Paving the Way: Highlighting Women in Concrete Construction

One of the greatest joys for us at CarbonCure is interacting with our passionate and proud customers. In honor of Women in Construction week, we will be introducing you to four outstanding women who embody those values. We hope they inspire you in the way they have inspired us.

Gayle Lambert, Environmental Health and Safety, U.S. Concrete West in Martinez, CA.

Gayle Lambert, Environmental Health and Safety, U.S. Concrete West

In the 1970s, Gayle Lambert was pursuing a degree in geography at University of California Berkeley, while working her way through school providing accounting and bookkeeping services. But she’d not given a thought to a career. This quickly changed, when as a 21-year-old junior, a couple of college friends bought an Oakland ready mix business and hired Gayle as their corporate secretary.  

She quickly realized that this was the career for her—feeding her passion for team building, while giving her a platform to discover and develop her business-building and negotiating skills. Some 46 years later, and after joining U.S. Concrete when it purchased Right Away Redy Mix in 2015, she’s still in love with the business. 

“It’s family,” she says of her company and the concrete business. “It’s one of the longest relationships of my life, longer than I’ve known my husband!”

Gayle Lambert, Environmental Health and Safety, U.S. Concrete West

At the time she joined Right Away Redy Mix, the business was “very, very primitive,” she said, with two employees, five trucks and a rudimentary concrete mixing and loading system.

But starting with the company’s books, accounting and insurance—while driving a forklift when needed—and later moving on to computerization and other special projects, Gayle got right to work leading initiatives that would introduce state-of-the art technologies, systems and structures that propelled the company to a total 180 employees, 90 trucks, four batch plants and three separate companies. She found it especially gratifying to help provide her employees with a good living and benefits, corporate support for their favorite charities, and annual gatherings. 

When Right Away Redy Mix became part of the U.S Concrete family, Gayle was a critical member of the integration team, helping to secure the foundation for continued success. In 2017, Gayle was tapped for the critical Environmental Health and Safety position for all of U.S. Concrete’s Western business units and her attention to detail and impactful strategies have resulted in continuous, solid safety results. In addition, when the coronavirus struck last winter, Gayle and her team sprang into action.

She quickly wrote and implemented an extensive protocol complying with the myriad of requirements set by the multiple jurisdictions in which the various businesses operate. There haven’t been any confirmed cases of employees contracting Covid at work—a testament to the quick action.

When asked what she would say to other women considering a career in the ready mix or construction business, Gayle responded: “I would say any woman that wants to do anything, you have to just lean in and throw your hat in the ring and be assertive—simply say what you want.”

Nikki Mills, Plant Manager, Quicksilver Readymix and Talon Concrete in Sugar Creek, MO.

Nichole Mills, Plant Manager, Quicksilver Readymix and Talon Concrete 

Nichole (Nikki) Mills was never a “girly girl,” and thanks to her mechanic dad, she had the opportunity to grow up around tow trucks, race cars and hot rods. The Kansas City native felt a desk job would not be for her, but aside from wanting her career to involve big trucks, she wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do.

After high school, she spent a couple of years in concrete finishing for a small family-run company, but it wasn’t until she learned about an opening for a ready mix driver at the Quicksilver Readymix plant of Lafarge that she sensed she’d found her calling. She jumped at the chance, cramming for and receiving her Commercial Driver License Permit in two weeks. 

Nikki was just 22 years old and so slight in build—5’ 10” but just 102 pounds—that the company asked her to first complete a tryout day to prove that she could do the work—including operating the concrete mixer’s chutes. She passed those tests and was hired. 

The good pay and the better life was a big draw—not only providing for the five kids in her blended family, but she sees the job as being good for them in other ways.. “It’s kind of cheesy, but I wanted to do something my kids would be proud of when they got older—and my dad, too,” Nikki said. 

“I found my passion. I love concrete and everything about it. The options are endless for what you can do with it.”

Nichole Mills, Plant Manager, Quicksilver Readymix and Talon Concrete

In fact, over her 12.5 years as a driver, Nikki became a jack of all trades on the operations side, serving as a backup batchman and became a driver captain and a safety committee representative. 

One of the things that Nikki says she loves best about concrete is “building America, basically.”

“I went to New Orleans and helped build the levee wall after Katrina,’’ she said. “We floated down a river on a barge with six ready mix trucks to another barge with pump trucks. Upon reaching our destination our ready mix trucks backed to the pump trucks while in the middle of the water, so that was cool.”  

Nikki was present on this barge with the ready mix trucks that would help build a new levee wall after Hurricane Katrina.

Two and a half years ago, Nikki became a plant manager. She now oversees three plants and a team of about 50, which has brought a new joy to her job.

“I love my guys,” Nikki said. “They’re amazing individuals and I pride myself in knowing what makes them tick.”

When asked what advice she would give other women looking at the ready mix industry, Nikki noted that she would give the same advice to men and women—be a team player, and “if you want it, it can happen.” She also notes that once in the business, you can help shift the culture. 

“I wanted to be the change. So many people think that you have to be so strong and firm,” she said. “And it doesn't have to be that way.” She endeavors to remember what it’s like to be in her team member’s position, and be the best boss she can by aiming for “strong but gentle” and always believing in each individual.

Looking to the future

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold just 10.9% of construction industry jobs overall, and it’s no secret that the numbers of women who work in the concrete construction business are few. But we hope Gayle Lambert’s and Nikki Mills’ stories inspire more women to find their passion within the industry.

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