By Karen L. Edwards, RCS COO.
While women had been working outside of the home prior to World War II, the push for them to join the workforce while the men were off fighting was promoted heavily by the U.S. Government. The National Archives features a promotional flyer produced by the War Manpower Commission, imploring women to seek employment in the shipyards of Mobile, Alabama. They hosted a Women’s Registration Week and urged women “in this time of national crises as a good American to register with the United States Employment Service.”
Women answered the call and were soon operating cranes, building ships and manufacturing aluminum which was in demand for airplane production. Without the women, the shipbuilding and aluminum plants would not have been able to meet the demand. The men who were working alongside of these women didn’t welcome them with open arms. In fact, to help with the addition of women to a typically all-male workforce, a Womanpower brochure was produced and distributed among workers to help with the transition.
Once the war ended, women left the factories, and many had saved their salaries which led to a post-war economic boom that lasted into the 1970s. It was during this economic boom that some of the first female roofing industry trailblazers began their nontraditional career journeys.
Building one of the largest privately owned manufacturing companies
Ethelmae Humphreys had just graduated from high school in 1944 and her parents moved to Joplin, Missouri to start TAMKO Building Products. Ethelmae headed to college at the University of Kansas, earning a bachelor's degree in liberal arts. Her career ambitions changed, she told the Joplin Globe, when it became clear that her father’s failing health meant he would need assistance. “By the time I graduated from college, I knew I needed to come home and help out,” Humphreys told the Globe.
She took on roles in bookkeeping, handling payroll and working as a secretary. Her father’s health worsened, and he began spending winters in Florida. At just 23 years old, Ethelmae was named executive vice president of the company.
Together with her husband, she grew the company into one of the largest privately owned roofing manufacturers in the country. After her husband’s death in 1993, she took over as CEO until her son took on the role of president and CEO the following year. She served as chairman of the board until stepping down in 2019. She continued to come to the office almost daily as she said it was “like my home and I love my home.”
Following her death at age 94 in 2021, the company said in a statement that Ethelmae was a matriarch in the roofing industry. “She succeeded in a predominantly male industry, confidently leading a major corporation as a 20-something woman in 1950s America, setting an example for women in the manufacturing and roofing industries.”
From pregnant teen mom to the richest self-made woman
Another powerhouse woman in the roofing industry who has been blazing a trail for other women to follow is ABC Supply’s Diane Hendricks. Named by Forbes as America’s Richest Self-made Woman, she topped the list over other more well-known household names, including Oprah Winfrey and Sheryl Sandberg, who ranked #12 and #15 respectively.
Diane has worked hard to get where she is today. According to her bio on Brooksy Society, at age 17, she became pregnant and did what her parents thought was the right thing to do – marry the baby’s father. She found work on an assembly line and tried waitressing but knew she needed to find something else that would support her as a single mom, telling Brooksy, “I never had any doubt I could raise my son. I filed for divorce a week after I was 21.”
She took a job selling new construction while she studied to earn her broker’s license. It was during this time that she met Ken Hendricks, who had a roofing business he started after dropping out of high school in 11th grade.
In 1982, after finding success in roofing, real estate and flipping properties Diane founded ABC Supply with Ken. After his death in 2007, she took on the role of chairman and sole owner. She was at the helm of the company during the purchase of rival Bradco in 2010 and for the acquisition of L&W Supply. As of 2020, she has grown the company to nearly 800 branches and with over $12 billion in annual revenues.
Diane continues to lead ABC Supply under the mission, “To be the biggest, best and easiest service company distributing select exterior and interior building products.”
She is quoted in the Brooksy biography as saying, “You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to be dissuaded, don’t quit. I’ve got signs in my office, I’ve got it on there, don’t quit. I mean, because quitting… you quit, you’re done. You just gotta be so strong, life is tough, you know. It just is.”
Supporting their communities
Both of these female roofing industry leaders had a passion for giving back. In Ethelmae’s obituary, it was noted that she “established two charitable foundations: the E.L. Craig Foundation in 1960 to honor her late father and the J.P. Humphreys Foundation in honor of her husband.”
These foundations donated generously to organizations and institutions supporting individual rights, community development and civil society. Ethlemae supported both Mercy and Freeman Hospitals and provided significant monies to help rebuild Mercy Hospital after it was destroyed in the historic May 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado.
Diane has also worked hard to support her local community of Beloit, Wisconsin through revitalization efforts. She once purchased an entire city block, demolishing the existing buildings and bringing in new businesses including a sushi restaurant and an upscale burger joint. She calls it not just “beautifying the city,” but “beautifying the economy.”
Since the beginning, giving back has been® a core value for ABC Supply and their team members are encouraged to get involved in community initiatives because as noted on their website, not only is giving back important, “It’s the right thing to do.”
Encouraging more women to consider roofing
While things have come a long way from the days of World War II, when brochures and marketing campaigns were used to help women be more successful in nontraditional roles, we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, organizations like National Women in Roofing are providing opportunities and support for women working in the roofing industry. Through mentoring, education and networking, women have more support than ever to find a rewarding career in this industry.
Whether it’s working in the field, running service departments or owning their own businesses, women are seeing every day the opportunities that exist within this industry to achieve fulfillment and success for themselves and their families.
If you’re considering roofing as a career, be sure to visit RoofersCoffeeShop®’s classified listings to explore the openings.
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