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Lenore Janis, a trailblazer for women, 1934-2021

Lenore Janis, a founder and longtime president of Professional Women in Construction (PWC) which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, died on January 31, 2021.

The feature obit in the New York Times called Janis “a force of nature” in the industry and credited her for leaving “thousands of cracks in the concrete ceiling of a male-dominated business.” Real Estate Weekly dubbed her a “construction pioneer.”

Janis founded Era Steel, named after the Equal Rights Amendment pending ratification at the time, in 1979. In 1980, she and 11 other women created PWC to open opportunities and expand participation for women professionals, entrepreneurs and executives in construction and related industries. Just three years later, Governor Mario M. Cuomo established an office to ensure that more construction contracts would go to women-owned businesses in New York State.

In 1986, Janis, under Mayor Edward Koch, became the first woman director of the City’s Bureau of Building Management in charge of 250 tradesmen and multi-million-dollar projects. Among her accomplishments was the installation of women’s locker rooms in the Department of Sanitation facilities. She left government work in 1995 to devote herself full-time to PWC until 2015. Annual events such as Meet the Construction Chiefs and Opportunity Fairs grew in number and popularity. Janis launched PWC Golf Outings that invited women to take part in what was traditionally a ‘good old boys’ networking venue.

Janis has been honored by numerous organizations including the American ORT; NYC NOW; the Association of Women Construction Workers of America (AWCWA); the Concrete Industry Board – alongside nine men; the Brick Industry Association; the NY Women’s Chamber of Commerce; and the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen. She wrote a chapter, “Women in Construction,” for Construction in Cities. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame of her alma mater, White Plains High School, attended Bennington College and graduated from the University of Connecticut.

In a 2014 interview, Janis reflected on the industry’s evolution noting that in 1980 banks and suppliers balked at granting loans to women-owned businesses. Seeing progress over time she said, “When a woman steps into the room, she may even be pleasantly surprised to find she’s not the only woman at the table.”


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