As anyone in the industry can tell you, there’s a real shortage of skilled labor in drywall, and in the trades generally. What most people don’t talk about, though, is how few women work in this industry – and what an untapped resource they represent.
The fact is, construction is not an industry that has historically been very friendly or welcoming to women and if we want to get more women involved (and we should want that) we need to make it a place that appreciates, respects, and welcomes them. One of the best ways to do that is look to the women who are already doing a great job and use them as role models to encourage the next generation of young women to get into the trades.
In this second edition of “Women in Drywall” we’ll introduce you to Leah Pawluk (pronounced puh-LUKE), who’s making waves as an Instagram presence as well as a well-regarded builder.
Pawluk lives and works in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada. She got her start in the trades there without much prior experience. She moved to Saskatoon from the small town of Melfort, Saskatchewan quite suddenly when an opportunity presented itself. In her own words:
“I was a bartender a few years ago and a paving crew came into the bar for about a week straight. Seeing the way they interacted, worked super hard…just the camaraderie. I had never seen anything like it. On the last day they said ‘move to Saskatoon and work with us.’ So I did. I quit my job, moved to the city and started working,” says Pawluk, letting loose a big, infectious laugh.
That laugh, open and enthusiastic, is typical of Pawluk and representative of her personality – both in real life and on social media. It’s clear that she loves what she’s doing and her eagerness and passion are part of what makes her so engaging both to work with and to follow on Instagram.
Pawluk works primarily on residential projects – about 85% of her workload is residential – but has commercial clients as well. Beyond the residential setting, though, it’s hard for her to pin down a “typical” job.
“Any job…takes around 5 days to do. So I’m at a place for about 5 days. Sometimes people live in the house…sometimes it’s a wide open space where I can make a mess. It’s always different,” she says.
If there’s any other aspect that the jobs have in common, it’s the payoff. “I love being able to turn incredibly ugly things into something beautiful. That’s why I’m in this business. I love making customers happy when they’re feeling lost and feeling like they’d never be happy with where they live,“ remarks Pawluk, her voice once again radiating warmth and sincerity.
Asked about a project that she’s particularly proud of, she mentions a hair salon that she worked on recently. “I taped it all by myself in less than a week…the only thing that I had to fix was that some of the ceilings lights had been cut too big – not even anything I had done. And the salon looks GOOOORGEOUS.”
Still, it isn’t always easy. Like Brittany Luly (and many self-employed people), Pawluk identifies scheduling and logistics as a major obstacle. “The hardest part of running a business would definitely be scheduling everything and pricing things correctly. You have to know pretty much exactly how long each job is going to take before you even start, so that you can fit enough jobs in to make a profit.”
She also mentions that physical exhaustion can be a challenge some days, although, with the recent addition of her first employee (a young woman named Julia) maybe some of the burden will ease.
“I was working in a house, and as I was leaving, a man saw my name on my truck, asked how busy I was. I said ‘extremely’ and he asked if I had considered hiring someone. I said I was waiting for the right person – I wanted a girl – and he said his daughter was taking a carpentry course, and they were learning about drywall. I showed her the ropes, and she’s been working with me for about a month.”
Hiring this young apprentice is an important step for what was previously a one-woman operation. Julia is her first employee, and getting more women involved in the trades is important to her. Asked how we can get more women into the industry, Pawluk replies “[m]y number one response would be to be the hardest working person you know. If people think you shouldn’t be there because you’re a woman, prove them wrong by showing your passion. Show up early, stay late. Employers see that. Also, don’t let comments get to you – learn from them, take them as constructive criticism, and don’t give up.”
Social Media, Growth, and the Long Term
With the addition of an employee, Pawluk has just doubled her staff, so thinking about growth and the future is a natural next step. So far, her rise has been almost meteoric: from working seasonally with the paving crew to learning the basics of drywall to owning her own company in just a few years. In addition, the company, Leah Pawluk Drywall, is not quite a year old (she’ll celebrate her first anniversary in January), so her success as an entrepreneur and business owner is equally impressive.
She owes a lot of that success to her social media presence, she says: “I had no idea that social media would have such a positive impact on my career. It’s blown my mind! The number one thing would be companies sending me tools…There’s nothing better than that. Being able to review tools and show people how to use them. Number two would be the impact it’s had on girls. Girls write me saying that it’s an inspiration, and that makes me want to go the extra mile, because I know that people are watching and it’s making a difference in their lives. I never thought that would happen just from someone looking at your pictures.”
But pictures can be powerful, as Pawluk herself knows. She follows a number of talented craftswomen and loves the work they do. “I could stare…for hours” she gushes about her favorites. In particular, she recommends @trapperstaping17, @preferreddrywall, @thehouseoftimber, and @toricangelini for more women doing inspiring work in drywall specifically (the first two) and in the trades more generally (the second two).
Pawluk’s ambition and passion have gotten her this far, but she’s not done yet. “[In the future] I see myself less on the tools and more face-to-face with clients. Having a bunch of people working underneath me. More than just taping. I’d like to have a crew of people, boarders, tapers, painters. I can just do quality control,” she explains.
At this rate, it seems like a pretty achievable goal – maybe even with a team of young women who discovered the trades through social media.