Just 1% of construction CEOs are women—how this 30-year-old became one of them

By: Jennifer Liu • Published March 29, 2024

Women make up just 14% of the construction workforce in the U.S. and 1% of chief executives in the field — and Misha Homara is one of them.

The 30-year-old is the CEO of Tricore Panels in the Bay Area, a family business her dad started in 2012 that creates metal, wood and concrete paneling for the walls used in construction projects.

Neither she nor her dad, Sean, thought they’d end up in construction: He previously worked as a car salesman but got his contractor’s license to renovate the dealership after he was given a quote he thought was too high; she became a licensed cosmetologist after high school until a car accident left her unable to be on her feet for too long.

“I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I had bills to pay,” Homara tells CNBC Make It.

She began doing office work for Tricore and, as much as she enjoyed it, at times felt she didn’t belong. “I realized there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me in the meetings and on calls,” she says of the lack of women in the construction world. “It stood out to me.”

But she also saw an opportunity to make a difference: She and her dad could shift the share of women in the construction workforce, starting with his small business.

Over the next few years, Homara worked her way up from being the office manager. She learned about what goes into builds and worked with superintendents and foremen in the field to develop the company’s safety structure. She took on project management work and built out Tricore’s company culture — one where she aimed to empower employees to listen, innovate and develop their careers.

At the same time, Homara took a full college courseload and graduated with communications and media degree from San Francisco State University in 2018. She credits her communication skills for becoming the first CEO of Tricore in at the age of 26. Her dad previously acted as president but did not establish a formal executive board. He is no longer with the company but remains a mentor in many ways.

“In construction, it’s a lot of yelling and hostility and aggression,” Homara says. As a young woman in the field, “I’ve been told so many times, ‘You don’t fit the mold of someone in construction.’ I have more of a conversational style of understanding and developing [relationships].”

Homara leans on being a construction outsider as a strength. For example, while construction sites and offices can be intense environments, “I was able to come in and bring a sense of calmness and clarity.” In turn, the team dynamic shifted from being mostly task-oriented to one where people have opportunities to collaborate and innovate on larger projects, she says.

As CEO, Homara says she splits her time securing and growing new industry partnerships, as well as fostering an inclusive and collaborative environment for her team to succeed together.

As a leader, she says she remains curious and humble in asking about what she doesn’t know. She also relies on a support network of women in construction organizations and other mentors. Homara is part of the board of directors for the Silicon Valley chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, and she’s communications chair for Women Construction Owners and Executives.

“It’s not possible to do anything alone,” she says. “Find the people that believe in you, and then ask them questions, even if you feel like they’re like silly questions.”

As CEO, Homara is invested in getting more women in the field. Her next goal is to ensure that the staff of Tricore Panels, which is currently just under 50 people, moves from 30% women to 50% women in the next five years.

Reaching that goal will take work. “It doesn’t just happen,” Homara says. “You have to intentionally focus on educating and working with teams and different trade partners that want to develop women” in the field.

That includes investing in education that will introduce more girls and young women to construction careers through free, hands-on workshops, community events and apprenticeships.

Homara and Tricore recently hosted several events for “Women in Construction Week” in mid-March, including inviting people to experiment with AutoCAD design software and to see their CNC machine, which is like a super-powered drill and carving machine controlled by a computer, in operation.

Women have made strides in the construction field since 2016, when they comprised 12.5% of the industry. Some areas have even higher representation of women in construction — 17.6% in Washington D.C., 15.6% in Arizona and 14.5% in Florida, according to a November 2022 analysis from The Washington Post.

Labor experts point to a number of factors, including record-low unemployment and initiatives from industry associations to increase training for women in construction, remove hiring barriers and better support women on worksites.

And leaders have seen big benefits: fewer mistakes and redos, greater attention to detail, better multitasking, higher safety standards and a different communication style, to name a few, Homara says.

Getting girls and young women interested in the field requires more effort from schools to introduce opportunities in the trades and career potential in construction.

For example, Homara says one of the biggest misconceptions is what construction is “dirty, dusty and heavy” work, but not all construction jobs are labor intensive.

In 2020, roles like construction laborers, carpenters and electricians made up 3 in 5 construction jobs. Another 1 in 5 worked in management, business and financial operations, while the remaining workforce held roles in maintenance, repairs, administration and office support.

The field has staying power with long-term job growth, and it can be lucrative. The highest-paying construction job, chief estimator, can command up to $171,000 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.

The gender pay gap is also less pronounced in the field, though it still exists. As of 2019, women in construction were paid an average of 99 cents for every $1 paid to a man, compared with the U.S. average pay gap of 81 cents paid to a woman for every $1 paid to a man.

“A lot of the ideas, systems and processes women are bringing to the table is something so new for this industry, and [employers] value it,” Homara says. She recalls a recent conversation with a prominent construction company in California, “and he was saying, it’s so amazing to see the difference in quality now that we have way more women working in the company.”