horrible experience of they have children, and they both work, and they make a 4:00 appointment and they don't show up at 4:00.

And I'm like, "God, you guys," and it's not roofing in general, it's construction. But she was so thankful that we had that mentality of being a female owned company and it instantly gave her more trust, which Jana and I are doing a good job on continuing to earn, and I hope as we grow more females that we keep that integrity intact.

Lauren White: That's amazing. Okay, so we've talked a little bit about how the roofing industry has evolved in terms of inclusivity. Are there any other areas that you've seen this growth, and are there any other steps that can be taken to create a more inclusive workplace for women? Kind of two-parter.

Jana Zavala: Well, I'm going to go ahead and take this question. I think having a company that helps embrace women and empower them, and having them in participation and decision-making is really important. And fostering that environment is what will help with inclusivity. Doing equal educational opportunities for women within the company, I'm a huge believer in education and with my staff, if there's anything that if you're interested in taking classes, come bring it to me and we can chat about it. Because that's one of the things that I'm a big believer in continuing education, and making it equal within the whole company with the women as well, and fostering that.

And also the economic empowerment, again, equal pay, I think that's really important and it helps keep a healthy environment, and makes it inclusive of women. And so, often I see in companies, not so much as now, but even six, seven years ago, women would be in the industry and they're not making the same as what the males would make. And that's really important to look at that to become an inclusive employer. And again, participation and decision-making also is an important piece for inclusivity.

Wendy Marvin: Yeah, it's sad. I don't want to dwell on negative, but we have a long way to go. And a prime example for me recently is our new hire in our office, her name is Courtney, is an amazing individual, incredible ops experience, incredible scheduling, all these things. And she came from a company here locally where, exactly what Jana just said, she didn't have equal benefits doing the same job. She didn't have a company truck when everybody else had a company truck, she didn't have a company phone when everybody ... And it's like, really? Are we really that far gone?

And I think what's beautiful about it is we're making really good strides in our industry. Again, I feel good about where we're headed, but we're really getting to this place where we have a bigger divide between these really crappy companies that don't get inclusivity, that still abuse their workers, that are not good people and those of us that are doing it differently. And what's good to me is that now we're company owners, so I'm taking business away from those people, and I'm going to continue to do that until they either grow up or go away. And I think that that's the beauty of what's going on is we're really at a pivotal point.

I'm on DEI for NRCA and I love it, but we're still having some really 10 years ago conversations, and we're having them, which is positive, but we've just got a lot more work to do. And I would say if you're a female in our industry, please join us because we need all the support we can get and we need to have those voices. And you need to be somebody that can speak up in a meeting, and show up in a meeting, and take up space. And sometimes I don't like that, but it's okay. We have to get away from that everybody has to like me mentality.

And for me, that's age. I'm not my 20s anymore and I could give a rip, but I think there's a beauty to that when you enter an industry that can treat you poorly, that we move on forward with the people that are going to join us. And I always think about that RBG quote that's like make change in a manner that'll make people join you. I can't remember it quite correctly, but that's the case that it's basically do it in a matter that make other people impassioned to join you, not create enemies. And I think that we do that, but I also think it's time for us to start calling out the people that are doing it wrong, and letting them know that there are better ways to do it.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah, I completely agree with that. And how else people are going to learn? So, I think having open and honest discussions is so important, especially when it comes to these topics, and making everyone feel included and not excluded. And a little bit going off of that, so the roofing industry is so known for being involved in community projects. Can you guys share some examples of how women, and maybe all contractors of gender identities, give back to their communities?

Wendy Marvin: For me, it was just that was the turning point for me when I took over the business, is I became a community contractor. And we do Habitat, and we have women's build Habitat now where the houses themselves are fully built by women, only women.

Megan Ellsworth: Oh, that's so cool.

Jana Zavala: That's awesome.

Wendy Marvin: Yeah, and there's a subset of them that go through and do fundraising for those houses specifically. So, we have women build luncheons and different things like that. We just got pinged to go do a huge group that's a children's cancer campaign, where we're going to go and help them find good pricing for doing a ton of buildings in this community. And they didn't call anybody else, they called us, which was a big compliment. And I think that happens because we're connected with the community. I feel like women are leading the charge in that realm, in our industry especially but in a lot of construction, that they're really leading the charge and giving back, and understanding that it matters to do that.

Megan Ellsworth: That's great.

Jana Zavala: So, I also really foster into working with the Oregon Tradeswomen, and I think it's really important in helping get women into the trades. And in Oregon, we have Oregon Tradeswomen, but it's also nationwide. They have organizations in Texas, and Nevada, and Chicago, I encourage anyone to look into that. And what they do is they teach women construction that are interested in learning the trade, and then from there they have job fairs, and that you could participate in and interview them, take them into that space, teach them into roofing. The other project I think is near and dear is the Trevor Project, which is actually the mission is to help end suicide among LGBTQ individuals for young people. And this is a nationwide program, but a lot of times in schools they don't have an outreach program.

And suicide prevention, as such with mental health, it's such a big issue coming out of COVID. And I think it's very important to support these type of programs. And that's one of the ways that we do with our community. And it's hard to pick when we do charities, because there's so many out there and there's so many good ones. And that's why I try to divide it up a little bit, and picking the right ones that help with our community and what's important to our community, and also help fostering, bringing in women into the organization. And so, I see that a lot more in the last three to four years with women being involved in community outreach programs.

Megan Ellsworth: That's great.

Wendy Marvin: Yeah, that's awesome.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah. Wow, that's really cool. And the Oregon Tradeswomen, that's such a good-

Wendy Marvin: That's a great program.

Megan Ellsworth: ... thing for people out there that are specifically women that want to get into this trade, go check out organizations like that. I'm sure there are probably organizations in other states that are very similar and good.

Jana Zavala: Yeah, they actually have a site. So, if you go to Oregon Tradeswomen and you want to see if there's an organization in your state, you can go to that site and then go to, I think one of the links is other organizations or affiliates. And then the whole list will pop up of all the other affiliates across the country. I encourage people to take a look at it.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah. Everyone out there, go check it out.

Wendy Marvin: I wanted to throw one more thing, and I know I talked about we have a lot of work to do, but we partner with some local construction, some builders in our area and they're male owned, and we go to grade schools and actually give fourth graders the opportunity to use tools for the first time. And I think that we've got a lot of really good options here, but it's like don't negate small things like that, because they make a prebuilt toolbox that the kids get, and then we go around as people with them and teach them how to hold a hammer correctly, and how to be able to nail straight. And it's like for a lot of these kids, it's the first time they've ever held a tool. And I think some of those sprinkles of empowerment are valuable too, as well as some of the larger things that we do.

Jana Zavala: Absolutely.

Megan Ellsworth: Oh, that's so cute.

Jana Zavala: Yeah, it is. I love it.

Wendy Marvin: Their faces when they're holding their little toolbox, and they're like, "Daddy, I built this." And it's like-

Megan Ellsworth: They're so proud.

Jana Zavala: That's awesome.

Lauren White: That's so cool. Okay, we've touched on this a little bit too, but women in the roofing industry have incredible comradery. I mean, looking at both of you right now, you're in similar areas and both on this podcast. Can you share some examples of how you support and uplift each other as women in the roofing industry?

Wendy Marvin: Jana, you want to run?

Jana Zavala: Yeah. So, I tend to be in the office quite a bit and running the business, but predominantly when I'm out in the shows, so we go to Western States, the IRE and come across women and just walking around the show. And a lot of times they just need some outreach, some help and direction if they're just by themselves. So, we all help each other in that respect. Or if anyone is feeling frustrated, another woman contractor, another woman just in the trade and needing some maybe guidance or just someone to talk to, that's what we're here for is to really help provide some guidance with our experience that we've had. It's really helps the other people, and I think we just all uplift each other. Especially with National Women in Roofing, it's just a different organization than what you see in other organizations. You really motivate each other.

Wendy Marvin: 100%. I would say come. To the young women, join us and consider that construction is a lifelong career. Jana's a great example of it, she started in sales and she did manufacturing, and now she owns her own company. And it's like you could do accounting, there's so many things you can do but it's a lifelong job. Everybody is always going to need roofs. And our little tiny part of the construction industry is growing and changing, and it's really an exciting time to be a part of that. So, I think that's a big deal. Starting your own business, it's not easy. 80% of our companies fail in the first five years, and I think Jana nailed it earlier just talking about it's because of who we are as business owners that make us different. We're not just craftsmen, we're business owners.

And I think if you have one side of that without the other, it's tough and you need both. And so, you need that comradery, you need that support, you need that Harness & Heels group with Kirsten where you can reach out and say, "Hey, I got this project coming up and I don't know how to read this part of the blueprint. So, have you guys ever done this?" Or, "Hey, I need this contract," or whatever. And then just talking about Western states, and IRE and everything, it's like I make a point of trying to high-five women that I run into.

It's just to be able to say, even if it's a husband and wife, "I see you and you are a part of this just as much as he is." And we're going to be putting some extra time in at IRE in the NRCA booth, both as diversity and as female owned contractors. So, we're going to be there to talk to people as they come up. So, finding that niche and just telling the younger women, just come find us because we're still outnumbered at the moment, but we're here. And 90% of us are collaborative, and people I've met in NWIR are my friends from New Orleans and Minnesota. So, then we see each other and it's just exciting. So, just come, join us. There's an incredible opportunity here.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah, you guys really did so great answering that question. Our next question is, what advice would you give young women considering a career in roofing? And any other advice, besides what the amazing things you just said, like join National Women in Roofing, Harness & Heels, what would you say to maybe your younger self when you were considering starting your company?

Jana Zavala: I would say I should have done it a long time ago.

Megan Ellsworth: Love it.

Jana Zavala: Yeah. But like Wendy says, it is tough being an owner, but I'm not looking back. And I would encourage other women too, if they're interested to get into it. And I think that you have a great support group, and there's a lot of opportunity for you.

Wendy Marvin: Yeah, 100%. Younger is just remember that you're enough. We're still so conditioned for the you're not pretty enough, you're not tall enough, you're not thin enough, you're not whatever. And it's like you got to dump all that and recognize that I am enough. And sometimes I do my power pose before I walk into rooms. I had upset stomach for days before I went to my first NRCA board meeting and sat amongst all those people that are successful in their own rights, but 90% men still. And you still have those, you're going to have those moments.

Again, the numbers are just against us still, but when I come up against that negativity or that guy, let's just call him that guy, I just go around him and continue on to somebody else who is better. And I think that again, that company that treated my now new employee poorly, it's like I'm going to take business from him and I'm not going to look back, and we're just going to continue to grow and take the industry, because they don't understand the customers want this too. And that's the thing for me is we're going to continue to be successful and grow, and recognize that we're enough, and support each other when we're feeling down, and just means the trajectory is up for all of us.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah. Well said, ladies. And for any them people out there listening to this podcast and thinking about getting into roofing, looking for your next career, please join us. It's a great, great industry. And there's lots of people like Jana and Wendy out there that want to support and guide you.

Wendy Marvin: Yeah, be sure and share our contact information too, because I'm always happy to answer emails.

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah, you can definitely find all their information on AskARoofer and Roofers Coffee Shop. You can find their websites, and then we will add all this info to the show notes as well. So, everyone go check out those websites, and see their directories and what they're all about.

Lauren White: Thank you so much for your time.

Megan Ellsworth: This has been great, we loved it. And you've been listening to the AskARoofer Podcast. Lauren, this has been great.

Lauren White: This has been amazing. Yes, thank you so much.

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