How One Kentucky Woman Built a Career in Construction

Jul 5, 2018

In the next installment of our series on “Women leading the way in male dominated fields," we visited a construction site to talk with a woman who was the only female in Eastern Kentucky University’s construction management program when she enrolled.

Wearing a forest green hard hat ,a lime green vest  and  a touch of rose colored lip stick, Diana Hagan is giving me a tour of a building at the University of Louisville.  That’s where she spends her day making sure dry wall is hung properly, nails secure and all details of a construction project are accurate.

Hagan: “Things happen. Stuff isn’t always the way it’s drawn, doesn’t always work out,little things but they affect  the end product , getting it done. “

The Frankfort resident has been working for  Messer Construction for six years, since she graduated from college at Eastern Kentucky University as a non-traditional student.

The 33-year- old says she started her college career in architecture and interior design but soon decided that wasn’t for her.

Hagan: ”I realized that I liked designing, but could it really be built? So I enjoyed the art and architecture part but to me I was more interested in how the building was built.”

As Project Manager for Messer she usually works in the Lexington area and has led construction for several projects including The Old Historic Fayette County Courthouse restoration, a few dorms including Limestone Park at the University of Kentucky and a women’s health center in Danville. On this day she’s working at the University of Louisville on a TV studio for the colleges’ sports network.

Hagan: “You’re running all the work, running the subcontractors, updating the schedule, making sure the schedule’s on track, anything and everything: having project meetings with the owner.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the percentage of women who work in construction is below 10 percent. Hagan believes those numbers are changing based on the number of women she knows working in Lexington in construction.

Hagan: ”We have at least, including me, 3 other  project managers , one senior project manager and we’ve hired so many. I’m gonna botch how many female project engineers we have but I’m thinking  we have around  4 or 5 project engineers that are female.”

Hagan says as project manager in a male dominated field she doesn’t feel especially challenged but I wonder how this large group of male employees responds to this petite, soft spoken female at the construction site.

Hagan: “They would probably say I’m more of a bulldog . Especially in construction you have to be more assertive, more blunt to the point in your conversations. It’s just getting over everyone else’s stigma that you shouldn’t be here,and it’s not  everyone  but that random person who thinks you shouldn’t be telling them what to do.”

Messer project manager Emily Edgington and Mary Beth Wright were Hagan’s role models. She also gives credit to her grandparents who she says were hard workers and farmers. They led by example with gumption and a willingness to better their lives.

Diana Hagan is married and the mom of a two-year old son. Now she’s become a role model for young people. She gives back to the community by getting involved with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM projects which help students, and is regularly invited to speak at schools.  She remembers being a student when someone questioned her choice of career.

Hagan: “I think it was early college, I was at some event and this old guy asked me what my major was and I told him construction management and he said that’s a man’s job and I said I guess they’ll have to get over it.”

CL: What message do you want to send to young women or anybody listening to this?

Hagan: “If it’s your passion don’t listen to anybody else and do what you love to do. Just because somebody tells you ‘you can’t do’ it doesn’t mean you can’t. If I listened to everybody telling me that I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing then I wouldn’t be here today.”