For Women’s History Month, First National Bank is profiling outstanding women in male-dominated or stereotypically male industries. Check out our other “Women in Business” features!
“I hope more women choose to experience the joy that I have experienced through my construction career, and I hope that it’s not an anomaly to see women as tradespeople, project managers, or executives in the industry.”
Kari Karst, president and CEO of BX Civil & Construction and Dells Materials Company, works in one of the more heavily male-dominated industries out there; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023), women made up only 10.9% of the construction industry’s workforce in 2022.
Just imagine what it was like for women in construction 31 years ago, when Kari first took on her current role (actually, this 1992 New York Times article covers the topic quite well).
In fact, Kari’s construction career dates back even further — back to when she worked summer construction jobs while earning her civil engineering degree from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
“My first position after college was working for Ingersoll-Rand Company in their air compressor division,” Kari said.
After spending two years with the company in Charlotte, NC, and another four with them in Los Angeles, Kari was approached by her dad, Merle Davis, and his boss, Dick Sweetman, about a business opportunity.
The chance to move back to South Dakota and purchase Buskerud Construction was too good to pass up.
“My husband, Rob, and I discussed it, and we decided it was a great time in our life to take a chance at business ownership,” Kari said. “We hoped it was a way for us to combine our careers with raising a family closer to our extended family.”
They also purchased Dells Materials Company a few years later, and they rebranded Buskerud Construction to BX Civil & Construction in 2012.
Even after all those years of working in such a male-dominated industry, Kari said, “I’ve never focused on what I had to overcome as a woman in construction. Way deep down, I remember being overwhelmed by certain situations where I felt inferior or different. But what I learned is how to create internal positive self-talk so that I can effectively seek opportunities to let my voice be heard.”
This strategy has been essential to Kari’s success, especially considering she is responsible for leading two companies, overseeing their succession planning, and creating a vision for their next 10 years.
“Because I never tried to see where I may have experienced discrimination, I probably unintentionally ignored it,” Kari said. “I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do, but I have been fortunate enough to be able to distance myself from situations where I was uncomfortable and instead focus on areas that worked for me and were not detrimental to my career.”
And now, Kari uses her experience to help others — women and men alike — find their own paths in the construction industry.
“I am closer to the end of my career than the beginning,” Kari said. “Life and careers come full circle, and I now find great joy in helping others to develop both a strong voice and an ability to really hear what others say.”
More specifically for women looking to work in construction, Kari offers this advice:
“Don’t be afraid of it. It’s a financially and emotionally rewarding career where you can see the results of your work over a lifetime. It’s not just a ‘man’s world’ — the pride that I see on the faces of people who work in this industry from top to bottom is unmistakable.”
Going forward, Kari’s goal is to help nurture those women so that they too can have successful, lifelong careers in construction.
“Right now, I try to focus on the opportunities that are available for women in the industry,” Kari said. “How do we make sure our culture is open and inclusive to everyone? How do we get more women to even consider starting a job or career in this incredibly fulfilling industry?”
Check out our other “Women in Business” features:
- Taylor Elverson sets example for representation in agriculture
- Kae Klinkenborg brings passion for design to facility management
- Sarah Atchison values hard work, teamwork in manufacturing
- Kelsey Geraets silences doubters in agriculture
- Sarah Madison challenges assumptions, advocates for women in investing
- Jill Mockler exemplifies leadership in business banking