of the time, I’ve been able to win
over men based on my knowledge
For all, the benefits of firm
ownership and the ability to posi-
tively impact others far outweigh
“Running the business opera-
tionally—managing cash flow,
invoicing, etc.—has gotten more
involved than ever before,” Smith
said. “But, my mother and I take so
much pride in the hard work and
legacy of our third-generation firm,
which just celebrated its 90th anni-
versary and is still going strong.”
Smith’s husband Doug helps oversee hands-on activities as
a project manager/estimator at Union Electric, which employs
13 people in the office and more than 30 in the field.
Smith enjoys the surprised reaction she typically receives
when asked what she does for a living.
“Usually the next question is, ‘Is it your father’s business?’”
she said. “And, again, there’s more surprise when I tell them,
‘No, it’s my mother’s.’”
For Carissimi, there’s reward in the value she brings to her
employee base and community.
“Of course, I enjoy the fact that it’s my company and I’m in
charge, but more than that, I enjoy the fact that I’m providing
good jobs for my people,” Carissimi said. “My company is large
enough that I can make an economic impact within our com-
munity, but, at the same time, we’re small enough that I feel
as if we’re one big family unit working together for everyone’s
While she loves competing, Lerdahl also enjoys the posi-
tive impact her role can have on the lives of others around her.
“I take satisfaction in coaching, training and grooming people, recognizing and rewarding talent, and building something
that’s tangible,” she said. “I respect what both men and women
bring to the field and love that, as a function of running my own
business, I can make my own success or failure.”
Lerdahl is grooming her daughter, Danielle La Torre, to take
over the business in the next five to seven years.
Despite the obvious challenges, Carissimi believes women have
a bright future in the industry.
“I believe that electrical contracting is a good opportunity
for women today, if they’re willing to put in the hard work and
aren’t afraid of being the lone female voice in a crowd of men,”
Smith stresses the importance of work ethic.
“If you educate yourself, work hard and have the right attitude, you can make it in any industry,” she said. “Everything
requires hard work, but the world is open.
Lerdahl has not seen significant growth in the number of
women ECs, but she believes the potential is there.
“It’s a capital-intensive industry that can be hard to get
into, but once you’re in, there can be a lot of opportunities for
women, and I’d love to see more women get into the trade,
which is a great and high-paying one,” she said. “We’ll always
need electricians, and being a business owner can be even
Tips for the trade
Carissimi, Smith and Lerdahl offered tips for success in a career
as a female EC.
Network: “Networking is very important for electrical contractors, and many jobs are won based on relationships that you
build with each other in construction,” Carissimi said.
For example, by joining the Detroit Chapter of the National
Association of Women in Construction, for which she currently serves as vice president in addition to the North Central
Region’s membership chair, she has met other women in construction and works with member companies.
For Smith, participation in groups such as Women in NECA
has been extremely beneficial.
“It’s been great to meet women in all aspects of the business
and have the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and
feel that camaraderie,” she said.
Get certified as a WBE: “Certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise [WBE] is very important if you’re looking to
do automotive industry work, federal and/or state work,”
For Lerdahl, it’s a way to get your company noticed.
“While winning a job is still based on who has the best bid,
this certification can certainly help get your company’s foot in
the door, especially if you’re competing for multimillion dollars
jobs in the public sector,” she said. “WBE is a good box to be
able to check off as a customer or a colleague.”
Be inquisitive: “Ask a lot of questions, because you learn
something new all the time, and solicit their opinion in a
respectful, nonthreatening way,” Lerdahl said. “When you prove
yourself by your performance, you’ll gain their respect and may
be surprised to find that they become your biggest champions.”
Encourage teamwork: “It helps to foster a team-based
approach involving men and women who all bring something
different to the table,” Smith said. “You rely on each other to
Believe in yourself: Lerdahl encourages women not to give
up hope when they’re down.
“Others before us have had a much harder time, and there
were times when women were outright prevented from pursuing these roles,” she said. “Mentor others, and try to help bring
other women—and men—along. And, remember that success
is the best message you can send.”
BLOOM is a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products
industry. Reach her at
Mary Lerdahl, president of