A Woman of Asphalt: Meet APAC’s Jody Lawrence
BY Sandy Lender
Sometimes the asphalt life moves you from one opportunity to another whether you knew you were ready to take on the challenge or not. Quality Control (QC) Technician Jody Lawrence began her asphalt career January 2000 in the scale house at the rock quarry. She considers that first post: “a good entry level position so I could learn about the business and ease into other tasks.”
Those other tasks have included operating equipment in the quarry and now performing a full range of asphalt tests as a QC technician for APAC, a division of CRH-Americas. Here she shares a number of the triumphs she’s experienced as a woman of asphalt.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers your career trajectory and what challenges you’ve overcome along the way?
Jody Lawrence: After high school I went to Mizzou for engineering. College wasn’t a good fit for me. I think the biggest roadblock was that I likely couldn’t have broken into the highway construction business if my dad had not helped me get the job. It is easier now for women to break into the industry but it can still be difficult. The other roadblock is that I’m limited for promotion opportunities due to my lack of a college degree.
At this point most of my education has come from hands-on trial and error. For someone on a similar career path something as simple as an associate’s degree in construction management, civil engineering technology or similar would be a big stepping stone. A bachelor’s in civil engineering would open up even more opportunities. I’m currently supplementing my hands-on education with online courses in accounting, economics and organizational management to help with my business acumen.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers what your job as a QC tech for APAC requires?
Jody Lawrence: My current role is twofold. During paving season, I work as a field technician. I do the required testing depending on customer specs and ensure we are sending a quality product to the project. This ranges from something as simple as AC content and gradation to full volumetric testing and making changes as needed for a quality product. I work closely with plant personnel and paving crews to make sure everything is working.
In our offseason I design asphalt mixes for upcoming jobs, assist estimators in getting our pricing correct, lab equipment maintenance, paperwork updates and any other tasks that pop up.
When I moved from the scale house to the aggregate QC, it gave me the basic foundation for asphalt testing since aggregate is the biggest part of asphalt. I also spent time as a laborer and equipment operator in the quarry. That helped me understand the challenges of production, what factors impact aggregate gradation and quality, and that it’s not always a simple fix in the real world. When I came back to QC my production experience helped me communicate more effectively between quality and production personnel.
I became a QC technician when Missouri was in the early stages of adopting Superpave asphalt specs. I was recommended for the job because my short stint as an engineering student was going to help during the transition from the old system to Superpave.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position as a QC tech in the asphalt industry? (And how would you encourage other women entering the industry to hone a similar skill?)
Jody Lawrence: When I started I really had no idea what I was doing. It was my tenacity and willingness to learn that helped me get through the first several years. Two important skills I’ve developed have been changing my communication style from a passive voice and being willing to put myself out there for roles I don’t necessarily feel ready for. Women have a tendency to not jump at opportunities because we don’t feel ready. I would encourage women entering the industry to take those opportunities.
You will never know what you are ready for until you challenge yourself and start to see just what you are capable of doing.
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female on the asphalt team, had to overcome in the past 22 years, and how did you overcome it?
Jody Lawrence: I put a lot of pressure on myself to work harder than the men. Typically I was putting more pressure on myself than the men were. There have been instances where men were unwilling to accept me based strictly on my gender but it’s not been as prevalent as people expect. I know that’s not the case in all companies but it has been for me. When I worked in the quarry, I had a boss who told me I had to stop selling myself short because I was a woman. That got me past the first hurdle.
I think women need to practice occupying space. We belong on the crew, at the plant and in the planning rooms. Find a mentor. Seek out opportunities for development. Amplify each other’s voices. Find male allies who are willing to expend social capital on you when you aren’t in the room.
AsphaltPro: Let’s talk about teamwork. What is the most challenging project you’ve been a part of and how did you and the crew overcome the challenge?
Jody Lawrence: We recently did a project to improve multiple intersections over a 90-mile span of highway. We were doing small quantities of multiple mixes each day. It took a great deal of communication between myself, the plant and the paving crew to stay on top of what was happening.
At the beginning of the job we struggled to get all of the information communicated in a timely fashion. We all kept working to improve and by the end of the job developed a good system. It took a lot of discussion so that each entity knew exactly what information the other pieces of the puzzle needed.
AsphaltPro: It’s a fact that asphalt production can be hot and dusty. How do you respond to people who say it’s a “dirty job?”
Jody Lawrence: There are days when it is a very dirty job. Not everyone is cut out for it but that is not based on gender. I have found the “dirtiest” days have been some of the most rewarding. It means you had a big challenge to overcome and you did work you can be proud of.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is an incorrect perception that we, as an industry, can re-educate young people about to encourage more women to consider a career in the asphalt business?
Jody Lawrence: There are definitely still people who believe it is not appropriate for women. Few of those people actually work in the industry. If you are interested, give it a try. If you show up and do the work, you will belong here. The industry is in a crisis for labor that is only going to get worse. There will be more opportunities opening up for non-traditional candidates.
Once you find your spot, you will find a whole new group of brothers and sisters you didn’t expect to have. I refer to several of my co-workers as “3 a.m. friends.” Those are the people you can call when you need help at 3 a.m. and they will be there for you. I’m not sure you find that in other jobs.
AsphaltPro: What is the most challenging aspect for you of being in the asphalt business?
Jody Lawrence: The uncertain schedule gets stressful. Friends outside the business don’t understand why I can’t commit to weekend trips until a few days before. My company has made some strides by guaranteeing one weekend off each month so we can make plans with our family and friends. That was new last summer and it was a huge boost for morale.
AsphaltPro: What is the most rewarding aspect for you, personally, of being in the asphalt business?
Jody Lawrence: Being able to see what I have done to make things better. Infrastructure affects everyone in our country. I’m a small cog in a big wheel but at the end of the day, I can point to something and say “I helped do that.”
AsphaltPro: Will you tell us about a person who served as a mentor for you?
Jody Lawrence: Daniel Sare. I worked with Daniel in many different capacities over my career. He gave me opportunities and pushed me to be better, whether it was as an equipment operator in a rock quarry or as a quality control technician. Daniel always encouraged people’s curiosity and encouraged us to look for unconventional solutions to problems.
AsphaltPro: Is there a piece of advice from this person that you would share with other women in the industry/other quality control personnel?
Jody Lawrence: There are two things I would like to share. Daniel modeled exceptional interpersonal skills. He was able to find common ground with virtually everyone. He was the epitome of listening to understand rather than listening to answer. When I find myself in a difficult conversation I think about how he would have navigated the situation.
The second came shortly before he succumbed to cancer. I was a pretty serious workaholic. He told me to slow down and enjoy life. He was absolutely right. The rewards of the work are great but not when they cut into your personal life. It can be tough now that we have constant contact electronically but do your best to have boundaries and keep work at work.