A Woman of Asphalt: Meet Maymead’s Dawn McGee
BY Sandy Lender
She started out in customer service, which lends itself well to a career in asphalt paving. Dawn McGee is now a tack truck operator for Maymead Inc., headquartered in Mountain City, Tennessee, and she’s sharing with us the path she took to become a woman of asphalt, starting in 2018 when she joined the all-female paving crew.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers your career trajectory and what challenges you’ve overcome along the way?
Dawn McGee: I had worked in customer service after high school, and decided to go to college in my 30s to teach. I still was not satisfied with my career. Browsing job listings, I came across the ad for the all-female paving crew. I decided to apply and have been here since—I love it.
Shovel (laborer) I think it is still my favorite job. I started with the shovel and learned how to do that properly before learning how to operate and perform each job that makes up our paving crew, including the dump truck, milling machine, rollers, broom, skid steer and backhoe.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers what your job as a distributor operator for Maymead requires?
Dawn McGee: Being the distributor (tack truck) operator, I have to be an hour (or sometimes two hours) earlier than everyone else because of heating, filling, and getting it to the job on time and ready to go. You must be dependable and responsible because normally there isn’t a person to fill in your position. I have also had to learn a lot about diesel mechanics and the Etnyre distributor controls, pumps, and spray bar. I have to be able to fix the truck or anything like an air leak or busted line if necessary.
AsphaltPro: Why did you become a distributor operator? What about that position is “most cool” to you?
Dawn McGee: To be honest, the crew at the time needed someone for the position. I kind of just went with it and it has stuck with me. I wanted to learn everything to be able to help where needed. The coolest thing about my job is driving the big Freightliner or International truck. When I arrive on a job, people do not expect this little lady to jump out. Their faces can be priceless!
AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position as a distributor operator in the asphalt industry?
Dawn McGee: Patience has been my most valuable skill coming into my job. I have also learned how to be more patient. I would advise any women coming into the construction industry to be patient with yourself and others teaching you. Remember, you are training. Nothing is ever perfect, but it is okay and it will work out.
Set goals for yourself as you learn and conquer those one at a time. When I began, I gave myself a timeframe to learn everything and feel comfortable before moving on. You can ask questions because if you do not ask, then how will you know? And there is never a stupid question.
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female on the asphalt team, had to overcome in the past three years, and how did you overcome it?
Dawn McGee: The biggest challenge I have faced is being a female wanting to work in a mostly male-dominated career. Being overlooked when something happens on the job and decisions are being made, I sometimes feel like my ideas or advice weren’t needed or heard, even if they were correct or helpful. I have learned to be louder when speaking or just fix it and not say anything.
I know it’s scary sometimes feeling like the outsider but you have to realize you are not really—this is your crew or “my people,” as I like to say. Just learn when to speak up! Normally they are never excited to see me come in on a new job but they always want me to come back—not because I am a woman, but because I work hard and show them how capable I am.
AsphaltPro: Let’s talk about teamwork.
Dawn McGee: “Teamwork makes a dream work.” My old foreman used to repeat this daily. It doesn’t matter what sort of issue may come up—and there will be plenty—if you work together with your crew, it will work out.
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?”
Dawn McGee: Asphalt paving is definitely hot and dirty work. Before this job I had no idea about sweat, dirt under my nails, or blisters. I was never the “girly” girl but I wasn’t the “tomboy” either. I now have a section in my closest for work and have dirty boots. It makes my mom laugh because she says she cannot believe I am okay with it. But I learned real quick that going home so dirty just means today I can feel accomplished.
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?
Dawn McGee: I think a common misconception is that this career choice is only for men. Women like you, myself, and ones I have had the pleasure of working with are changing that as we speak. I am proud to be a part of something important. If we could start in the high schools offering programs or mentors for young women and men considering this career choice I believe it would help them see what a rewarding industry it is.
AsphaltPro: What is the most challenging aspect for you of being in the asphalt business?
Dawn McGee: The most challenging aspect is the long hours. I am a single mother to a 15-year-old young man. I miss a lot of things going on for him. He now understands and his “best mom ever” reminder doesn’t hurt either. It reminds me to keep pushing and doing it all.
AsphaltPro: What is the most rewarding aspect for you, personally, of being in the asphalt business?
Dawn McGee: If you repeat your question my answer is right there—you said it: “Being in the asphalt business.” That is the most rewarding thing to me. I love the smell of it every day, not to mention driving on a road I took part in paving or even building.
AsphaltPro: Will you tell us about a person who served as a mentor for you?
Dawn McGee: I have three people, not just one, who have been there as a mentor whether they realized or not. Mary Katherine, Brandon and Tom. Each one teaching me and encouraging me throughout everything since the beginning—making sure I have had the opportunities to learn, operate equipment, and stick it out with me, while also allowing me to see them work and get things done.
Mary Katherine has kept my spirit up when I have been ready to throw in the towel and made me feel worthy of what I do.
Brandon took me onto his crew when there wasn’t really a place for me anywhere and taught me how to run the distributor and other equipment.
Tom coming out to the job after working with his crew all night to help me with the truck or any issues and being patient with my mess ups.
They all have pushed me harder and encouraged me to do things because they believed in me, and if they didn’t they sure haven’t let on to me once. The best advice I have learned from them all is nothing is ever perfect. It will be okay—deal with it. Sounds harsh, but it is true and I can say it helps.