Ready to create an account?

Join Now



Meet the Pros: Celebrating Women in the Trades in Seattle

Posted on The Fresh Chalk Blog • by Christina Nelson • Tuesday March 10th

Many businesses on Fresh Chalk are led by women who are changing the face of traditionally male-dominated industries, including construction and utilities. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we sat down with four women business owners in Seattle to celebrate their journeys and honor the contributions they are making in the Seattle community.

Kelly Early of The Fixit Sisters

Kelly Early and her sister Erin Gustafson founded The Fixit Sisters in 2015 to provide home improvement, remodeling and repair services to Seattle area homeowners. Kelly proves that a handyman doesn’t have to be a man, as The Fixit Sisters are the #1-recommended Seattle area Handyman company on Fresh Chalk.

What inspired you to get started in this industry?

I left my job in landscape architecture to stay home with our two daughters when they were little. When our youngest headed to kindergarten, I was ready to start work again. I wanted to find something I enjoyed doing that would also allow me to have flexibility. My sister was also looking for a change. One day I was chatting with a friend who said she just hired a handywoman to do work around her house. When I asked her what she did she said, “Oh, it’s all stuff you can do!” It was true—building a fence or painting a room on a Saturday was my idea of unwinding, but the idea of doing this professionally never occurred to me. A week later, my sister and I had a website, insurance and our first client—a full apartment remodel!

What challenges have you faced along the way?

Self-doubt is the biggest challenge. Early on, I was lucky to get good advice from another woman-owned, small business owner, who told me to “Think like a man.” She stressed that men are bolder with pricing and not afraid to get in a little over their heads. So, when I question if I’m qualified, I try to keep the self-doubt at bay. I’ve learned to value the work I do. I’ve also learned that trying new things is part of developing professionally. Instead of steering away from things I haven’t done before, I know that Google will help!  

What sets you apart from others in your field?

Being a woman and a mom really sets me apart. I’m able to identify with my clients and provide what one client calls ‘non-judgmental service.’ I understand what busy family life looks like and can find ways to lessen the chaos.

My design background also sets me apart. It’s surprising how often design decisions come into my work—where to hang pictures, what type of molding to choose, designing built-in shelving (I do a lot of Ikea hacks!) or choosing the right proportions for wainscoting. Being a visual, detail-oriented person has helped me immensely.

What women-owned businesses inspire you in your local community or around the globe?

Where to start!? I’m so lucky to be surrounded by so many women who have started their own small businesses—often with the goal of juggling kids and families. I benefit from their support, ideas and inspiration. There is quite a list, but I owe a debt of gratitude to designer Sara Eizen at Sara Eizen Design who, after hearing about The Fixit Sisters, called and said, “I need to meet you!!” She’s been a great resource of clients and support. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my sister who started this crazy business with me. She put down her Fixit Sisters hammer in 2018 and is now making gorgeous reclaimed wood art at Ravenna Wood Design. She inspires me daily, reminding me that it’s never too late to try something new.

Wesley Parker of Parker Eco Pest Control

Four years ago, Wesley Parker made a career change and started Parker Eco Pest Control with her husband. As Owner and Head of Operations, Wesley is helping people from Seattle to Everett manage pests using the greenest solutions possible.

What inspired you to get started in this industry?

My background is actually in advertising and brand consulting–pretty far from pest control. My husband and I came up with the idea for Parker Eco Pest Control when we saw an opportunity to do something more eco-friendly. There wasn’t anyone in our area offering truly green pest control. I put together a business plan, he quit his job and we traded in our SUV for a used Ford van. We took the plunge!

What challenges have you faced along the way?

Every small business owner will tell you that it’s hard work. My husband was completely devoted to the business from the start while I kept my day job and worked on our website, found suppliers and ran payroll in the evenings. I used my vacation days to fill in for our receptionist when she took an actual vacation. Thankfully I now work for the business exclusively. Carving out time for myself was (and still is!) difficult.

One struggle specific to being a female business owner is the fact that everyone assumes my husband owns the business and I “help” him. I cannot tell you how often this happens. Our accountant reported that my husband owned 100% of the business when he drafted our tax return. Our banker did not give me account permissions on our credit card. They aren’t bad people–they’re just not used to women being in charge.

What sets you apart from others in your field?

Less than 4% of the industry is female, so that certainly sets me apart. In terms of business advantages, I’d argue that my background makes us highly customer-centric. You see a lot of pest control companies green-washing (eco-friendly marketing with no substance behind it) and pushing subscription services people don’t need. I firmly believe in understanding what customers want and figuring out how to make money providing it, not simply marketing whatever has the best margin.

What women-owned businesses inspire you in your local community or around the globe?

Starting right out of college I was lucky to work for multiple women-owned businesses and learned a lot about navigating male-dominated spaces. Locally, I admire Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin. It’s a privilege to live in an area that values women in leadership.

Sarah Henry of Gaspar’s Construction

Sarah Henry transitioned from a career in corporate HR to become the owner and general manager of Gaspar’s Construction, a design-build, remodel and handyman company. At Gaspar’s, Sarah leads a team of 43 employees to work with clients in the beginning stages of wanting to do a remodel through project completion.

What inspired you to get started in this industry?

My dad started Gaspar’s Construction here on Capitol Hill in 1973. At the time, my mom was a social worker. She went back to school for interior design and ended up joining the business because my dad said, “I get really deflated when people bring me plans from architects and I have to tell them that it's 2 or 3x more expensive than what they expected.” With my mom's new design education, they started offering front-end design services and helping people design their projects to budget from the beginning. I've just built on that. I took over running the company in about 2008 and purchased it from my parents. My dad retired about five years ago and my mom about three and a half years ago, but I've been at the helm for quite awhile.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

2008 was really tough. I had to cut everybody's wages. Obviously the steepest cuts were at the ownership and management level, but everybody was impacted. We didn't have to fire people or lay people off, but I vowed to never have to stand in front of my team again and say we have to cut wages. I've worked really hard at structuring the company so that we have the ability to accordion, with the economy. It was really, really tough.

What sets you apart from others in your field?

I think I have a competitive advantage because a lot of times the people who are buying the remodels are women. I do think that, unfortunately, there has been a history in our industry of women feeling like the male contractors aren't listening to them, that they gear the questions toward the men.

What women-owned businesses inspire you in your local community or around the globe?

I am part of a group called Women Presidents’ Organization. They have chapters all over the world, including in Seattle and Bellevue. Membership caps out at 20 members and we meet once a month for four hours to spend time with and learn from your peers. I look up to all of those women.

Sandi Rathbone of Rathbone Interior Painting

Sandi Rathbone has been transforming homes in the Seattle area for the past 13 years. As the owner of Rathbone Interior Painting, Sandi brings her passion for painting into the homes of everyone she works with.

What inspired you to get started in this industry?

Well, I have always loved to paint! I have an art background–I attended the Art Institute of Seattle in the '80s and worked as a makeup artist prior to starting my painting business. My first inspiration to start my business came when I was painting a room in my home (I am always changing colors) and had this simple thought, “I wish I could just paint for a living!” This turned a lightbulb on! Why don’t I? So I took a leap of faith and with much prayer and the support of my awesome husband Bill, I quit my job as a makeup artist, got my business license, printed out a few business cards, landed my first job and haven’t slowed down since. I love what I do, it has been such a blessing from God!

What challenges have you faced along the way?

One challenge is trying to manage all the work that comes my way–which is actually a blessing to be so in demand. I think I have figured out over the years how to not take on too much work. One of the main reasons I started my own business is so I could have control of my time and spend more time with all of my family.

What sets you apart from others in your field?

I think the fact that I am a woman has definitely worked in my favor. I work for so many women and many of them are moms.I adore children so we instantly click. When you have someone working in your home, it’s nice to develop trust and friendship with them. I have worked with many of my clients for over a decade and literally watched their children grow up. It’s one of the best parts of my job! I have even been asked by some of the kids if I could have a sleepover!

What women-owned businesses inspire you in your local community or around the globe?

All of my sisters! I have four amazing and beautiful sisters. Four of us own our own businesses: Shari is an interior home painter like me at Stremler Interior Painting; Becky designs and makes baby and children’s books at Hugs and Kisses XO; Jodi is a watercolor artist at Jodi Sparber Art. And my little sister Amy Jo is an amazing and dedicated grade school teacher. My sisters are my best friends and my inspiration. They are all examples of strong women who gracefully manage their work and their passions as well as their families.

We want to hear from you! Who are some of your favorite women leading the way in a male-dominated fields? Add your recommendation to Fresh Chalk to promote your favorite businesses owners and earn karma.

Join Fresh Chalk About Us
You're logged out

Log in for better recommendations

Log In Join Now