In a 1978 speech, American writer and diversity advocate Marilyn Loden invented the phrase, “glass ceiling.” The term represents the obstacles preventing female employees from breaking through to top-tier jobs.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office statistics, women in management roles from 2010 to 2019 increased by a scant 2%. In 2020, women were paid 72 cents for every dollar men earned.
But women who beat the odds are chipping away at the glass ceiling – including those excelling in male-dominated industries. Take, for example, five local success stories of wonder women in a man’s domain.
Beth Morrissette and Andrea Moore
Co-Owners, M2 Solutions
Not long ago, two Mobilians hailed a Chicago taxi. Beth Morrissette and Andrea Moore were in town for one of the largest industrial/masonry trade shows on earth. “Where to ladies?” the driver inquired.
“Take us to World of Concrete,” Moore answered. “Oh, your husbands are in the concrete business?” said the cabbie. “No,” replied the two, “we are.”
Indeed, they are in the concrete business – and paint and coatings, structural strengthening, rust prevention and corrosion materials and much more. Their company, M2 Solutions, works with engineers, architects, manufacturers, government and utilities on diverse projects.
Clients include The Lodge at Gulf State Park, Alabama State Docks, Mobile Area Water and Sewer System and Bryant Denny Stadium, to name a few. But they started from humble beginnings as next-door neighbors.
It began when Morrissette canceled a social event because she was flying to Minneapolis to learn about rust. “Rust? You mean like corrosion?” Moore told her neighbor and added, “If you want to learn about rust, just bring a bottle of wine to my house. I’ll tell you about rust!”
Morrissette attended the Minnesota meeting to help her mom’s industrial packaging business. Moore later attended the rust get-together, too. From that meeting, the two believed there was a niche to be filled and they would do it. M2 Solutions was born in 2018.
Morrissette and Moore hold compatible college degrees: Morrissette’s in business and Moore’s in engineering. “We bring different skill sets to the table,” notes Moore. “We make better decisions together.”
They accept their business as being male-dominated. However, women are making inroads, leaping hurdles along the way.
“I once attended a local concrete seminar,” Moore remembers. “I walked into this room with a long conference table full of men. I was the only woman.”
After the presentation, Moore, the lone female, introduced herself to the speaker. He said, “I was surprised. I didn’t expect you to stay. I thought you were in the wrong room.”
Morrissette adds that once clients find out you do quality work, they no longer care what gender you are.
As advice to other women (also applicable to men) wanting to succeed in business, Moore says, “find your passion. Become the most knowledgeable person about what you are passionate about. Be the expert.”
In addition, Morrissette says, “Have diversity on your team. Include people who are different from you. Have people who are smarter than you.”
Chief Operating Officer, Orion Engineers & Constructors
“We must make sure that qualified young women engineers have opportunities for advancement so 20 years from now, they will be leaders.”Sandy Foster
Providing engineering services for energy, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, commercial and government, Orion Engineers & Constructors is a leader and Sandy Foster leads Orion.
The Mobile resident’s quest began in childhood.
“Dad was an engineer with a Navy background,” recalls Foster, Orion’s chief operating officer. “As a child, I watched him work and found his job fascinating. His drawings and handwriting were so pristine.”
In college, Foster’s initial interest was medical school but she changed her major to engineering. “That move was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she recalls. “I would never want to do anything else. Problem-solving and engineering is the perfect fit for me.”
The Mobile resident joined Orion as a process engineer and rose through the ranks. She became project engineer, then project manager, and in January 2019, chief operations officer. With her new role, Foster had additional responsibilities – people.
“As an engineer, it’s easy for me to focus on the numbers,” the COO says. “But the most important thing I do every day is focus on our employees and the quality of work we do as an organization.”
Foster adds, “It all comes down to good employees. The only way you keep good employees is to make sure they are first. They are the first thing you think of every day.”
Today Foster manages 110 employees throughout three offices: Mobile, Pascagoula and Baton Rouge. She oversees projects in four-plus states.
When she began her career, women engineers were few. “We still need more, but the field is more accessible to women today,” she says. “We must make sure that qualified young women engineers have opportunities for advancement so 20 years from now, they will be leaders.”
Her view on women in a traditionally man’s field: “There is still disparity, but I believe opportunities are better now for women. I had excellent men mentors during my career.”
But she smiles, “Now I have been asked if I am the receptionist. Also, I was once in a car lot and a salesman asked where my husband was.”
When questioned what she would advise young women wanting to follow in her footsteps,” Foster says, “I would tell them, don’t follow my footsteps. Follow yours.”
She explains, “I would tell young people, especially women, to keep your feet moving. Keep the treadmill going. Continuously work towards the next step in your life. Leave your comfort zone and put yourself out there.”
Monique Michele Rogers
Owner, H&S Commercial and Industrial Supplies and Services
“…I urge young women considering business leadership to serve their clients and employees. Prioritize employees’ growth, well-being, and empowerment.”Monique Michele Rogers
Mobile native, Monique Rogers had a plan. The junior high school girl would one day own not just one business, but many. She realized her destiny at an early age.
“My parents gave us children a chores allowance,” Rogers says. “I saved my allowance. My siblings spent theirs. When it was time to do chores, I hired my siblings to do the work for me.”
Today she runs H&S Commercial and Industrial Supplies and Services. Having moved on from employing her siblings, her business family includes 178 employees.
Her work covers a vast array of supplies and services, including medical and industrial supplies, commercial and industrial cleaning, security, vegetation management, environmental services, disaster relief services, staffing and construction.
This type of work requires Monique to transition between stilettos shoes to steel-toe boots, often. She is no stranger, though, to making accomodations to fit into a man’s world; she is a long-time member of that club. Before becoming a business owner, Rogers was the first woman employed in Pensacola’s all-male Reichold Chemicals. Later, back to Mobile, she worked for Kerr McGee which was more diverse. Barely. She was one of two women on her shift.
But life changed when Rogers launched All Clean Janitorial from her home. She expanded to the companies she has today, with services and products typically provided by males. And yes, she received pushback from some of those males.
“At times someone would say something disheartening but I look at the individual and not judge people as a whole,” she notes. “We live in teachable moments. I try to be respectful and teach them.”
As a child, she benefited from good parents. “My mom was a housekeeper at the Mobile Infirmary,” the daughter recalls. “She once found a doctor’s wallet, with over a thousand dollars in it. Mom did not touch one thing in that wallet. She turned it in because my parents were people of integrity and honor. I try to run a good business that honors them.”
She offers three-point advice for others, especially young women wanting to start a business:
One: “Shut down external voices and opinions. Listen to the voice that is within, to create a clear plan for your business.”
Two: “Make sure the plan incorporates your vision and goals; contains a strategy to operate in excellence; and fosters great relationships with customers.”
Three: “Servant leadership leads to increased self-efficiency, which in turn enhances employee engagement and performance. Therefore, I urge young women considering business leadership to serve their clients and employees. Prioritize employees’ growth, well-being, and empowerment.”
President, Senior Environmental Engineer, Cypress Environment & Infrastructure
“If something interests you, don’t worry if someone else thinks you are odd for liking it. Keep moving and keep getting better at what you are doing.”Cynthia Henderson
With 21 years of experience, Cynthia Henderson brings a wealth of talent to Cypress Environment & Infrastructure. As an environmental engineer and professional wetland scientist, her expertise includes ecosystem restoration, environmental remediation and regulatory compliance. She is also the company’s president.
“Sometime around my ninth or tenth grade in high school, I discovered my desire to work in engineering of some type,” Henderson recalls. Coming from a family who loved the outdoors, she combined that adoration for nature with another fascination: science.
In 2010, she and business partner Marc Foster founded Cypress Environmental & Infrastructure. Originally the new company was a two-person show. What a difference 12 years make.
In 2022, the company was licensed in five states with offices in four. In addition, Cypress Environment & Infrastructure was named 75th, in Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing private companies in the Southeast.
As company president, Henderson has administered projects ranging from river bank mitigation, marsh restoration, species and plant habitat research and a multitude more.
Her status as a woman impacted her career in some ways, but obstacles are fewer now, and she overcame them. According to Henderson, “We do good work. That’s what customers and clients are looking for.” But she does say during the years there were some undertones.
“I was dismissed as that ‘bugs and bunny person,” Henderson recalls. “Or I would get, ‘you don’t look like an engineer.’ I answered back, “What is an engineer supposed to look like? You?”
Henderson, who once undertook a high school project examining data from horse hoofs to determine lameness, has advice for future female engineers.
“If something interests you, don’t worry if someone else thinks you are odd for liking it. Keep moving and keep getting better at what you are doing.” She adamantly believes in not just having a dream, but preparing for it. Be the best at what you do. It builds self-confidence.
“As an environmental engineer there were times when I had my credentials dismissed – again, I was that ‘bugs and bunny person.’ She laughs and recalls, “My response was, ‘You want to underestimate me? Go ahead. This will be fun.’”