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New book about all-women build aims to dispel gender-based career biases

Angela Gismondi
New book about all-women build aims to dispel gender-based career biases
BUILDER BOOKS — The children’s book The House that SHE Built, written by Mollie Elkman and illustrated by Georgia Castellano, aims to teach children about careers in the construction industry. It is based on a true story about an all-women build in Utah.

A book inspired by a true story about a group of women from different walks of life working together to build a home in Utah is teaching children about the world of construction.

“The House That She Built is about careers in construction with a goal of cultivating diversity and inclusion,” author Mollie Elkman told the Daily Commercial News. “This book is specifically about women but every one of the women has a different body type, different skin tone, different abilities. The whole point of the book is to introduce careers in construction to children at a very young age before gender-based career bias can even become a thing in their life.”

Written by Elkman and illustrated by Georgia Castellano of Group Two, a marketing firm for homebuilders based in Philadelphia, Pa., the book highlights women in 18 different trades and aims to educate young readers about the people and skills that go into building a home including the architect, the framer and the roofer. It also focuses on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and math.

“What we have found is that there are amazing initiatives to bring people into careers in construction but none of them really start at that identity-forming age, so we were really targeting that pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grade audience,” Elkman said. “It gets them thinking about options.”

The goal, she said, is to get kids excited about their own skills and interested in learning new ones.

“Each page is about a different skill and a different career and trying to get the reader to identify with a skill that they feel good about to see that there are great careers based on that skill,” Elkman explained. “For example, my son really feels confident that he is strong in math. Before, if you asked him ‘what do you want to be?’ He would say I want to teach math because that’s the only thing he knows about math is math teacher. Now after reading the book he tells people I want to be an engineer.”

The book was based on a project led by the Utah Chapter of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Professional Women in Building (PWB) council who designed and constructed a two-storey home in Saratoga Springs using almost exclusively women professionals, skilled tradeswomen and women-owned companies for all stages of the project.

Elkman was approached by Kristi Allen, president of the PWB, to be part of the project.

“She said we have this idea, we want to do an all-women build,” said Elkman. “It was very ambitious. They were trying to build the entire project using only women. I said, ‘OK I’m in.’ ”

Elkman’s firm agreed to do the marketing for the build.

“We connected them with the National Association of Home Builders which helped them get publicity to get women from all over the country to come out and volunteer,” she noted. “We did the logo, the branding and then the final piece is we wanted the story to continue so we decided to turn it into a book.”

Elkman and Castellano, the firm’s creative director, were looking for a way to keep the project alive once it was complete.

“Georgia and I felt like as marketers we are storytellers,” said Elkman. “It was so inspiring. I’ve been around builders my entire life but to be around over 100 women who are so committed to building up other women and giving other women opportunities to shine and share their stories it was very moving.”

The book is receiving praise from associations across North America, including from the Canadian Association of Women in Construction, with vice-president Acacia Ashick stating this type of publication was long overdue.

The book is published through Builder Books which is the publishing arm of the NAHB.

“The trades are amazing career opportunities and I don’t think enough people are exposed to what those opportunities are,” said Elkman. “There is also a low barrier to entry which means that your path into a career in construction is not as difficult as potentially being a doctor or going to invest in years of college education that potentially puts you in debt.”

While the book aims to get the message out to students, it’s also important to reach the parents.

“We have created a culture of if you want to be successful you go to college and you get a degree,” Elkman explained. “The idea is not that college is bad. Obviously for some of these careers you do need a college degree. It’s just the idea that there are different paths for different children and the differences are OK.”

For more information visit Proceeds support workforce development initiatives in the homebuilding industry.


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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