Female Worker at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD
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Workforce win: How Gage Brothers welcomed ‘flood’ of female production workers

  • February 29, 2024

Krysta Widman had a theory – and the human resources manager headed to the production floor to prove it.

“When I first started working here nearly a decade ago, we didn’t have any women in production or really out in the plant,” said Widman, who works at Gage Brothers, a Sioux Falls-based leader in precast concrete construction.

Krysta Widman at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD

“Women mostly only worked in the office, and I really wanted to see more women working here.”

So after giving birth to her son, she came back from maternity leave and for one day took on a new job at Gage.

“We always said that to do this job you had to lift 50 to 100 pounds, and what we found out is you actually don’t have to be super strong to do this job,” Widman said.

“You’re not lifting 50 to 100 pounds on a regular basis. You’re lifting 20 to 30 pounds. And I said, ‘If I can do this job, anyone can do this job.’ Was I sore? Oh yes. It was not easy, but the supervisors and a bunch of other people were coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow, good job.’”

After a day pulling steel cables – “the most difficult part of the job but very possible” – putting bricks into place using form liners and tying rebar, she and the company realized “it’s really not that physical of a job,” Widman said. “What we saw helped us start getting more women in the door.”

Krysta Widman at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD

Fast-forward, and Gage now counts more than 10 percent of its production team as female – with about 30 women working on the floor.

“I’ve been to precast plants literally all over the country and some in Europe, and I don’t see women working on the floor,” president Joe Bunkers said. “It’s very predominantly male-oriented, and very intentionally we moved the needle.”

Beginning with construction of the new plant in northeast Sioux Falls several years ago, Gage put in a full-size set of restrooms and locker rooms for women. The equipment, technology and layout were chosen so they could be flexible for men and women “of all shapes and sizes that come to work,” Bunkers said.

“This is not as labor-intensive as it used to be. And today, you don’t notice a difference whether it’s men or women doing the work. And actually – women are some of our best employees. They’re awesome. I don’t mean to stereotype, but they often bring a different level of detail. They do well in quality control. The head of our steel shop is a woman who was promoted from working as a welder in fabrication. So it’s been awesome to see.”

Female worker at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD

Gage worked with a consultant to evaluate each job and adjust job descriptions to reflect more accurate physical demands.

As it turned out, finding women to apply for the jobs “was actually incredibly easy,” Widman said. “We already had women interested in working here who had gotten turned away because they didn’t have the experience or we’d say they needed to lift up to 100 pounds. So we had a list of people interested, and once we hired one person, it was like a flood of women working here.”

Nearly all female employees were referred by another woman, she said.

Female Worker at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD

“And I wish we had even more, but we are getting more women all the time,” she said. “Those who are here have gained the respect of everyone, and I think it’s been beneficial for the whole team to give them another perspective. It’s helped women move up. It’s helped single mothers make it out of really tough situations, and it’s helped women move into jobs that pay much more than they were making before.”

Gage Brothers also has worked to remove one of the biggest barriers to women and men working: child care.

“We have many situations where both mom and dad might be working for us as well, so we have reimagined our work schedule to support it,” Widman said. “We’re working four 10-hour shifts in more production positions with staggered start times, which allows someone to see the kids off to school and someone else to pick them up at night and have family time. And we have a lot of people who now are working the same shift, where before dad might have been working during the day and mom at night.”

Forklift driver at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD

The company also scaled back its use of overtime, which had created challenges with finding child care, and increased its parental leave benefits.

“We’re trying to get more people back into the workforce by making schedules that work for families,” Widman said. “We used to use overtime so much that I wouldn’t have thought we could get away from it like this, but now we’re actually pouring more yards in less time. I think it’s because people are able to have a three-day weekend, and that’s significant.”

She also has helped families find child care options, including many who require Spanish-speaking providers – a gap “that’s very difficult but where there’s also a huge entrepreneurial spirit and a market to be reached and given resources,” she said.

All the efforts have added up to a noticeable, positive shift for the Gage Brothers workforce.

Forklift Driver at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD

“Once you start to have more women working, you can start to promote them as they demonstrate skills and capabilities, so I’m really excited to see how this is going to grow,” Bunkers said, adding he has two female vice presidents and two male vice presidents on his leadership team.

“It’s truly from the top that we believe in this also,” he said.

The best practices modeled by Gage Brothers “are outstanding,” said Bob Mundt, president and CEO of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. “This is exactly what we need employers to be inspired by and motivated to embrace. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but the approach Gage is taking shows what’s possible when you think differently and are willing to make positive change.”

The relationship Gage Brothers has built with the Sioux Falls Development Foundation and Forward Sioux Falls has been beneficial, Bunkers said.

Welder at Gage Brothers in Sioux Falls SD

“We get to be part of a bigger plan because of it,” he said. “We’re learning ideas from others and working with them to reach out to schools and tell the story of what opportunities exist here.”

Back at the plant, Widman sees signs of the changes that have occurred constantly.

One supervisor’s response in particular comes to mind.

“He can be kind of a gruff guy and one I thought maybe would have been against having more women in the workforce, and now he has two female leaders on his team and is developing them,” she said. “The other day, he came in my office and said: ‘You know how women work here? It’s a good idea.’ And now, we have women who are supervisors and moving into leadership positions. It’s been incredible.”

To learn more about opportunities at Gage Brothers, click here.

Forward Sioux Falls is a joint venture between the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation and is widely respected as the premier economic driver for the Sioux Falls region. To learn more and connect, click here.