Women of Merit

Fantastic. Blessed. Satisfying. Adaptable. Amazing. These are the words the five stand out women we spotlight in this issue use to describe their careers in the electrical industry. Champions of IEC’s merit shop philosophy and formidable leaders within their respective companies and our treasured association, each of these women are insightful, inspirational, and glass ceiling breakers in their chosen profession.

March is Women’s History month and to celebrate, we feature these dynamic women who, in an industry comprised of just 10% women, rise above as examples of success, innovation, and fortitude in a pre-dominantly male profession.

CANDY BRANHAM

Candy Branham serves as president of Branham Electric based in St. Peters Missouri, and was the 2020 IEC president, the first woman to serve in this position. Branham Electric is a family-owned business servicing the St. Louis Metropolitan area for 30 years. Branham’s niche is multi-family and custom residential new construction, commercial and industrial service, and energy-efficient lighting.

What drew you to the electrical field?

My husband Tim opened Branham Electric in 1991 with himself and a truck. Three short years later, the company had grown to the point that he needed to hire a full-time bookkeeper, office manager, and payroll clerk (all rolled into one.) At this time, I had my own company selling art and custom framing to the St. Louis corporate market. I was also at a point of needing to expand into a large commercial framing facility and hire a full-time salesperson.

Tim and I started discussing both companies’ business plans, objectives, and future. My company was going to need a considerable infusion of cash, which we did not have. to reach its goals. Branham Electric was building steadily and, if managed well, could generate the cash needed to meet our expansion plans. Plus, Branham Electric offered the opportunity for us to work together to reach our dreams. So, in April of 1993, I closed my business and joined Branham Electric.

What drew you to the electrical field?

2021 is Branham Electric’s 30th year in business and my 28th year with the company. I decided to close my art and framing business and join Branham Electric because, first and foremost, I enjoy working with my husband. Plus, my responsibilities included running the office, overseeing the company’s financials, marketing, and business development efforts, which offered me the ability to utilize all of my strengths and build more.

I can’t really say I was drawn to the electrical field or industry. I was drawn to having an opportunity to build a family business that offers each Branham Electric employee a chance to reach their professional and financial goals in an industry that is ever changing and expanding with limitless possibilities.

What have been your greatest challenges as a woman in the electrical field?

Since my responsibilities focus more on the business side of Branham Electric, I really don’t feel that I’ve had challenges directly related to my gender. Obviously, there are many challenges that women face as electricians. Branham Electric has employed several women electricians and I’ve watched them face one challenge after another throughout my years. I do think today’s opportunities for women are more open and acceptable than in 1993 when I became part of the industry.

On the business side, I’ve always believed my strength comes from securing as much knowledge as possible and understanding how this knowledge may best be used to reach my goals. My accounting, marketing, and business strengths give me the confidence to partner with my husband in running a successful electrical contracting business even though I have no electrical experience or knowledge. It has also opened doors and provided me with a chance to seize industry related opportunities which have brought much joy, friendship, and memories to my 28 years in the electrical industry.

How did you overcome these challenges?

Attending IEC National events, including the sessions each event offers, have been a great source for obtaining knowledge and skills in a multitude of areas. Session presenters are “best in class” and are willing to share not only their knowledge, but their insight and professional wisdom. The best thing Branham Electric has done to overcome challenges has been joining an IEC forum over 20 years ago.

Tim joined the group first because I was concerned women might not be welcome. Forum 14, from its conception, welcomed women as well as husband-and-wife teams. Today, we have several husband-wife teams as members.

Forums offer IEC contractors the ability to learn and share with some of our industry’s best. It gives members the opportunity to develop working and personal relationships, share best practices, have someone with whom you may discuss issues, and provide input on new concepts and ideas you’ve developed. Forums give each of us (male and female) a chance to share individual expertise and is a place to shine.

What advice would you give a young woman starting her career in the electrical field?

Think of yourself as an individual, not as a woman, with much to offer. Have a huge willingness to learn, work hard, and do your very best each and every day. Remember the electrical industry offers opportunities and possibilities that are limitless and that your career and achievements will be what you make them. I’d urge every woman to “grab the bull by the horns,” enjoy the ride, and make your future everything you want it to be.

What one word would you use to describe your career in the industry?

Satisfying

JANET MARTIN

Janet Martin serves as vice president and owner of Bret’s Electric in Denver and is IEC’s 2021 president. Martin has proven herself a great leader and entrepreneur in her 30 years of corporate and small business experience. While women comprise only 10% of the construction industry, Martin is the second woman to head the predominantly male electrical and systems contracting industry organization.

How did you get into the electrical field?
What drew you to it?

In the early 90’s, my husband Bret had wanted to use his electrical skills to go into business for himself. Realizing the risks (both financially and the toll it would take on our family) we made the decision together to venture into entrepreneurship. Our thought was “no risk no reward” and that we could not be scared to fail. Bret was very good at his skill and with my financial background, we could work together to start our own company. Our two sons were of high school age at the time and we brought them into the business as well to learn a skill, as we are aware that college is not for everyone nor a guarantee for a job. The electrical trade can carry you through life with no boundaries. I am proud to say both sons have college degrees plus the skills to lead as the second generation of Bret’s Electric, which has been in business for 27 years.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The freedom to run your company your way. Every day is different, you have the flexibility of time management, and multiple opportunities to learn and network with others.

What have been your greatest challenges as a woman in the electrical field? 

Fitting into the culture of the electrical industry.

How have you overcome these challenges?

Through strength, knowledge of my attributes, and a focus on the objectives.

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting her career in the electrical field?

Know your dream, pursue your dream, accomplish your dream. Quitter’s do not survive.

What one word would you use to describe your career in the industry?

Fantastic

KARLA NUGENT

As a founding partner of Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, Karla Nugent is responsible for the company’s overall revenues and the preconstruction and marketing divisions for Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas. Through Karla’s efforts, Weifield has grown to employ over 550 employees, is a Denver Post Top Workplace (nine years running), and is the first electrical contractor in the region to complete Net-Zero energy projects.

Karla successfully promotes Weifield while passionately advocating for a better community, construction workforce, and industry; she currently serves as a member of the Avista Hospital Foundation Board in Louisville, Colorado, and as a governor-appointed member of the State of Colorado Workforce Development Council.

How did you get into the electrical field? What drew you to it?

The catalyst was my experience working at a data center startup that was building 18 data centers across the U.S. and one internationally. That company did construction in-house so I began to learn about the construction process and ISO certification. While there, I met my business partners who were working in the electrical industry, and that led to starting Weifield Group in 2001.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the people and the relationships I develop with each project, workforce development initiative, and charitable effort. It’s not just about offering opportunities for our employees – but also the relationships that are built at the general contractor, engineer, architect, and owner representative level.

What have been your greatest challenges as a woman in the electrical field? How have you overcome these challenges?

Even though women represent less than ten percent of the industry, I don’t feel like I have been treated differently as a woman. I have not been limited in my career in construction; the trade has always been fair to me and has evaluated me solely on my skills and competency. Construction has really evolved and has embraced women, giving them opportunities for leadership and impact.

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting her career in the electrical field?

I would advise her to be herself and take advantage of the training opportunities and career paths that construction offers. There’s always someone when you look back on your career path who believed in you and gave you a chance. Ask for informational interviews with leaders in the industry, because people are willing to help. Don’t feel as if you don’t have anything to offer them – most would be more than happy to share their insights and experiences with you to help you grow in your career. You may just need to ask for a bit of their time.

What one word would you use to describe your career in the industry?

Blessed

KRISTEN WILLIAMS

Kristen Williams serves as CEO of Penco Electric, and has been in the electrical industry for over 20 years. She attended the Atlanta Chapter IEC Apprenticeship Program and graduated in 2000, and worked in the field during her apprenticeship. Upon graduation, she moved into the office where she served as assistant project manager, worked her way up to project manager, and went on to her current position as CEO. She is proud to be a second generation electrical contractor.

How did you get into the electrical field? What drew you to it? 

I fell into working for my father. I had lost my job and needed one badly. He didn’t actually hire me, though. He was working on other endeavors and had another gentleman running Penco who hired me. My dad always says he would not have.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

I like the details, the coordination, and the project deadlines. There is an art to building a successful project. I enjoy being part of that process.

What have been your greatest challenges as a woman in the electrical field? How have you
overcome these challenges? 

When I first started out, the challenge was to have people take me seriously. I had to work very hard to prove myself. However, there has been a big change in our industry. Women are much more accepted now. I am really glad to see that change.

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting her career in the electrical field? 

It is a very rewarding career and it can take you anywhere you want to go. You can be an electrician, project manager, or own your own business. The sky is the limit.

What one word would you use to describe your career in the industry?

Amazing

SUSAN REINMILLER COX

Susan Reinmiller Cox serves as vice president of RKR Inc. of Jeffersonville, Indiana. She attended St. Joseph College in Renssalaer, Indiana on a track & field scholarship, and majored in mathematics and secondary education. She is starting her 20th season as an assistant track & field coach at the high school she graduated from, and her 19th year as a board member at IEC of Kentucky & Southern Indiana.

How did you get into the electrical industry? What drew you to it?

I grew up around the electrical industry as my dad started his first electrical contracting company in 1969. I worked summers there in high school as a trade for use of a vehicle, insurance, and gas. I swore I’d never get into “the business.” I got into the electrical field when RKR’s bookkeeper retired in 1993. I had just decided to quit teaching and my father said, “accounting’s numbers, math’s numbers, you can do this.” It wasn’t necessarily my passion, but it was familiar.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the diversity of the industry. The different types of projects, different people I meet, and the evolving skillset I need to continue to build and be relevant, compliant, and successful.

What is your greatest challenge as a woman in the industry?

My greatest challenge as a woman in this industry has been being taken seriously. Over the years I have had to establish my credibility. Fortunately, I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was a female. I learned to “switch gears” and be more confident and aggressive/dominant in the early years. When I began as an owner, I got a lot of, “can I speak to a man?”, “whose wife are you?”, “Do you have authority to make decisions?” I was even told when I first started coming to IEC National events that I wouldn’t be taken seriously since I had no perceived power. So…challenge accepted. I wanted to show that women weren’t relegated to be a silent minority in the industry. It has been great seeing many more female contractors and electricians over the years.

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting a career in the electrical industry?

For any woman wanting to get into the industry, I would say to be confident in your abilities and be thick skinned. You don’t have to be “one of the boys,” but knowing that men react and communicate differently is a necessity.

What one word would you use to describe your career in the industry?

Adaptability

Laurie Enceneat serves as senior director of Marketing and Communications for IEC, and is a marcomm professional with more than 25 years of experience in developing and implementing effective strategies that have led to the growth of non-profit organizations, higher education institutions, and corporate entities in the Washington, D.C. region. Laurie strives to bring a creative eye and strong messaging to every project she undertakes and believes that all success is collaborative and springs from the effective management, coaching, and encouragement of teams. Originally from Syracuse, New York, she is a proud graduate of the State University of New York College at Geneseo.

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