Housing Innovation Alliance's Podcast

Diversity Isn't a Fad: The Growing Opportunity with Dr. Charner Rodgers

June 01, 2021 Housing Innovation Alliance Season 1 Episode 18
Housing Innovation Alliance's Podcast
Diversity Isn't a Fad: The Growing Opportunity with Dr. Charner Rodgers
Show Notes Transcript

A natural teacher and communicator, Dr. Charner Rodgers, shares stories about growing up in the housing industry, gaining respect at a young age as the principal of a contracting company and the growing opportunity for people of color –particularly women. 

Associate Professor of Architecture + Construction Science Management at Tuskegee University, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), Dr. Charner Rodgers is a champion in our "Rethinking Labor" working group  where we're focused on changing the  narrative –it's a career, not a gig–, enabling mentorships, and fostering diversity + inclusion. 

Many thanks to our partners at the University of Denver for their editing and post-production talents, specifically Lija Miller and Lisette Zamora-Galarza.

The University of Denver Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, teaches the full life cycle of the built environment. From integrated project leadership skills to a cohesive understanding of the built environment ––experience the only school of its kind!

"Upbeat Party" is brought to you by Scott Holmes, songwriter from Free Music Archive.

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Speaker 1 (00:06):

You're listening to the housing innovation Alliance podcast in partnership with the university of Denver's Franklin L burns school of real estate and construction management. The housing innovation Alliance is a nationwide community of game changers driving the future of home delivery through crowd accelerated innovation. We represent thought leaders from dirt to dweller with a focus on the production builders business environment.

Speaker 2 (00:35):

Hi, this is Betsy Scott with the housing innovation Alliance. I'm here today with Sharna Rogers. She's been in the industry for more than 20 years, uh, both on the contracting side, as well as, as an educator for Tuskegee university, um, and in working with the NHB student chapters. So I'm excited to talk to her about both her history in the industry and how we can help her build the next generation workforce. Welcome Sherner. Thank you. It's a pleasure being on. I appreciate you having me. So Shiner you've been in the industry for more than 20 years in a number of different roles. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started? So, yes, I am a generational builder, meaning that I'm the first born. What used to be the first boy born in my family to the oldest child, uh, ended up having a construction company.

Speaker 2 (01:31):

So they went into residential construction. This happened long before me, long before my daddy, long before his dad. It was just a trade that I family had. And, um, when my dad had kids, I was the only child that he had. So naturally I'm a little disappointed, but he made me his general director. I would say myself, I ended up being one of the bests of the family. So yeah, so that's why I got into it. I learned at an early age helping him, um, with moving a real barrels, uh, checking stuff, making sure stuff was level. I really liked that. I liked to see the bubbles go in and I felt like I'd achieved something when they get right in between those lines. So he made me feel like, you know, Hey, I can do it. So I never looked at it as, um, something that was forced upon me.

Speaker 2 (02:22):

I looked at something that it was an engaging experience with my father. And you have a unique experience and that you're in the south, right? Correct. So you were in the late nineties, you were an African-American woman leading a construct, a contract and company in the south. Not only was I in south, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, heart of country music and everything. And, um, it was different. Um, I wouldn't say that I was discriminated against, I would say that people was used to a way of running business. And that way of running business was having a, um, a white, older male that was the owner or the, uh, person that came and did all the business transactions and usually ma uh, females of any color, any, uh, cultural background was it's like a secretary or a sales agent. Right. So for me to be there coming into beds, looking around, I got, okay, Hey, secretaries, can't be it.

Speaker 2 (03:22):

Or you have to go get your bowels or, uh, can I see your, your, your license, your builder's vices. So it was different things like that. I, once I showed my credentials, I'd never really had problems after that, but it was kind of, oh, so you really are. You're not, you're telling them the truth. This is what you do. And I'm like, yes, what I do. And, uh, and my dad was good for that because, uh, me and my dad started my company and I was the principal. So, um, he would go with me, but he stood back and allowed me to stand my own ground and learn how to talk to people that was, uh, generations older than me. And to get them to understand and respect my craft. Would you say things have evolved for you, um, just in how you interact with people and how they view you as, um, as the leader of your business?

Speaker 2 (04:13):

You know, it's one of those things where I've earned my stripes, you know, at first people didn't trust me. I was young. Uh, I didn't have a face in ability, uh, in the business. So I really had to get in there and show them what I knew, uh, to do a better job than everybody else. People began trusting me. You know, after the first two or three times, they still was a little bit hesitant, but after, you know, showing them and proving to them and letting them know who I was and the type of product that I build and the quality that they will get, I will say that I just proved it earned my way through. You mentioned, you know, you've been in the university for a while and you're focused. I know on really looking at what that next generation of talent looks like.

Speaker 2 (04:56):

Um, and you've been doing that for what, 15 years. Yes. Ma'am a little bit over 15 years, you know, I started off as an adjunct professor, uh, when I was getting my PhD, they made me a graduate, um, graduate teaching assistant. And that was back in 2008. They may make graduate teaching assistant, and I quickly learned, cause it never crossed my mind to ever be a professor or a teacher. It just wasn't something that I have ever thought of. It wasn't anything that, uh, I have seen. Um, none of my immediate family are teachers. They're all what you call blue collar workers. And so, um, when I went into, uh, to teach, I was able to really break down the concepts in a fashion that the students understand. And I just use that lingo, you know, I use their lingo and I use something that they could identify with and it really, really worked and it was new and it was refreshing.

Speaker 2 (05:57):

They loved it. And I ended up having some of the highest attendance for classes. I think I had a 98% attendance rate and, um, you know, I never had any kind of backs beat back or anything. And, um, my mentor, Dr. Linda, Thomas boldly, she told me she was like, you might be good at this. She said, I think you might have a career. When I was working for GE that Georgia department of transportation, I would still do some people call me and say, Hey, can you teach this class? Can you do this and do that? And I would do it on the side. And I said, okay. And then I just realized one day, you know, um, my daughters were going into middle school and they were active in track and basketball. And, um, I was missing out on a lot of things. So I was like, what job can I get that allow me to still do what I like and have the flexibility for my children.

Speaker 2 (06:52):

And I went into teaching 2013. Uh, I started full-time now. I hadn't been part-time, um, for about, oh gosh, since 2008. So 2013, I went into being full-time and that was, um, was great. It was excellent. And, um, I started learning ways and doing things other than death by PowerPoint or the childhood, and the greatest graph is seeing the light bulb go off. I mean, as a teacher, um, going from the industry back into, into teaching is, is not an easy feat. First, your paid is nothing like it was. So I, I would like to say that, so this is more of a labor of love, but it's something that I enjoy, you know, dabble with my dad, with building and everything. I really, really enjoy being able to teach this craft to young people, uh, to allow them to take care of their families, uh, and to make other families happy by building them a home building in something like their first business or whatever they decide to go into.

Speaker 2 (08:04):

It's very rewarding. How has your student body really changed over the last several years? What did, what did it look like initially? What kind of backgrounds were they coming from it and kind of, where are you today on that front? So I want to start with 1995, right. I went to college and I majored in architecture engineering, and then I wanted to change path and going to construction management with a minor in architecture engineering. And I remember I was the only, only person of color and only female in there. Right. And I remember them telling me, like, are you supposed to be here? Do you know what you signed up? Yes. I know what I signed up for. You know, I had to give the whole spiel about my dad and what he did, and they just looked at me like, really, do you know what you signed up for?

Speaker 2 (08:57):

Can you even use a hammer? Do you even know how to measure stuff? So from then come into, when I went to Kennesaw state, I had appeal young ladies there and a few, uh, people of color to now I'm at an HBC U that has that's one of the oldest construction. The is they oldest construction management program, construction science management program in the nation. A lot of people don't know that, and we are turning out great products along with a lot of women. And so, um, you know, it was kind of overwhelming because I never thought I would see this, um, you know, have the old folks that say, oh, you know, maybe when I'm gone, this will happen. But I actually saw it in my lifetime. The other people that look like me that can relate to me and now in the industry, and they're doing very well.

Speaker 2 (09:50):

I have met with people since I've been in Atlanta, like HJ Russell, who is owned by a black male that does really well. And, you know, other project managers and other women that are in the field, they didn't get stuck in the estimating department or sales department. And they are really, really taking this thing going about a horns and doing an excellent job. W why do you think the, why do you think it's changed that way? What do you think? Um, the big uptick is, uh, can be attributed to, you know, I think it's two different things. I hate to say it. I think it's, some kids are just defining it and just want to do what they want to do. And that's good for us because, uh, because, you know, let's be honest, a lot of the older generation look at us as still blue collar work. Right. And why go and spend money to get a degree in a blue collar, uh, environment.

Speaker 2 (10:48):

So, you know, mostly T most times parents pay for college. And so you kind of go well, back in my day, you kind of did what they wanted you to do. Cause this is how they kind of trained you up to be. And now these get to say, no, I don't care what you think. I'm looking at these TVs, I'm looking at what's going on. And this is what I want to do. I'm going to do it. And I think more representation that has been around is helping people come into the field. I think getting the opportunity. And then once those people get an opportunity, they pull back and bring other people up for opportunity is helping. Unfortunately the summer with the black lives matter and a whole bunch of racial tension, I think it was really bad, but I think it woke America up in the construction industry up to say, Hey, uh, you know, let's say what's going on.

Speaker 2 (11:37):

Let's really give this an honest effort and try to see if we really could do this. Or it made people step back and look and see if their company is really diverse and how can they do it? Um, I tell everybody all the time, diversity shouldn't be a fad means it shouldn't be something that, oh my gosh, this stuff is happening. Let us go hire people of color women to come and do some, it should be something is a set of standard. I'm not asking anybody to say, okay. Uh, just because that person is a color or a woman, but she has lower of qualifications. We should hire her. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying, if you got two candidates and you have a great candidate, that's a person of color or a woman just give a chance on them. If they got the qualifications, just see how they do.

Speaker 2 (12:27):

Don't automatically put in your mind that, you know, the background, this is just not going to work because we are changing personally, as someone who's been in the industry. Love to hear what you would say to, um, uh, what you would say in general, what you like about being in the housing industry, and then what you would say to women who are considering a career in housing. Okay. So the housing industry, you know, I could say I grew up, I grew up in it, but just because you grew up in, it doesn't mean that you love it. What I mainly love about building people, a house is that the whole time that I'm building this product, they are coming in, they're putting prayers on their foundation, or they're bringing grandma in the Walker and might be the first time anybody ever bought a house and they're looking at a nest smell.

Speaker 2 (13:21):

And then they taking so much great pride in it. And I'm able to create a house that these people are now going to make a home. And that is so rewarding to me. Um, I'm able to give to somebody something that they will cherish, um, for a long time. And I love that, you know, for commercial industry, I just could not take two to 12 months, two to three years of rebar that didn't attract to me, but what a house. And I get to see all my little two creations, uh, all at once. So I really, really liked that. You know, they're going to remember you like, Hey, she built my house. So, Hey, I mean, just think about, like I say, you making a home for somebody, um, you, you could, you're a part of breaking generation crisis. You are a part of, uh, you know, people making a big decision, you know, not only financially, but mentally it's really, really something to look at.

Speaker 2 (14:21):

Well. So what would you say to women who are considering a career in housing? What advice would you give them? I would tell them to, you know, really, really just believe in yourself and do it. You know, it's going to be a lot of people that want to tell you, and I'm not talking about an industry. I'm talking about industry. That's going to tell you, that's not a woman's work or, you know, women are balloon long in that place. Or, um, you know, you really think about nursing or something else. No, I would say this is a day where we can do whatever we want to do. And if you want it to go into construction, if you want to be a project manager, if you want to be a superintendent, you have every right to do it and you will be able to do it.

Speaker 2 (15:09):

And that's the great thing about how things have evolved over the years. Like you have a chance now to really do what you want. You don't have to get told yes or no. It's just up to you. And if you want to do it, so one final question for you, what can we do as an industry to recruit and develop a more inclusive workforce? I will say too. Um, like I always say don't think of diversity as a fact, diversity should be something that you all work for, uh, continuously. Um, I think that the more people come in and see, uh, and I'm, I'm talking about my white male students too. They're they have grown up not as secluded or, um, segregated than we did. They have grown up with people from all walks of life. So, um, they would like to go into places that look like their surroundings, right? The more that companies look like, they're some, roundings the more that they are able to attract more diverse, diverse people. Um, people like to go in and say, Hey, I identify with that person. Or, oh, I'm a woman. Oh, you have a, another woman superintendent. You can pair me up with. Great. You know? And, uh, it makes people feel comfortable and, and people tend to do that better when they, in an environment that they're comfortable.

Speaker 2 (16:42):

Well, thank you so much for your time today, Sharna. Yes. Thank you so much, Betsy. I enjoyed talking to you. I enjoy talking to you as well.

Speaker 1 (16:53):

On behalf of the housing innovation Alliance and the university of Denver. This is Dr. Eric Holt. Thank you for being part of our journey. This is where innovation calls home.