Meg James is creating opportunities for women in the building industry.
By Hannah Massen
From the “fairy houses” she made as a child, to her position as executive officer of the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association (HBA), Meg James always has had a passion for building things. Under her leadership, the local Professional Women in Building Council (PWB) chapter has grown from James and a group of her coworkers to a coalition of women builders that’s almost 100 members strong.
James spent years attending HBA events with her mother, Patricia Strimpfel, COO of the well-known custom home builder, Reclamation By Design, who was on the board of directors. James ended up filling the member relations position for the HBA at the end of April 2013 and taking over as executive officer in August 2015.
The building industry is a primarily male-dominated field, but James is breaking barriers by putting her expertise and enthusiasm to work at the HBA. As executive director, she is responsible for managing the organization and its membership of nearly 500 (and counting) industry companies operating in and around Beaufort, Hampton and Jasper counties.
Now, she’s giving other women in the building industry seats at the table, too.
James saw a lack of opportunities for local women in the building industry to connect with each other, and in 2020, she started her chapter of the PWB as a way to bring them together. The PWB is meant to “provide them with a newfound support system, education, recognition, and the ability to build relationships with folks they may have only ever spoken to on the phone,” James said.
“When our Professional Women In Building of the Lowcountry charter was ratified in June 2020, it truly felt like we’d made history,” James said. “We are the first and only PWB chapter in the state of South Carolina. We’re trailblazers in our own right and we are growing every month. We have nearly 100 members and if you caught a glimpse of our first anniversary celebration, you would have seen we welcomed US Representative Nancy Mace, who is a woman that evokes all of the aspects of what our chapter of PWB wants to be: Strong women supporting women in a heavily male-dominated industry. We also stand shoulder to shoulder with our male counterparts, who encourage and inspire us to be and do our best. It’s an #AllTheFeels kind of council and I can’t wait to see where we grow from here.”
Her positions at the HBA and PWB aren’t the only roles James holds in the community. She has been a board member for the Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce since 2018 and a board liaison for the Bluffton Chamber Golden Oyster Awards Committee. She strives to partner on local and state regulatory issues as they relate to the organizations’ respective memberships, as well as continue to champion their community leadership efforts and help promote their members.
James is also an active member of the Town of Bluffton’s Affordable Housing Committee, past chair of the Home Builders Association of South Carolina Executive Officers Council, and a community partner on the Town of Hilton Head’s Our Plan Inclusive Work Group, “Fostering an Inclusive Multi-Dimensional Community.”
“I enjoy having a seat at the table, and the opportunity to work on behalf of our HBA membership in this capacity,” James said. “When we all work together, great things can happen. All of this work on various boards and committees has truly expanded my knowledge and ability to represent the local building industry. I appreciate all of the individuals I work alongside and that represent our unique Lowcountry.”
Meg James’ advice for women in the building industry:
1. Build yourself up. Many women in business struggle with self-confidence, especially if they work in male-dominated fields. But remember, you’ve made it this far for a reason, and you deserve to be proud of your achievements. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Keep an “Atta Girl” file of complimentary emails, reference letters, and thank you cards. If you don’t file them, you will forget all you’ve accomplished.
2. Don’t take it on all by yourself. It’s OK to get by with a little help from your friends. We had an amazing group of women that were a part of bringing PWB to the Lowcountry – and I couldn’t have done this alone. They all stepped up and worked hard to make this happen.
3. Join a professional group. This is sort of a shameless plug, but seriously, join a professional group. The PWB has given me mentors, peers, and provided the sometimes not-so-easy-to-take reality checks and the understanding that sometimes an outside perspective can remove the blinders that come from being too close to a situation or issue. Why go it alone when you could surround yourself with people who are ready to cheer you on?