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  • Writer's pictureJason Khoury

Women Who Build West Michigan: Olivia Windemuller and Joy Hohmeyer

Women Who Build West Michigan: Olivia Windemuller and Joy Hohmeyer

For our latest installment of the Women Who Build West Michigan series, we sat down with Olivia Windemuller, an accountant and office administrator at Soils and Structures, a structural engineering firm. With five years of experience, Olivia shares the challenges she faces in roles like collections as well as the rewards of playing a crucial safety role. Her insights highlight the diverse strengths women can bring through creativity, collaboration and innovative thinking that provide new perspectives. Olivia hopes more young women will explore construction careers as the industry becomes more equitable and empowering

Tell me a bit about your roles and responsibilities as an accountant. 

Olivia: As an accountant/office administrator, I handle bookkeeping, accounts payable/receivable, invoicing, purchasing and collections for the company. A typical day of mine involves a lot of financial/administrative duties, overseeing safety prerequisites with our contractors and running weekly on-site safety meetings. 

What drew you to the construction industry? 

Olivia: I never envisioned myself in the construction field, but after graduating with an accounting degree, I fell into a role by hearing about an open position at Soil and Structure through a family member. My aunt, Joy Hohmeyer, was the Director of Human Resources and the owner of Soil and Structure. She suggested that I apply for the Accounting Assistant position at her company. My Aunt Joy knew that I wanted to work in private industry and with my finance degree, I was a good fit. 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the construction industry for you? 

Olivia: The most rewarding aspect is knowing that your work ensures buildings and infrastructure are safe. One of our engineers says, "we save more lives than doctors" by designing and inspecting structures that are safe for public use. We all take pride in contributing to developmental projects that benefit the local community. 

What would you say to someone with no experience or awareness about careers in construction? Why should they join the industry? 

Olivia:  I would recommend that they have an open mind, as there are many more roles than the obvious field or skilled labor positions. Be willing to explore and learn about different opportunities. This industry also comes with a whole dictionary’s worth of new industry jargon, but it is fun to learn new things. There is also plenty of diversity in the construction industry, which has made my job more satisfying. 

Can you share a story or experience that highlights the challenges you faced as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field? How did you overcome those challenges? 

Olivia: A key challenge I faced as a woman, was building confidence. Especially when dealing with collections from older male clients who may try to dismiss you, it was difficult to navigate those conversations when I first started out. However, I overcame it through perseverance and assertion (without being confrontational). Lastly, Use your network! Getting hired is often "who you know" in this tight-knit industry.  

Is it becoming easier to be a woman in this industry? How has this changed in the past five to ten years? How can the construction industry better support and encourage women to enter and thrive in this field? 

Joy: I have seen the environment become more welcoming over my 20-year tenure. What makes a difference is when a company gets excited to hire women and helps integrate them comfortably. To encourage more women, the industry could promote networking groups such as WMCI (West Michigan Construction Institute), NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) or Built By Women, an ABC of Western Michigan event. Also, make intentional mentorship efforts and ensure leadership is supportive during the hiring and onboarding processes. 

What are the unique perspectives, skills or strengths that women bring to the construction industry? What is some advice you would give to someone just starting out? 

Olivia:  A few of the key strengths’ women bring are creativity, collaboration and "thinking outside the box" compared to traditional male-oriented approaches. My advice would be to have confidence, be open-minded, learn constantly and do not be afraid to respectfully voice alternative viewpoints. 

As a woman in a leadership or influential role in the construction industry, how do you hope to inspire future generations of women in this field? 

Joy: I hope to continue building relationships with other women in the industry while mentoring and inspiring other young women. Being available to support younger women who are getting established in a male-dominated field is important and will help fill many open positions. 

Olivia: I would also say that advocating for creating more supportive environments where women can thrive by propelling intentional mentorship, networking opportunities and an open-minded culture shift is key. 

Can you speak on the importance of a diverse workforce in the construction industry? How does it benefit the industry? How can companies create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for women, both on job sites and in office settings? 

Joy: A diverse workforce benefits the industry by bringing in diverse backgrounds, viewpoints and problem-solving approaches. Having more women involved can help balance historically male-centric mindsets. Companies can create a welcoming environment through training, ensuring leadership supports inclusion efforts, promoting networking groups and making efforts to recruit diverse candidates.  

College recruiting events are a suitable place to share your company with a diverse group of people. We regularly attend career fairs at Michigan Tech, The University of Michigan and The University of Wisconsin.  College campuses are filled with a diverse culture, and we can get a sense of how to focus our efforts. We recently hired an intern from another country, who has since accepted a full-time position with us as soon as he graduates. We are fortunate to hire people from abroad and bring their experiences and ideas to West Michigan.  

What is one thing you would like to say to young women considering the construction industry? 

Olivia: know that there is a place for you and plenty of opportunities within this industry’s many roles. Stay encouraged and focused on the growing opportunities for women’s advancement. Do not be discouraged by the outdated view of construction being a male-dominated field. Seek out networking groups, ask questions, find mentors, and have confidence in the unique perspectives you offer. 

About Soil and Structures: 

Women Who Build West Michigan: Olivia Windemuller and Joy Hohmeyer

Soil & Structures specializes in Geotechnical and Structural Engineering, Pavement Design, Engineering and Testing, Construction Material Testing and Laboratory services as well as Structural Steel Detailing.  

Soils & Structures has a 50-year proven track record of innovation and success. They work on projects both big and small as well as everything in between. Their headquarters are in Muskegon but they also have offices strategically located in Ann Arbor, Traverse City and the Upper Peninsula, allowing them to cover the entire state of Michigan. In the last 10 years, Soil & Structure has nearly tripled its staff and are proud to say that almost 20% of workforce is women. These women work as Geologists, Administrators, Geotechnical Engineers, Structural Engineers and Researchers. 

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