The Eleven Percent: Meet Sarah Lechowich, Roofer and CEO
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Sarah Lechowich talks about running a woman-owned company, the importance of mentorship and what's in her tool bag.
This FH series introduces readers to a few of the women who make up 11 percent of the construction workforce in the United States, spotlighting stories of their careers in the field. Know someone we should feature? Email us here.
Exterior contracting runs in Sarah Lechowich’s family. Though she loved to tinker in her dad’s shop as a kid, she hesitated following her father and grandfather into the trades as a career.
“When I was younger, I felt torn between helping Mom in the kitchen and wanting to help Dad out in the garage,” she says. “Like a lot of women, I was torn between cultural and societal expectations and what was pulling my interest.”
So she became a university professor, then got a gig at a community nonprofit teaching young people about trades and apprenticeships. It wasn’t until she helped one of her friends start a roofing business when the notion of entering the trades herself came about.
“I just fell in love with it,” she says. “I didn’t realize how rewarding it was.”
Five years later, Lechowich started a roofing company in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. At first, she did it as a hobby to help out friends and family. But soon it blossomed. Because she felt she finally found her direction in life, she named her company True North Roofing.
“I thought I had done everything I could to get away from my family trade background,” she says. “But eventually we start to listen to where our internal compass is pulling us. Apparently, mine led me to roofs and siding.
“I never would have expected it, but here I am. I’ve never been happier. It’s the best thing ever, and I love bringing other women into the trades.”
We asked Lechowich for her thoughts on the state of the roofing industry and how to attract more young people to the trades.
Q: Which projects stand out to you?
A. I don’t have a single project, but rather what stands out to me are the homeowners I work with. A lot of women call me because they haven’t received the respect they need from other contractors. They often say, “I can’t believe you actually looked me in the eye. None of the other contractors took me seriously.”
I want my homeowners to feel seen, valued and heard, and my workers to feel like that, too. It’s neat to be that breath of fresh air.
Q: How have you been received, leading a women-owned company?
A: Great, because if someone has a problem with that, they don’t call me. The ones who do are super excited. When I ask people why they called me, they say, “I want someone who I can trust.”
I take the time to walk them through each step. I don’t just tell them what we’re going to do. I explain how we’re going to do it or fix it.
Q: Is your crew primarily male?
A: Yeah, and I think they’re also excited to be working for a woman-owned company. We just run businesses a little differently, with empathy and compassion.
I’ve tried to create a culture where we can all achieve our financial goals, while also having lots of family time. There’s also a True North friends and family private Facebook group where I post pictures, so spouses and kids can see what Mom or Dad is doing. It creates a whole community. My family is super important to me and this just feels like a normal and natural way to do business.
Also, I see other websites where they showcase only their sales people. To me that’s just backwards, because my business wouldn’t be a business without all of my tradespeople. They’re the superstars. So I showcase my workers along with my sales and office. We are all a team.
Q: What changes have you seen in roofing over the past 10 years?
A: We’re starting to see more industrial tech classrooms come back into high schools. A lot of those got removed with No Child Left Behind, when they shifted to all academics. That created this classism around whether you work with your hands or your mind, except tradespeople work with their minds, too. So it’s good to see more educators realizing what a trades career is.
These are six-figure salaries for a lot of folks. They’re doctor wages without all of the student loans. And I think we’ll see more opportunities because trades cannot be outsourced. You can’t call a call center to fix the leak in your roof. So there’s a lot of job security.
Q: Where do you hope to see the industry in 10 years?
A: I hope the personality of the trades becomes more reflective of women. In roofing, only 0.5 percent are women, and a lot of women in construction are mainly in the office. I’d like to see more of us out on the jobsite because that’s so rewarding.
Not too many people when they’re younger wake up and say, “I’m going to be a roofer or a sider.” But if we can help make those pathways visible for people so they can walk them, I think we’ll start to see that shift happening.
Courtesy Sarah Lechowich
Q: Any pros or cons to being a woman in roofing?
A: I think the biggest challenges for women are our internal challenges, like wondering, “Do we belong here?”
When I’m mentoring and working with other women, they second-guess themselves. Women in construction need to be told, ‘”Yes, you do belong here.” They need someone else to believe in them, and that makes a huge difference. We can do whatever we want to do. We have the physical strength to do a lot of the work, plus the mechanical mind.
Q: Any advice for young women looking to get into the trades?
A: Ask lots of questions. It’s crucial to find a mentor, someone who will support you. Everyone needs a mentor. Even if you’ve been in the trades for 20 years, you still need a mentor.
TikTok is an amazing place to find one. There are so many women tradespeople on there, and women in the trades are super excited to talk to other women in the trades, and see other women get into the trades.
Also, in whatever you’re doing, listen to your inner voice. Whether it’s for what screw size to use, or should you go into accounting or roofing, or should you be friends with this person or that person, your inner voice knows. If you trust your inner voice, you can never cheat yourself or those around you.
Q: What are your pro-specific tools?
A: The Goat Steep Assist ladder helps on steep roofs. And the BullyBag Eight-Pack tool carrier comes with a lot of the tools I need for checking out a roof, plus fits on my hip with whatever I’m wearing, so I don’t have to wear a belt.
I love the Gorilla Ladder, because even though I’m a roofer I drive a hybrid SUV, not a pickup, and it fits in the back. The Cougar Paws Performer safety boots are good for safety on steeper pitches. Finally, my iPhone13 ProMax camera has such a great zoom lens that I can use it to show cracks in shingles to homeowners, without them having to go on the roof.
Sarah Lechowich Bio
Sarah Lechowich is CEO and founder of True North Roofing and a third-generation exterior contractor in the residential building trades. Previously, Lechowich served as the senior director of Construction Careers Foundation, where she created programs for sustainable wages and positive community impacts.
She has also worked as program director for Trading UP, as a human rights commissioner for the City of Saint Paul, and as an adjunct faculty member with North Hennepin Community College.
Writer Karuna Eberl Bio
Karuna Eberl is a regular contributor to FamilyHandyman.com. She has spent the last 25 years as a freelance journalist and filmmaker, telling stories of people, nature, travel, science and history. She has won numerous awards for her writing, her Florida Keys Travel Guide and her documentary, The Guerrero Project.