When Barbara Kavovit tells you how she got her start as one of the most powerful women in the male-dominated field of construction management, she starts at the very beginning.
“I have to start by telling you where I was born, because it plays a major role in my development,” she says. “I was born in the Bronx. I always reference that because it gives you this edge.” And an edge is something the native New Yorker has been fighting (successfully) to keep for more than two decades.
She started her company, Evergreen Construction (named for the street where her late father grew up in the Bronx), at 21 years old, handing out homemade business cards for handyman services to housewives in the parking lot of a tony shopping center in Westchester County. She would connect her customers who “would rather talk to me than unreliable contractors” with the appropriate tradesperson. “I was the general contractor,” she says. “I didn’t know it at the time.”
Larger and larger jobs led to multimillion dollar contracts in the years to come. “From there I built one of the largest female-owned construction companies in New York City,” Kavovit explains.
She hopes to encourage young women to break into her still-male-dominated field, but notes times haven’t changed that much. “Today, when I walk onto a job site I still get the looks — whether it’s a guy whistling at me or someone who tests me, because they can’t imagine that I know what I should know about [the job]. I believe that you have to be two, three, four times better, always, than your male counterpart in this industry.”
Under the name Barbara K, Kavovit has launched a nationally distributed line of tools marketed toward women, DIYVA, been a columnist for the New York Daily News and a home improvement correspondent on the WE network, designed homes for stars like Linda Evangelista and Amber Valletta, and written two books. She has a third in the works: a novel about a young woman who wants to build the tallest skyscraper in New York City.
“The time is right to write about women who are breaking new ground,” she says of the book, due out in 2018. “There are so many amazing women out there that we haven’t heard about. And it takes books and movies — [she references the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures] — to let people know about them.”
Kavovit is already thinking about a possible movie adaptation for her novel and the actresses who could best tell her story. Scarlett Johansson, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock make her short list. “I love Sandra Bullock,” she says. “She’s just so feisty. You need a feisty woman.”