As anyone in the industry can tell you, there’s a real shortage of skilled labor in drywall, and in the trades generally. What most people don’t talk about, though, is how infrequently we see women in drywall — and what an untapped resource they represent for this industry.
The fact is, construction is not an industry that has historically been very friendly or welcoming to women, and if we want to get more women involved (and we should want that), we need to make it a place that appreciates, respects and welcomes them. One of the best ways to do that is look to the women who are already working the job and use them as role models to encourage the next generation of young women to get into the trades.
In this series, we're shining a spotlight on their stories.
‘Learning the business from the ground up’
Cheryl Meneguzzi practically has drywall in her DNA.
Even before her father founded Wallboard Trim & Tool in 1997 — the Canadian drywall supply distribution powerhouse for which, today, Cheryl serves as president — her family had deep roots in the industry. Yet, even though Cheryl grew up around corner beads and mud pans as parts of her dad’s world, she never thought that, one day, it would become her world, too.
“I grew up knowing of the drywall industry, but I didn’t really have any plans to be a part of it,” said Cheryl. “My father — his name’s Leo — when I was growing up, he owned drywall supply yards. So I grew up hearing about drywall, seeing it delivered; I even worked in the office for a couple summers when I was in high school. But I had no intention of joining the family business. I really just wanted to create my own path.
“I went to university, graduated [with a degree] in business, and I went to work for an international logistics company. I learned a great deal in supply chain management and logistics while working there, and then after a few years, my dad approached me to see if I would consider joining Wallboard and learning the business from the ground up. That was about 17 years ago, and I am so glad that I did. I had a lot to learn — I mean, when I started, I barely even knew what a corner bead was, forget about how to install it or sell it!”
As anyone in the drywalling trade can tell you, there’s a lot you need to absorb to consider yourself an expert in the field. (“I think the more I learned, the more I realized how much more there is to learn,” Cheryl remembers.) So Cheryl learned the ropes by putting her boots on the pavement, by going out to jobsite after jobsite to see how the tools she was supposed to distribute were actually used — from mesh tape to corner bead, automatic tools to hand tools, and everything in between. She may not have been entering the drywall industry at the contractor level, but Cheryl still needed to know how everything was used like the back of her hand; how else could she be a stand-out resource for her customers, the drywall supply yards?
“I quickly learned that this is a skilled trade,” Cheryl says, “and those that took the time to learn the techniques to perfect their craft could easily set themselves apart from those that just got the job done.”
Wallboard Trim & Tool: ‘Even when you’re the best, you can still always strive to be doing better’
After entering the family business and learning all its ins and outs, Cheryl officially took the reins over the Ontario-based Wallboard Trim & Tool about a decade ago. In that time, she’s overseen considerable growth for the company: in 2016, she opened the doors on a second distribution center located in Calgary, Alberta, to extend their reach into Western Canada.
She has also deepened the relationship between Wallboard and Trim-Tex — a relationship that spans decades, to the days when Leo Meneguzzi worked alongside the Koenig family to promote Trim-Tex products at his previous drywall supply yards.Today, Wallboard is Trim-Tex’s exclusive distribution partner across all of Canada, a gigantic undertaking when you consider the size of Trim-Tex’s catalog and the sheer land mass that Wallboard has to cover.
We’re not just bringing this up to promote Trim-Tex products here: we consider ourselves lucky to work hand-in-hand with Cheryl, and to learn from each other along the way. Trim-Tex doesn’t just share an industry with Wallboard — we share many core values, too.
“I have some philosophies that I believe in that I run my business by, and they’re really centered on doing what’s right,” says Cheryl. “Be fair. Make our customer’s job easier. Pay attention to the details. And something I’ve taken from [Trim-Tex owner] Joe Koenig, Jr., is to always strive to be better. Trim-Tex has always made top-quality products. But even when you’re the best, you can still always strive to be doing better. And that’s something that I really took from Joe over the years. I feel that’s always served us well in business; we treat our customers how we want to be treated, and really remembering that, if we can make our customer’s job easier, they’re going to want to do business with us.”
And for his part, Joe Koenig, Jr., says the admiration is mutual.
"Myself and everyone at Trim-Tex are greatly appreciative of Cheryl and Wallboard’s commitment to educating and inspiring dealers and contractors all across Canada about Trim-Tex products," says Joe. "One of the many things that’s impressive about what she’s accomplished is what a high-quality team she’s assembled at Wallboard Trim & Tool. They are a very skillful team — they come down to Trim-Tex HQ in Lincolnwood every year for product training, and show just how dedicated they are, which really serves well to benefit everyone in this partnership."
Women in Drywall: ‘They’re thriving’
Even while the passage of time has seen more women included in the drywall industry, particularly within the sales and distribution side of things, Cheryl still frequently finds herself being the only woman in the room. Along with learning how to mud a corner bead, in the early days of her career, that sort of solitude took time to get comfortable with.
But Cheryl has never let being in the overwhelming minority get her down. Instead, she sees being a woman in the drywalling industry as a series of hills to climb — as anyone has hills of their own to climb — and something to emerge from, better than ever.
“Sure, there are challenges as women in the industry. They exist. I just don’t dwell on them,” Cheryl said. “I always look at it as, everyone has challenges to overcome, it’s just a different challenge. When I started 17 years ago, I had a lot to prove. I was younger, and a woman — it was kind of a double whammy. People assumed I had no idea what I was talking about. I really had to know my stuff inside and out. I think that’s the biggest difference: I had to prepare more, work harder, and I had something to prove in order to gain someone else’s respect.
“The definite is, as a woman, am I always a minority wherever I go? Yes! If it’s an industry event, and it’s on the golf course? There could be 100 people there, and maybe three would be women. I think it’s something that takes some getting used to, and then I don’t even notice it anymore.”
As for women on the contracting side of the business, as Cheryl sees it, the need for more women in the trades isn’t just a moral one. As a lot of drywallers and finishers in the industry approach retirement age, younger contractors entering the trades will become more and more essential. When tradespeople go into high schools to drum up awareness for drywalling as a career path, as Cheryl says, “it’s important to remember to include women as well.”
"I’m so proud that we have this awareness program, 'Women in Drywall,'" adds Joe Koenig, "Considering I have a wonderful wife, three lovely daughters, and three of my four grandchildren are girls — it holds a special place in my heart. In my eyes, Cheryl is one of the most impressive women in the entire drywall industry, and that’s why I nominated her to be featured in this series."
Perhaps the best way to spread this awareness for women in drywall — and serve as a catalyst for change — has become, much to Cheryl’s surprise, social media.
“The drywall trade is not really a career path that a lot of women have ever thought about. It’s great that, with social media, these women who are in business for themselves are putting it out there on social media and creating awareness for it,” said Cheryl. “I think the opportunities are there for women who want to be their own boss — women who don’t shy away from hard work … I love seeing women on Instagram showcasing their skills. Women like Kayla Beckett and Leah Pawluk — just to name a couple, who also happen to be Canadian — they’re bringing visibility to women in drywall that never existed before.
“I think their visibility on social media will bring about the most change, because it’s showcasing women who did not grow up in this industry, who maybe stumbled upon it, but they’re thriving and they’re succeeding and they’re their own boss. Those are the examples that are really going to entice more women to consider the drywall trade as a career.”