Leading the Way

Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines elects all-female board for 2020.

The political climate in the United States continues to grow more and more divisive, and some groups struggle to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. But the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines has quietly taken a different approach with dramatic results.

Nationally, female builder membership in the HBA remains about 5%. In Iowa, that number is even lower. But you wouldn’t guess that to look at the list of 2020 HBA Executive Committee Members. For the first time, not just in Iowa but in the country, a local HBA chapter will be led by an all-female Executive Board.

President Rachel Flint, Vice President of Hubbell Homes; First Vice President Kalen Ludwig, Director of Sales and Marketing for Groundbreaker Homes; and Second Vice President Jenna Kimberley, Vice President at Kimberley Development, sat down with BUILD recently to discuss the milestone. They were joined by HBA of Greater Des Moines Executive Officer Dan Knoup and board secretary Amy Kimberley of Ferguson Bath Kitchen & Lighting Gallery.

“I know it’s a first for an all-female HBA board,” Flint says. “So I guess it’s a big deal, but I don’t want to be known as the first or best ‘woman’ anything. I just want to be the best at what I do.”

Jenna Kimberley agrees. “I got involved with the HBA when I came back to Iowa because it was a way to give back and to get involved in what was happening in the industry locally. I was the last to join the leadership team here, and being nominated and elected is such an honor and opportunity to show young women what this industry has to offer.”

“Being a woman in this industry does mean we’re in the minority, but my goal has always been to be good at my job, not because I have to prove myself as a woman but because I want to be good at what I do. Being nominated for this gave me confidence to get even more involved,” Ludwig says.

Among the team’s primary objectives for the year ahead are to encourage involvement from all members and to show women that the home construction industry offers a wealth of opportunities for them.

Jenna Kimberley says, “We all took different paths to get here, and there are even more opportunities available now.”

Knoup, in fact, sees women as key to bridging the skilled trades gap. “Any field for which people used to say, ‘Women shouldn’t do that’—those are the careers that are wide open for women.”

“We are at crisis level with the trades,” Flint says. “Seeing women get into the trades is a mission we’ve had for the past several years. We want women to see that you can have a steady career and make good money in this industry.”

“With only 5% of builders and contractors being women nationally, it’s no surprise that it’s taken this long for there to be an all-female board,” says Ludwig. “But we’ve had strong leaders to follow, and hopefully young women will see that with our leadership, too.”

Attitudes toward women in nontraditional fields have been changing, sometimes by force and sometimes by necessity. For the HBA of Greater Des Moines, that change has happened over decades, often as a result of women taking the same approach as this year’s board—by doing their jobs and doing them well.

“We have always had such strong women actively involved in the HBA in Des Moines,” says Flint. “Those women and the HBA were so important in my career in educating me and mentoring me.”

Knoup says active roles for women in the HBA of Greater Des Moines used to be limited to the Women’s Council, which was more of an auxiliary group. The Des Moines group has been nationally recognized and has actively sought opportunities for women within the industry, even when roles were much more segregated. The Professional Women in Building has now replaced the Women’s Council, and the Des Moines group again is leading the way nationally (see BUILD story from March 2019).

Iowa has not had a reputation as one of the most progressive states in the country, so the fact that Iowa is the first to elect an all-female board indicates what women have been up against around the U.S. Flint, Jenna Kimberley, and Ludwig all say that their success is in part the result of those who were willing to go against the norm.

“We have to give credit to the men who educated, mentored, and believed in our ability to do the work we do,” Flint says. “Bill Kimberley, Rick Tollakson, and Steve Bruere were each forward-thinking enough to put a woman in a position that was really unheard of in this industry.”

“Even though most of them were from a generation of men who didn’t put women in charge, Bill has always hired women and worked with strong women,” Kimberley says.

“It’s that confidence that others have in you that makes you believe you can do it,” adds Ludwig. “When [outgoing President] Adam Grubb approached me about being on the board, I realized other people see me as qualified and capable of leading. Hopefully, seeing three women in leadership like this will help young women see that this is a place they’ll be supported like we were.”

And that support won’t just be from the growing number of women active in the HBA of Greater Des Moines.

Grubb’s tenure as president set the tone for the path ahead, says Amy Kimberley, Secretary of the association. “I’ve been on the board for 10 years now, and different presidents lead in different ways. Adam was a very engaged, active president. He recruited every one of these women who’s in a leadership role now.”

Flint agrees. “He’s definitely challenged us to look at things differently and not just to set goals for our year as president but to prepare the organization for the future, too.”

“I grew up in a household of women. I live in a household of women. Studies have proved that there are differences in the way women lead and think, and those are all good. I look forward to their tenure,” says Knoup of the newly elected female board.

The women are excited about the future and the projects ahead during their leadership, but they’re also looking forward to the day when they’re the story for a different reason.

“Once you get to that leadership role, the story is really that you’ve risen to the top of your career, not that you’re a woman,” says Jenna Kimberley.

“It’s exciting to be part of this,” Ludwig says. “But that excitement is mostly for the plans we have, not because we’re an all-female board.”

“I cannot wait for the day that the women behind us don’t have to hear or think about whether the fact they’re female has anything to do with their success,” Flint adds.

Silent Partner

Entering her ninth year as Secretary for the HBA of Greater Des Moines, Amy Kimberley says she’s something of a silent partner when it comes to women in leadership roles at the organization. “I get to attend all the meetings, take notes, and listen to the discussion, but I don’t speak up much,” she says. “But I’ve seen how different leadership teams handle the role differently, and I’m looking forward to how this group will lead.”

She says the association has grown and changed a lot since she joined a decade ago. “Sometimes it’s felt more like a club, where people just wanted to hang out and talk about work. Other times it’s been more about getting things done.”

Outgoing President Adam Grubb has been part of that change, she believes. “He was so engaged and really understands all sides of the business and the issues builders are dealing with right now. It’s been great to be a part of that and to see all the changes taking place and what’s ahead.”

As an Associate Member of the HBA, Amy Kimberley is not eligible to serve in a ladder position, and she says she’s just fine with that. “I’ve spent 26 years in this industry, and I know my area. I now have plumbers coming to me for advice and expertise. But I don’t know all sides of the business. I don’t know land and development and all the things these women work with every day. I know one side of the business. These three women understand all of it.”

Now in her third decade in the industry and finishing her first decade in a leadership role, Amy Kimberley has had a good view of the changes over the years. “I’ve personally never felt discriminated against because I’m a woman,” she says. “I’ve had to earn respect in my field, but I’ve never felt like I had to deal with that attitude that I’m a woman doing this. I was just doing my job, and that earned the respect. If you come into it on the defensive, you’re just making it harder.”

For the first time ever, the ratio of women to men on the Executive Board is even. It may be a historic moment, but Amy Kimberley says the team has never had that in mind. “We’re excited about the programs and projects we’re working on, and the new leadership is a part of that. It will be fun.”