How the Girl in the Hard Hat Got Started



We came pretty close to this being the year of the woman.

SEE ALSO: GFI’s Allen Gross Talks Downtown and the Old-Time Vibes at his Beekman Hotel

But every year is the year of the woman.

From the grace, power and strength of our current first lady—a woman who can easily steal the show from her charismatic world leader husband—to the ubiquitous presence of women in powerful positions on both sides of this campaign. To the courage of women all over the country who are finding their voice and sharing their stories, and refusing to be victims, regardless of any shaming or backlash that kind of stance leaves them vulnerable to.

Twenty years ago, I put on a hard hat. As a little girl growing up in the Bronx, I had a dream: I wanted to run my own construction company. I didn’t just want to play with my Barbie Dolls; I wanted to build the places they lived in. I wanted to make things, big things. I wanted to put up buildings in one of the biggest cities in the world. 

I’m sure it sounded like a silly dream. Little girls didn’t build things, boys did. Women didn’t tear walls down, put demolition crews together, turn blueprints into actual real things. Especially not here, not on such a giant stage. Men designed the buildings, men poured the foundations, men operated the machinery and worked the tools, men climbed up on the scaffolding.  

Big men—I’m 5-foot-4 on my tall days.

Long before there was Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, I stood outside of the Gristede’s at our local shopping center in a navy blue suit (my first) with a burgundy leather briefcase (again, first) with a pile of business cards and handed them out to people passing by, one by one. The name of my “company” was “Stand-Ins.” My tag line: Don’t fuss, call us. 

“Us” was me.

I was ambitious—home repairs, renovations, sheetrock, painting—no job was too big or too small. I had a network of subcontractors. I was 23 years old and then joined a newly formed organization, Professional Women In Construction. We were small in number but fierce.

Lenore Janis, a founding member, called me with an opportunity in Weehawken, N.J., just down the road from where Aaron Burr fatally shot Alexander Hamilton. It was a group of high-end condominiums that would jut out over the Hudson River and give its occupants a breathtaking view of the New York skyline. I was on my way.

That’s the short story. It didn’t happen just like that. But once I got the chance to wedge my size six-and-a-half foot in the door, I refused to take it out.

Along the way, I’ve had countless highs and lows. There have been as many thrills as defeats, but I never quit—I never once wanted to.

I expanded my business and ventured into the world of entrepreneurs; I won jobs and lost jobs and still fierce and strong and here.

In the words of Maya Angelou, sometimes “life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

Construction trailblazer and author Barbara Kavovit is the CEO of New York City-based Evergreen Construction.