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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Changing the Narrative

Women increasingly outpace men in rates involving college graduation, high school valedictorians, and extracurricular involvement. Nevertheless, the workforce scales still tip toward men for many industries. These roles are slowly inching from “male-dominated” to “historically male-dominated,” so Evansville Business sought four local women who are changing their fields’ gender roles through their passion, performance, and dedication.

Jennifer Kissel

Senior Associate Architect ~ Hafer

Evansvillians likely are familiar with Jennifer Kissel’s work, even if they don’t know her. The AIA senior associate, architect at Hafer has been the design mind behind major projects such as the Deaconess Aquatic Center and Evansville Christian High School. Gender isn’t Kissel’s defining trait, but being driven is.

“I don’t do (architecture design) because I’m a woman; I do it just because that’s my personality,” the Evansville native says. “I like to think as a mother and a wife, and a woman, I bring a unique perspective to the table.”

Growing up with a grandmother who took her on neighborhood walks to appreciate houses, Kissel always enjoyed art and design. After a brief interest in equine veterinarian medicine during high school, Kissel shifted back to her childhood fascination and attended Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, graduating in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in architectural sciences.

It was a milestone time for her professionally and personally, as she married her husband, Gregg Kissel. She went straight into the job market, but being a licensed architect has more requirements. In 2013, when her son Carden (now 14) was only three, Kissel attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, earned a master’s degree in architecture in 2014 and completed all seven levels of the architect licensing tests.

She then worked for PCI Skanska (now Salas O’Brien) before joining Hafer in 2017. Now one of approximately 140,137 total architects in the U.S., Kissel makes up part of the 23.2 percent of women architects, according to a 2022 report from the research firm Zippia.

While the percentage of women architects is rising, the field still is majority male, but she says recognizing the gender label doesn’t mean it has to be the focus.

“I think the (rising) numbers speak for themselves,” Kissel, who is also the director of ANEW, President of the Southern Indiana Section of the American Institute of Architects, and a Junior Achievement of Southern Indiana volunteer, says. “I think you have to learn, unlearn, and relearn, so knowing what is there and being aware of it is important.”

She says educating the next generation of women about opportunities and roles in architecture is key to turning the tide and inviting more women into the field. A field that requires wearing a lot of hats, from initial client conversations to overseeing construction.

Kissel’s advice to anyone trying to find their place in the workforce goes beyond data, titles, and traditional gender roles: It goes back to drive.

“If you want to do it, do it because the time is going to pass anyway,” she says.

Public Information Officer with the Evansville Police Department Anna Gray. Photo by Zach Straw.

Sgt. Anna Gray

Public Information Officer ~ Evansville Police Department

Evansville law enforcement has been at the center of recent high-profile incidents, such as helping capture fugitives from Alabama to assisting in a federal drug bust. Each time media cameras turn toward the Evansville Police Department, public information officer Sgt. Anna Gray is front and center.

On the force for more than 18 years, the public information officer born in Saint Joseph, Michigan, has called Warrick County home since she was eight years old. Growing up, Gray didn’t know anyone in law enforcement and had never even fired a gun.

“When I was in high school, the concept of it (police work) interested me,” she says. “I always wanted to lend a helping hand. I wanted to get involved in the community.”

As a student at Newburgh’s Castle High School in 1998 and 1999, she shadowed deputies as part of the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office’s Explorers ride-along program. Gray earned a criminal justice degree from Vincennes University in 2001 and spent one year working as a civilian in Warrick County until she turned 23, the minimum age to join the force. (The age limit has since been lowered to 21.)

Only weighing roughly 99 pounds, people were somewhat shocked at Gray’s desire to pursue law enforcement, but she had fallen in love with the field.

“For me, it was easy. I just realized right away that I had a passion for it,” she says. “My parents always made us feel that we could do anything. It didn’t matter whether we’re male or female — whatever we wanted to do; you work hard at it.”

In 2004, she joined EPD’s motor patrol unit before serving in the crime prevention unit and adult investigations unit as a detective. Upon becoming a sergeant in 2021, she transitioned to her current role as a media liaison, facilitating daily reports, press conferences, and Freedom of Information Act requests.

Although one of only 25 women on the 275-officer department, Gray often doesn’t feel overlooked, even when she’s the only woman in the room.

“Once I was on the police department, never once did I ever feel that I was overshadowed by the men,” she says.

Statistically, men have dominated law enforcement, and it isn’t changing the way other industries are. According to the National Institute of Justice, women made up fewer than 13 percent of officers in 2019. That percentage drops to seven percent when narrowed down to state departments, according to a 2021 report by Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2000, that number was only one percent lower.

“Unless I stop and think about it, I just think I’m with my brothers in blue, and it doesn’t ever really feel any different,” Gray says. “I always felt like everything was very fair in the department. Everybody always made it feel like if you’re wearing blue, you’re family.”

Journeywoman Electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Sara Schapker. Photo by Zach Straw.

Sara Schapker

Journeyman Electrician ~ International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

One of the stickers on journeyman electrician Sara Schapker’s white hard hat reads, “There is no brotHERhood without her.” It’s a simple message, but one that resonates with the St. Wendel, Indiana, native who is one of 27 women out of the 1,025 member-strong International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 16.

“More times than not on a job site, I’m the only female,” she says. “But I never really thought I couldn’t do it or anything because of that.”

Growing up, Schapker’s life was centered around “male-dominated” activities. She helped her handyman dad complete odd jobs for family and close friends. Later, she studied engineering at Purdue University in Terre Haute, Indiana, before switching to computer graphics technology and graduating in December 2008.

The recession made her job search difficult, and in 2014 Schapker began a role that didn’t relate to her degree.

“It was my dad’s idea when I did apply for the apprenticeship,” she says. “We saw a commercial on TV for IBEW Local 16.”

She completed a five-year apprenticeship program in May 2020. Currently working on updates at Cleveland-Cliffs — formerly AK Steel — in Rockport, Indiana, Schapker is a commercial and industrial electrician for maintenance and new construction.

Her duties vary day-to-day, but often aren’t what people expect from an electrician. Most of her work consists of running conduit to place wire inside of, or ensuring that work is up to code requirements. The one consistency: she loves her work.

“A lot of what makes the job good and fun is the other electricians that you’re working with,” she says. “You have to get your work done and do it safe and do it good, but most of the time it’s pretty relaxed.”

Attending the IBEW international women’s conference in 2018, Schapker came to realize just how special her union companions are. Many speakers told stories of their male counterparts making it clear women weren’t welcome on their job sites. Some women believe industry titles, like “brotherhood” and “journeyman,” should be changed, but the terms do reflect the industry’s data: According to Data USA, 97.8% of electricians in 2019 were male.

“I definitely feel like it is my responsibility to show other people that women can do it and it doesn’t need to be male-dominated,” Schapker says. “But here in Evansville, I’ve always had very supportive guys that I’ve worked with. The difficulty I had going through several interviews to get the apprenticeship made me push myself harder so that I would come out on top (and) prove everyone wrong.”

Girl Scouts of Southwest Indiana CEO Aimee Stachura. Photo by Audra Straw.

Aimee Stachura

CEO ~ Girl Scouts of Southwest Indiana

Women earned roughly 57 percent of all American undergraduate degrees and nearly 60 percent of master’s degrees in 2020, but according to data from consulting firm McKinsey & Company, women made up only five percent of CEOs globally who were appointed in 2020. While Girl Scouts of Southwest Indiana CEO Aimee Stachura cultivates an environment by women, for women, her title is still breaking historic gender roles in the non-profit industry.

An Evansville native who is the wife of Andy Stachura and mother to Eva (6), Cora (10), and dog Ella, Stachura is a music graduate from Belmont University who used her theater skills to pave a career path in non-profit leadership.

Following her mother’s footsteps directing theater at F.J. Reitz High School and working part-time at an HR and staffing firm, she then joined the Girl Scouts’ program department in 2010. After taking a brief hiatus in 2014 to run a children’s ministry, Stachura rejoined the organization in 2016 as CEO.

“We really preach to our girls, no matter if you’re five years old in kindergarten, you can be a leader,” she says. “Within this organization, that’s our culture; we all have investment to lead and to be who we want to be and make an impact.”

In the past six years, Stachura has helped facilitate programs, from selling cookies to campouts, that inspire female future leaders. Her co-workers even joke she almost takes on an intern role, taking on whatever duties are unattended on the to-do list each day.

But heading a women-focused company doesn’t put Stachura in a bubble.

“As a non-profit leader, I have to sit at every table. It’s not just women-focused tables, I have to be at youth development tables, I have to be at mental health tables,” she says. “I have to come in and showcase the value of girl leadership every single time, which I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s important for us to invest in girls early on.”

According to data from Girl Scouts, three out of four girls firmly believe that women have to work harder than men to succeed, but Stachura says leading by example is one of the easiest ways to change the narrative. Even her own daughters believe they can be a CEO because they know their mother is one.

“Ultimately, I think we do need to recognize that women still have a long way to go when it comes to leadership,” Stachura says. “And at Girl Scouts … what we do best is champion girl ambition. No matter what her ambition is — whether it is to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the president of the United States or the best mom that she can be — we want to champion that.”

Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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