The women

Does gender bias exist in the green construction realm? Belly up to the bar and find out.

Lisa Pickert (left) and Katy Nicholls get the job done.

Lisa Pickert (left) and Katy Nicholls get the job done.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Welcome to Green Town, a new column by Sena: Eco-Warrior Princess, which will rotate every other week with Green House, her bi-monthly musings on SN&R’s green building project.

The two women may work in the same office, but the real bonding happens over microbrews. As a hard-alcohol type of person, I find a love of beer to be highly bizarre. For me, it’s shots of liquor or nothing! But Sacramento residents Katy Nicholls and Lisa Pickert even toyed with the idea of starting a brewpub together, and when they invited me to chat over beers at one of their favorite hangouts, the Rubicon Brewing Company, I admit, I was tempted. Hey, I like a good bonding session as much as the next lonely person.

Deciding it might not be the best idea to get drunk on a weekday afternoon, we met instead at GreenBuilt Construction and Consulting in Midtown, an eco-friendly firm where both these women work—a perfect arrangement because I could see firsthand how women, including Nicholls and Pickert, have managed to comprise more than half of the company’s seven-member team. Apparently, these ladies are guilty of engaging in some sort of grand-scale, female takeover of the construction industry—historically a male-dominated field. I’ll take this type of illicit activity over a bottle of vodka any day!

Nicholls wasn’t always a beer drinker, at least not as a child growing up in southwestern Oregon on a ranch near the big timber-mill towns of Sutherland and Roseburg. But she’s always been an environmentalist.

“My dad was a hunter, and when I was a kid, I used to cry when he’d come back home with a dead animal,” she said.

Eventually, crying paid off: Dad now only shoots deer and elk when they wander onto his property and do damage. At the University of San Diego, Nicholls majored in biology and minored in environmental science, then worked for The Nature Conservancy. In April of 2007, she moved to Sacramento and asked GreenBuilt owner Scott Blunk to sit down over a beer so she could pick his brain for information on our local green scene; he ended up hiring her. Since then, Nicholls has developed an interest in green-building certification processes and energy efficiency. She also volunteers with the Environmental Council of Sacramento.

Beer-drinking buddy Pickert grew up in Kansas, where as a little girl, she’d sit at her father’s desk and draw house floor plans. She lived in Portland, Ore., for 20 years, during which time she developed an interest in material reuse. Nineteen years ago, she bought and remodeled her first house; in all of her remodeling projects since, she finds ways to preserve an old house’s quality by incorporating original building materials into updated designs. She hates seeing salvageable stuff go to waste.

Pickert briefly owned a ceramic-tile installation company, then earned her contractor’s license, moved to Sacramento and now does construction-project management for GreenBuilt. In this role, she faces something unenviable: continually having to prove her expertise and right to work in the building industry.

“I personally still feel some gender bias,” Pickert said. “Every time you go out in the field, you know your credibility is going to be on the line. You really have to establish yourself and your knowledge base, because they assume you don’t know much.”

Nicholls also experiences bias on occasion.

“People are surprised that I want to do what I want to do,” Nicholls said. But does she mind climbing into dark, dirty attics to test the energy efficiency of systems, as required by her job? Heck no!

“She just blows them over with her enthusiasm and lets the rest roll off her back,” Pickert explained.

When not working on local green-building projects, Nicholls and Pickert both enjoy the great outdoors. And they drink beer. If my calculations are correct, Nicholls will be enjoying IPAs and red ales—she loves Cascade hops—this fall, before knocking back stouts and porters in the winter months. Pickert prefers amber ales year-round.

As for me, I don’t even know what “Cascade hops” means, but I know one thing: I’d play a game of beer pong if it meant a chance to bond with these two ladies.