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Mandy Rennehan is trying to make the construction industry—which is starved for talent—more welcoming for womenKyle/The Globe and Mail

After high school, I moved to the big city of Halifax and worked for free for different tradespeople. I was poor, and fascinated by and addicted to construction. It was daunting. It was 1995, and it was like, Holy shit, there’s only men in this industry. On top of that, I figured out I was gay—what a resumé! So I did what I still do today: I show up, and I’m me. As an East Coaster, you grow up with a good liver and a personality, so I was the same way with these guys as I was with my brothers: I brought my personality game, and I think the respect I had for what they did went along with that.

And then I did one job in Halifax that went really right for a very wealthy family, and my name spread across the Maritimes. I was 19, and everybody was talking about the girl from Yarmouth. Next thing I know, I’m doing work for Irving Oil, Salter Street Films, Canada Post.

Back then, mentorship was not at the forefront. It was kind of like, get outside and get the stink blown off ya, and hope things happen. What did I know about scaling a company? Nothing. And who was I going to ask? I just kept working and working until finally I went, I’m good at this. And that’s where the name Freshco came from—because I was the fresh face, the only woman in the industry.

By the time I was 30, I was a millionaire—because I picked an industry everybody needed but nobody wanted to be in. At the end of the day, I’m an entrepreneur. I believe in capitalism. I believe in people truly being creatives in the economy. And the very myopic view we’ve had of the blue-collar world has hurt our economy.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in people truly being creatives in the economy

I wouldn’t change what I experienced. The only thing I would say is that if I’d had somebody who had seen what I was in my entirety, they probably could have fast-tracked me a bit quicker not to get my teeth kicked in three or four times. Now, we’ve got programs like Jill of All Trades, where you have these gals from Grade 9 to 12 who are given a day to ride heavy equipment, use welding tools, fix motorcycles—and they love it. It’s like, yeah, you belong here. This could be a career for you.

But people who may not have the confidence I had are walking onto job sites where you have 500 guys to maybe two women, and they feel overwhelmed. Probably 490 of those guys will be there to support you. But there are those 10 guys who will absolutely, if not under supervision, drive those women away. Because they can’t swear like they used to, they can’t make the jokes they used to. So it’s really teaching the majority of people on a job site to protect the ones who are coming in.

Freshco’s tagline is “Building Pride.” Because not only are we a woman-owned or LGBTQ-owned company; we’re a company that believes in talent, period. I don’t complicate diversity and inclusion. I make it very clear: I was born gay, I am gay—but who gives a shit? I’m a great person, I’m a great leader, and I’m a wicked entrepreneur. And that really resonates with our culture. We pick good people who continue to support good people, no matter who and what you are. And that’s always been us from day one. We’re bigger now, so we’re just a bigger group of misfits who work.

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