See all the women featured in our 2019 Women in Construction series here.
Women enter the construction industry in a variety of ways. Some might find they have a talent for a particular trade such as woodworking while others might come from a background in design or engineering. Then there are those like Peggy Marker who grew up in the industry watching and learning the basics of the business from family members.
Even so, it "was definitely a leap of faith,” she said, when she and her husband started Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based general contracting firm Marker Construction Group in 2001 after Marker spent more than 20 years in marketing and business development.
"I had another job when we started," she explained to Construction Dive. "I was doing the bookkeeping at the beginning and working for an advertising agency to help pay the bills. We literally started in our dining room. We were very fortunate that everything worked out.”
And thanks in part to Marker’s leadership and vision, everything is still working out.
Marker Construction has grown from startup to regional leader in the commercial and high-end residential markets during the last 17 years, developing an impressive list of local and national clients, including the Hilton and Marriott hotel chains. From 2017 to 2018 alone, Marker said the company increased its gross annual sales by more than 80% and expanded its staff by almost 50%.
"In my experience working with Peggy, I would say she is a natural leader who is easy to follow," said developer Steve Hudson, president of Hudson Capital Group. "Peggy has exhibited tremendous tenacity whenever Hudson Capital Group and Marker Construction have collaborated on commercial projects. She continues to have her eye on the larger picture and not sweat the small stuff."
As the firm's president, Marker currently devotes her time to overall management and developing new business for the company. And the fact that she is a woman in a male-dominated field hasn’t slowed her down a bit.
Admittedly, she said, owning the company garners a certain level of respect right out of the gate. Perhaps that’s why she has rarely encountered the snarky comments or bias that other women say makes advancing their construction careers harder than it should be.
Running up against those who have been dismissive of her as a woman, she said, has only happened twice in her career, and both times the comments came from people on the periphery of a project rather than an owner, subcontractor or other significant stakeholder.
Marker said she and her female employees are aware that encountering all sorts of antiquated attitudes in this business is a likelihood, but they are prepared. “We have a large number of women in our company — not just in the office but in the field as well,” she said. “They all know what they're doing, they're very good at what they do and they're given respect for it.
“There's nothing preventing any woman from running her own company or taking on any role in the industry. The sky's the limit."
President, Marker Construction Group
Marker doesn’t believe that there is widespread prejudice against women in the industry when women are knowledgeable and act authoritatively. “If you know what you’re doing, people will listen,” she said. “At the end of the day, it's all about your ability to drive a schedule, to manage people and to understand the process.”
Marker's professional colleagues are eager to vouch for her skill and abilities. Marker Construction is working with hospitality company AD1 Global on a six-story, 126-room Tru Hotel by Hilton in Dania Beach, Florida. Company partner on the project, Samy Cohen, noting that Marker is one of the few women he’s had the chance to work with in a general contractor capacity, is not short on compliments.
"She is a fair, smart, creative and extremely savvy woman,” Cohen said. "She is a very straight shooter — no runarounds — and she gets things done. She is absolutely on top of her game and has a staff that reflects her work ethic."
That desire to impact others in a meaningful way has flowed over into Marker’s engagement with the South Florida community at large, and she sits on the boards of PAWS South Florida Rescue, an organization within the Humane Society of Broward County; New York City Fire Museum; and the Community Foundation of Broward. Marker, along with her company, supports many other local charities and nonprofits and has donated the construction of one home and renovation of another to benefit pregnant teens being helped by the 4Kids of South Florida initiative.
Sharing her experience
One of the ways that Marker is passing on what she’s learned from her decades of construction experience is through a company internship program for local high school students.
Student intern Cathleen Conklin worked with Marker last summer exploring the estimating and administrative sides of the business. She said Peggy’s ability to dominate in an industry mostly comprised of men was an “amazing” thing to witness.
Marker said the industry needs to do a better job in reaching out to high school students —boys and girls —and getting across the message that there are a multitude of career paths in construction and that it’s not a second-rate alternative to a college degree. The company started its internship program last year with four students and hopes to expand it in the future.
Promoting the "sisterhood"
So, what is Marker’s advice to women who are interested in a construction career but may be a little intimidated by the prospect of entering such a male-donated field? "I would definitely tell them to do it,” she said, "and tell them not to be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help.”
Marker said there are older, experienced people in the industry that are eager to pass on their knowledge and that the “sisterhood” of women in construction is strong and willing to offer advice as well. "Within our industry, the other women will be your biggest supporters and advocates, so don't feel like they’re competitors,” she said. "Look at them as mentors.”
And there’s no need to stop there, the construction firm president said. “There's nothing preventing any woman from running her own company or taking on any role in the industry. The sky's the limit."