Labor of love
career in the cosmetics industry and eventually becoming a
buyer for Nordstrom.
“My father was an excavating contractor, but I never
thought I’d be a contractor,” Lerdahl said.
After starting a company in 1995 with her contractor hus-
band, her ambitions changed.
“I invested $100,000 and built it into a $15 million business,”
The couple divorced in 2008, but Lerdahl used the experi-
ence she’d amassed to start her own EC firm. Once she secured
her electrical administrator’s license, she got started.
“I borrowed $100,000 against my house and had road crews
working by June 2010,” she said.
DBE Electric is now a 35-plus-employee company special-
izing in electrical roadway construction projects such as traffic
signals, highway illumination, tolling systems and fiber optic-
based intelligent transportation systems.
Recently, the company completed work on the world’s
longest floating bridge—one of the largest jobs in Washington
State’s history. For more on that, and DBE Electric, read “Power
Floats,” page 38.
Of course, being a woman in the EC industry isn’t without
“There have been a few situations where I was slightly
uncomfortable being a woman in a male-dominated field, and
it’s not uncommon for me to be the only female in many job
and association meetings,” Carissimi said. “But, for the most
part, I’ve always been treated
with respect. I’ve heard hor-
ror stories from other women
who have been in the indus-
try much longer than I have,
but nowadays I think the men
have finally figured out that we
women are in construction and
we’re here to stay.”
Smith has had a similar
“I’ve always tried to have a good rapport with everyone
and consider myself one of the gang,” she said. “Though you
never really know what anyone says behind the scenes, I think
we’ve come a long way from the 1990s when I started out. The
whole industry has evolved, and more and more women have
successfully branched out into engineering and construction.
Ultimately, I think that, if you’re driven and you want to accom-
plish something, you’ll succeed, but this is an industry where
you have to prove yourself and know your stuff, and that applies
whether you’re male or female.”
For Lerdahl, this knowledge, along with a thick skin, is key
to success as an EC, especially for women.
“I have a reputation for standing up for myself legally and
Alison Smith, president of
have been called the ‘B’ word, and then there’s the discrimination
that you don’t hear or know about,” Lerdahl said. “I understand
what we’re up against; the construction industry represents one
of the last bastions of male dominance, so it can be intimidating
for men to see women out in the field in work boots. But, most
Women in electrical