Women in Construction: J. F. Ahern Co.

J. F. Ahern Co. is one of the most respected specialty contractors in the nation. The company began in 1880 when David Ahern and his son, John, opened up a plumbing business in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Nearly 140 years later, J. F. Ahern Co. is thriving.

Madison Area Mechanical and Sheet Metal Contractors Association (MSC) and Madison Association of Plumbing Contractors (MAPC) continue Women in Construction Week, March 3-9, 2019, with a look at two of the many women who work for J. F. Ahern Co.

Lauren Leunig began her career with J. F. Ahern Co. as an intern in 2010 before being hired full time in 2013. Leunig is currently an Assistant Project Manager for the company.

When asked what drew her to the construction industry, Leunig mentioned, “CAD class in high school.” CAD is Computer Aided Drafting which aids in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. CAD software is often used to design and draft construction projects.

Michelle Schumacher – J. F. Ahern Co.

Michelle Schumacher joined J. F. Ahern Co. six years ago and is an Estimator. Her role is to estimate the cost of a construction project before that project begins so her contractor knows what to bid for the project in order to make a profit.

“Growing up around the construction industry really drew me to pursue a career in construction,” explained Schumacher.

Both women find it rewarding to look at a completed project and know that you are helping people. As far as their day-to-day activities, they are both working hard to get the project completed efficiently, correctly, and on time.

“A typical day at work for me can range from going through specs and doing HVAC take-off to attending pre-bid meetings,” said Schumacher.

Leunig shared, “In the office, (I do) a lot of planning, phone calls, and ordering items. When I’m in the field, 1-2 times a week, the day is usually crazy. I’m catching up with the foreman and analyzing their progress and their needs for the next week or two. Also, we will have meetings with the other contractor(s) and sometimes the owner at the site to review progress or changes.”

Leunig and Schumacher have earned the respect of their male counterparts, but it has not been easy.

“A challenge that I have faced as a woman in the construction industry is having people under estimate (my) abilities,” explained Schumacher. “When making phone calls to vendors, suppliers, or other estimators (and) project managers, it is often assumed that I am the admin helping the estimator. I have been asked many times, ‘I know it says your name on the contact information, but who is the estimator?’”

For Leunig, how you carry yourself goes a long way in breaking down the stereotypes and barriers.

“I feel a lot of how you are perceived is how you value yourself and hold yourself, while I may have been dismissed in this industry concerning a topic, probably because I am a woman, it is important that I don’t let this affect my judgement or self-worth,” explained Leunig.

Lauren Leunig – J. F. Ahern Co.

Leunig enjoys helping people and constructing buildings that fit the needs of her clients, and it has not gone unnoticed, even with the smallest of audiences. Over the summer, she worked on her first school project. While at home, she was sharing her day with her husband and her three-year old son. She was unaware of how much her son understood what she was talking about until one particular night.

“He asked, ‘When I’m a little bit older, Mommy, can I build schools with you? I want to build schools for the kids.’ I think this ties into what I mentioned before, in construction, you’re helping someone achieve their dreams in building something they need. This makes me proud,” said Leunig.

Both Leunig and Schumacher are making a difference for their company, and for future women in the industry.

“Recently, we bid a project out of Madison and we found a way to have a competitive advantage against our competitors,” said Schumacher. “This competitive advantage allowed us to get the project and perform well. It makes you proud to know that you thought outside of the box to get something done.”

As for the next generation of women looking to make their way into the construction industry, Leunig’s advice is, “Never give up, and never sell yourself short just because you are a woman. Do your homework and you will be just as knowledgeable as a man.”

Schumacher echoes that sentiment, “Never get discourage! As women in the construction industry, we have to stay strong and stand together.”

J. F. Ahern Co. is a leader in the construction industry, and they have strong women on their team to help lead to continuing success.