Women in Construction 2021 Profile: Brenda Stanley


City of Madison Engineering shared one profile a day as it celebrated National Women in Construction Week, March 7-13, 2021.

MADISON, WI – When you pour concrete, chances are it’s there to stay, for good, or for a long while. It’s hard, doesn’t move, solid all the way through, and it’s a lot of work to change or rip out if done incorrectly. Flexibility may not be the first line of thought when thinking of concrete, but being able to adapt, change and challenge is what City of Madison Engineering Division Public Works Private Development Manager Brenda Stanley has built on for decades in her career.

“I first came into this 20 years ago, and often times, I was always the only woman on a construction site. It was difficult. It was something to get used to for sure,” Stanley said.

Stanley currently oversees private development in the City of Madison, specifically for the east side of the City. She’s the middle person between people who want to develop and build or remodel in the City and the Engineering Division who must insure that the City’s standards are met. Stanley’s current level of responsibility came after years working toward this position and a lot of change.

“I grew up in a small town just west of Wausau, Marathon City, Wis.,” Stanley said. “Right out of high school, I went to UW-Oshkosh, and my first degree was a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with an emphasis of advertising.”

She then moved to Madison to continue in the advertising industry, but learned it wasn’t a good fit anymore. Stanley took part in a Women of the Trades Tools for Tomorrow Program at Madison Area Technical College, and it immediately changed her life after a guest speaker inspired her.

“Beth Cannestra. She came in and talked, and I immediately knew that night that I was going to make a career change,” Stanley said. “I quit my job, and went back to school at MATC, got my degree as a civil engineering tech.”

After years working in the private sector doing survey work and then construction inspection, she learned there would be a few challenges, especially on the job site.

"For me it was more intimidating on the construction site, because when I first came on, especially 20 years ago, men weren’t used to having a woman on the construction site,” Stanley said. “I was there as an inspector, and often times I was there telling them to do something correctly. And holding them accountable to the job that they were doing.”

In one instance, she remembers a contractor pouring concrete out of spec (or against a certain City standard that Stanley’s job was to uphold and keep contractors accountable for).  

“I told them that they needed to stop or we wouldn’t be paying for the concrete, and they decided to keep pouring. Then, another male inspector came on the job, and he looked at the concrete and could tell it was out of spec and told them to stop pouring, and they did!” Stanley said. “He [the other male inspector] said, ‘Why didn’t you stop them?’ I said, ‘I told them about 100 feet ago that they should stop.’”

The contractor ended up having to rip out all the curb at their cost.

“Things got a little better after that,” Stanley said.

Things have gotten a lot better since then in the industry for women, according to Stanley. She doesn’t want intimidating situations, stereotypes or the fear of changing careers to keep anyone, especially women, from a career in construction.

“I do think we need more women in this profession, in engineering, and in a lot of the trades, and some of the non-traditional type of jobs,” Stanley said. “We [women] offer a different perspective. We offer a different opinion, a different take of how something should be done. How we communicate. We should have a voice at the table.”

Growing her voice and perfecting her journey with overcoming challenges over the years has taken time, but just like construction and the industry, it can always change.

“Everybody has a stake in the game. I think we all bring something that’s beneficial,” Stanley said.

That’s the beauty of construction, you can build, dig and pour, but it can always be rebuilt, redone or re-imagined.  No job or career choice inside of the construction industry or out has to be one way forever, just ask Stanley, nothing is in stone.

City of Madison Engineering shared one profile a day to celebrate National Women in Construction Week, March 8-13, 2021.



Brenda Stanley,  Public Works Development Manager, Streets Design Section


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