Anna Stern: Breaking Gender Barriers

By Jessica Steinhoff | Photography By Hillary Schave, Shot on location at Madison Youth Arts Center (MYArts)

Anna Stern, vice president of Tri-North Builders, may work at a construction management firm, but she builds with strategic thinking rather than raw materials — developing training programs, nurturing Tri-North’s workplace culture and addressing some of her industry’s biggest challenges.

One such task involves gender diversity. The percentage of women in construction reached an all-time high nationally in 2022, but Stern says data shows many women leave the industry. Meanwhile, a labor shortage has hit Wisconsin contractors hard.

Keeping this in mind, Stern zeroed in on an oft-overlooked population: women who’ve taken time off of work to care for family or other reasons — and want to return to the workforce. She believes that women in this situation have much to offer.

“There are women who’d be great employees but can’t get interviews because of resume gaps,” she says. “They have the skills employers are looking for, but they’ve spent time applying them differently, like managing a household rather than an office.”

In 2024, Stern wants to implement a program at Tri-North that hires these women. Citing a “dream big” mentality, she would love to see the program take off, so the company could encourage other businesses to participate.

Stern also hopes to grow She Builds Wisconsin, a gender-diversity initiative she helped develop through Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin (AGC), where she served as its first female president in 2022. The first step is expanding the She Builds Summer Camp that debuted in Dane County in 2023. This free program takes middle-school girls to construction sites, introduces them to female construction professionals and explores each piece of the construction process.

“Many Tri-North employees and other AGC contractors [take part] … and we’re trying to get involvement from AGC members throughout the state to do similar camps this year.”

The next step is creating a She Builds mentoring program. “If you ask women who’ve stayed in construction what helped them find success, many of them will tell you they found someone to guide them as they navigated the industry,” Stern notes.

Another goal is specific to Tri-North: maintaining its culture as many long-term employees approach retirement. Events such as Tequila for Tatas, an annual fundraiser she co-founded for UW Carbone Cancer Center’s stage 4 breast cancer research, and Kids Building Wisconsin, a fest with free construction activities for kids, encourage employee’s community involvement.

“We’re helping the community while strengthening employees’ ties to the community — and each other,” she says.

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