Women and Gray: A Historic Combination
From Rosa Parks to Billie Jean King, to Sandra Day O Connor, and thousands more in between, history is filled with the amazing accomplishments and contributions of women. They have led, served, invented, perfected, and explored in some of the greatest moments know to (wo)man. And here at Gray, our history is also not complete without the story of the women who helped shape this company.
In 1972, after the untimely death of her husband and Gray founder, James Norris Gray, Lois Howard Gray stepped in and stepped up, helping run the business with her two sons. Mrs. Gray continued the work James Norris began, and despite facing mounting financial difficulty, helped turn Gray into a world-renowned design-build firm.
Mrs. Gray’s dedication set the precedent that has continued to this day. Since then, dozens of women have had immeasurable impact on a business that is traditionally dominated by men. These women have served as president and chair of both regional and national committees, help found numerous organizations, been recognized with dozens of awards, and on top of all that, contributed in a meaningful way to the success of the business on a daily basis.
We spoke with some of the women who have spent decades shaping Gray about their time with the company and the evolution since they started.
How has the workplace changed since you started with Gray?
Jill Wilson has been with Gray for 34 years and currently serves as the chief communications & marketing officer for Gray, Inc, the guiding company for all Gray companies. During her tenure with Gray, Wilson has been named one of the top women in public relations and a top 15 business woman, among other awards. She has served on a number of boards and committees, including the national board of directors for the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce board of directors, past president of the Kentucky Association for Economic Development, and past president of the Society for Marketing Professional Services Kentucky Chapter.
“I’ve seen tremendous change during my time at Gray. Fortunately, Gray has always had a very friendly, inviting, and professional culture, and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is an even stronger safety culture, embracing new technologies, enhanced cohesive teams, and with the pandemic, being able to truly work from anywhere. When I started at Gray, Gray Construction was the only Gray company. Now we have 12 Gray operating companies offering a diverse set of services allowing Gray to provide a complete turnkey model, including the most recent addition of equipment manufacturing.”
Diana Urbina has been with Gray for 8 years and currently serves as a safety technician for various projects.
“In the time I’ve been with Gray, I can confidently and gladly say that Gray is hiring more women today compared to when I started, especially in the Safety department!”
Sarah Rowe has been with Gray for 17 years and is the vice president for finance & accounting. Rowe serves as the co-chair of Gray’s Charitable Grant Program and participates with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).
“Since I’ve been at Gray, the office has stayed the same with our open office floor plan which promotes collaboration, but the number of people on each floor has definitely increased with the company’s growth! We’ve expanded our physical offices to accommodate in-person work, and now with remote work, the workplace has changed to include remote team members on your monitor.”
In your opinion, how have women contributed to the history of Gray?
Susan Brewer is the chief people officer for Gray, Inc. and has been with the company for 18 years. Brewer has served on both local and national boards for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and is currently the chairperson for the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center Board of Managers.
“Mrs. Gray was a pioneer and visionary. She set a great example for her sons and really charted the path for the future and great success at Gray.”
Marie Sugisawa has been with Gray for 9 years and serves as a senior manager for marketing. “Though women in construction might not be seen as the norm in society, at Gray it’s different. It’s comforting and encouraging to know that there are women on the leadership team and executive level within different departments at Gray. Some regional offices even have more senior female managers than senior male managers!”
Urbina – “Mrs. Gray really set the standard. Thanks to her, women have been included at all levels of the organization, from senior management all the way to entry level positions.”
Kathleen Ratliff has been with Gray for 31 years and serves as an administrative manager.
“Mrs. Gray was an intelligent and driven woman; if it were not for her, I don’t think Gray would even exist right now. She kept the money flowing and relationships going after James Norris’ death.”
How does Gray continually work to provide an environment of opportunity for women?
Wilson – “When I started at Gray, most women were in pure administrative roles – few women were in management positions. That clearly has changed in today’s environment. Women at Gray are provided more opportunities than ever, both professionally and personally. Gray has tapped women for the C-suite, vice presidents, director levels, and various management positions. We have also changed our polices to accommodate for caregiving, whether it’s childcare, illness in the family, or aging parents. This policy applies to all our team members but especially resonates with our female team members.”
Rowe – “Gray provides opportunities for all team members by treating each team member with respect and promoting each individual’s growth.”
Ratliff – “I think it comes from the top down. There is a conscious effort and decision to ensure women are included in trainings and all levels of involvement for all Gray does.”
Brewer – “In 2016, Gray launched the Groundbreaking Women’s group with the purpose to impact our company, the community, and each other through a shared commitment to drive change and build future leaders. This group sponsored networking events, hosted panel discussion from women leaders in the industry and supported women’s groups like Dress for Success and Habit for Humanity. Gray also works to provide opportunity for women through sponsorships of women’s conference and events.”
Sugisawa – “Gray provides equal opportunities for women in the workplace. Gray makes it easy to apply for different positions and departments by providing opportunities to apply to internal positions first to current team members. Gray also celebrates Women In Construction Week and recognizes female team members on social media, blog posts, etc.”
Many women have been crucial to the history of this great company, and many more women will be crucial to the future.
If you would like to learn more about joining the Gray family, please visit gray.com/careers.
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Corporate NewsSeptember 13, 2023