I show up about five minutes late to my interview with Cynthia “Cindy” Smith of Atlas Home Improvements.
She’s patiently waiting at the agreed meeting place but is watching the front door as each person comes in to make sure she doesn’t miss me.
With her eyeliner immaculate, leopard print shirt and purse complete with graph paper and triangle ruler among its contents, she looks every bit professional and approachable.
As the kitchen designer for Atlas, Cindy shares that she’s the one to take all the measurements for a client’s kitchen, talks with the clients to ensure they get what they’re really looking for, helps with the designs and gets the project going. You can’t tell by looking at her, but she’s been doing this role for about 22 years.
When I explain I’m here to find out what it’s like being a woman in an industry traditionally dominated by men, Cindy chuckles.
“Women are really doing a lot more now,” she insists. Contrary to the old adage that women should stay in their place, barefoot and pregnant, Cindy shares that more and more women are entering non-traditional fields like construction and truck driving.
“I like it,” she grins, the sincerity shining behind her eyes. “My grandfather taught me how to mix cement and build walls. My grandmother always taught me not to have to depend on a man – to know how to do things myself.”
So how did she end up in this field?
“It’s like this here,” she leans in to divulge. “I was working in golf at Southampton Princess for 15 years, then I did five years at Hamilton Princess with my own shop. My cousin approached me to start a kitchen place – it’s always been a family business. My third son has Atlas now.
“I had to learn! An old gentleman taught me his tricks of the trade, including the advice to measure twice and cut once! Carpenters taught me to measure. I shadowed a lot, too. As time has gone on, there’s new products and tech coming out. It’s always a learning experience.”
Cindy says that she’s never had the experience of being physically intimidated while in the field. Instead, she says older women are most likely to be asking where the man is!
“They’ll come in and say ‘Where’s Brian?’,” Cindy laughs. “And I say, ‘I’m here, I can help you!”
An advantage we have as women, she confides, is that we can get away with anything when we talk woman to woman.
“People like to see Brian, as the owner, out in the field doing work. However, they appreciate the woman’s touch – attention to detail and functionality of a space being frequently complimented traits that women appreciate.”
Would she advise young women to go into construction?
“Yes, go for it! I wish I’d have done a lot more. The world is turning – women are controlling more. If you can do it, why not?”
Cindy is pleased to note that, at Atlas, they are sharing the knowledge and assisting the upcoming generation.
They have a young woman, Aleyah, that assists in the process by providing the 3D imaging after the initial rough sketch and measurements are taken by Cindy.
“It’s never too late,” urges Cindy. “Never too late to do anything. If you like to learn, can give 100 per cent for the customers, know how to ‘wow’ people, and know how to serve, this is for you.”