WIC Week: Generations of Women in Construction

Today, young women are following in their mother’s or even grandmother’s footsteps as women in construction. As we celebrate 25 years of Women in Construction (WIC) Week, we are highlighting a few of our multigenerational NAWIC member families.
3 Generations of Women in Construction: Marlene, Shawna, and Kayla
There has been tremendous change in the industry since Marlene O’Donnell started O’Donnell Plastering with her husband Chet in 1972.
“I feel women are much more accepted in construction now and we’re doing a great job in a man’s world,” she said.

Much of this shift in attitude comes from the efforts over the years of women in construction like O’Donnell and organizations like NAWIC. Marlene joined NAWIC in 1977 to learn accounting and for a support network. Since then, she has played an active role in chapter leadership, served on regional committees, and was instrumental in the efforts to purchase the NAWIC headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas.
Her commitment and contributions to NAWIC continue to inspire the next generation, including her daughter and granddaughter, who have followed her footsteps in the family business. Marlene’s daughter Shawna Alvarado is now Controller/Officer and granddaughter Kayla Alvarado oversees payroll and safety for the family business. 
“I would like to feel I have played a part in their leadership and successes. I love that they are in NAWIC and can gain as much as I did out of it,” O’Donnell said.
Shawna Alvarado joined NAWIC in 1996. However, she had already been involved with the organization from an early age.
“I started to help my mom with Block Kids [NAWIC’s national building competition for kids in kindergarten to 6th grade] when I was very young,” she said. “We always joke that my first NAWIC convention was in Hawaii back in the early 1980’s when my mom brought her family.”
Like her mother, Shawna Alvarado has played an active role in NAWIC. Over the years, she has served as chapter president, regional director, and chair for chapter, regional, and national committees, including the NAWIC Education Foundation. 
It was through her mother’s connections with NAWIC that she got her start in the industry straight out of high school. After working for a few general contractors, she entered the family business where she has been for almost 30 years, starting at the bottom and working her way up to the top.  
For Kayla Alvarado, construction is in her blood. Yet, she started off originally as a hairdresser. About five years ago, she joined the family business seeking a steadier income. Like her mother and grandmother, Kayla Alvarado is active in NAWIC, attending her first NAWIC meeting when she was only a few weeks old. As a full-fledged NAWIC member, she has served as chapter director and regional WIC Week chair.
“The industry from 50 years ago to today is very different. I know my mom and nana had to work hard and understand things from the start. As for me, I’m able to YouTube something or ask them for the quick answer. Technology in this industry is making things more accessible and able to get work done efficiently,” she said.
Shawna Alvarado sees generational differences, too.
“My mom may have struggled more and my daughter may have more opportunities available now than what I had. My mom started in a man’s world and most of the time tried to balance home life and work, whereas my daughter is seeing more partnerships and equal opportunities,” she said. “Now there is more time to find balance between work and home, and especially now with work from home transitions making life much more manageable.”
Construction is “Grand” for Linda Young and Helen Panebianco-Tikkanen
When Linda Young began her career in the late 1980s working for an electrical subcontractor, there were fewer women working in construction, negative attitudes towards women in the field were common, and technology like the fax machine and the desktop computer was just beginning to be widely used.
Today, Young co-owns C-SOS Construction Office Services with her husband, offering services including accounting, estimating, and project management. She learned about NAWIC when she saw a general construction course offered by a local chapter and thought it could help her as an emerging professional.

“In my day, new members to NAWIC were receptionists, accounting clerks and secretaries. The focus was to assist them in gaining knowledge and experience to move up in their companies,” Young said.
In her experience, many of today’s new members already have the education and experience and are joining for leadership experience and industry networking.
A member of the San Diego chapter since 1985, Young has served NAWIC as regional director and on the national level as treasurer, vice president, president- elect, and president. She has also served the NAWIC Founders Scholarship Foundation (NFSF) and NAWIC Education Foundation (NEF).
Young sees WIC Week as an opportunity for industry leaders to introduce the next generation to career opportunities in construction.
“Most general contractors are involved in community service and giving back but fewer subcontractors are doing their part. If we don’t educate our youth about our industry– who is going to fill our shoes?” Young questioned.

Young’s granddaughter, Helen Panebianco-Tikkanen, would like to see the trades make their way back into high schools (metal shop, wood shop, auto shop, drafting, etc.) “I think students need to know that working in construction is a valuable and rewarding career and I want those students to be supported in their pursuits just as much as I was,” Panebianco-Tikkanen said. “Having grown up in the construction industry– I am third generation in the industry– I always felt like there was a place for me in the construction.”
Panebianco-Tikkanen got her start ten years ago working in the field as a material handler/driver while putting herself through college and then she moved into project management. Today she works for Dynalectric – San Diego, alongside her father and husband.
“Being able to work and contribute to an industry that my family has been in for multiple generations just makes my experience that much more special,” she said.
She grew up not only in construction but in NAWIC.
“I am reminded quite often that my Grandma was at Regional Fall Conference when she got the call that I had been born. People have always told me that that was a sign that I would be a future NAWIC member!” Panebianco-Tikkanen said.
Since 2017, she has been a member of the NAWIC San Diego chapter and has held several positions on the chapter board of directors, including secretary and vice president. In September 2022, she was installed as chapter president- 20 years after her grandmother was National president.
NAWIC has served as a wonderful avenue to allow me to give back and help my community via our educational outreach programs and our community drives, while simultaneously giving me the opportunity to gain leadership, planning, organization skills, and more. With each passing year I am elated to see more women throughout the industry.” Panebianco-Tikkanen said.
Whether they are just starting their career or come from a multigenerational construction family, NAWIC helps women in construction with education, networking, leadership training, and support. During WIC Week (March 5-11), NAWIC National and chapters across the country host in-person and online events, including panel discussions, networking opportunities, jobsite tours, community service opportunities, webinars, and more. Many construction companies also celebrate their women employees on social media and host their own WIC Week events. For more information, visit wicweek.org and follow #WICWeek23.