In 2017, after having worked in the asphalt industry for a handful of years, Amy Miller and Natasha Ozybko crossed paths. By chance, both women had made careers in male-dominated industries and were aware they were frequently one of only a handful of ladies in the room for any given meeting. Miller floated the idea of starting an organization devoted to supporting women in the asphalt industry with some female colleagues and shared the idea with Ozybko. Miller and Ozybko, along with Ashley Batson (director, South Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association), Audrey Copeland (president and CEO, National Asphalt Pavement Association) and Tracie Schlich (marketing director, Asphalt Institute) joined forces. They founded Women of Asphalt (WofA).
Miller is a civil engineer who began her career as a design consultant. She transitioned into the materials area, and that eventually led her to the asphalt industry. She currently serves as the Asphalt Pavement Alliance National Director (based in Orange Park, Florida), an organization whose mission is making asphalt the preferred pavement of choice. When asked why she enjoys this industry so much, she replied, “This industry represents the essence of good, hard-working people who put in an honest day’s work to support their families. They create safe roads for us to travel every day.”
Ozybko has made a career working in sales and marketing. In 2012 she joined the asphalt industry and currently serves as the west regional sales manager for Arkema-Road Science, an additive and emulsifier producer. Ozybko is a graduate of Arizona State University (ASU) with a degree in Business Administration and is currently working on her Master of Business Administration through the ASU executive program (Class of 2022). She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is training for her fifth Ironman triathlon.
The Early Days
Thinking back to the time before the group’s origins, Miller recounted sitting in meetings with few to no other women. While she enjoys working with both men and women, she wished there were more female cohorts to share insight on roles and responsibilities both at work and outside of work. “I talked to several different ladies who I knew would be good team members and who represented different sectors of the asphalt industry. With their support and an idea in hand, we got the group together,” said Miller.
Still not knowing how receptive the asphalt industry would be to this idea, the ladies decided to introduce a WofA organization at World of Asphalt in 2018. With generous financial support from companies across the industry, WofA was able to have a booth, host a networking event and a standing-room-only panel discussion that featured women in various roles representing different geographic regions of the country. “By the time we left Houston, the most asked questions we got were ‘Is there a local branch in my state?’ and ‘Where can I send my check?’” said Ozybko. “We knew right then and there we were onto something.” The ladies began a methodical approach to develop a strong organizational foundation. They established the fundamental organizational structure, including their mission, vision statement, bylaws, website, board structure and eventually applied and received 501 (c)(6) status while incorporating in Florida. Next, they created a strategic plan that outlined the programs of the organization and a process. They created six working groups, each led by a board member, responsible for creating the programs outlined in the WofA goals. The name “working group” was intentionally selected as it was important for the all-volunteer group of ladies to understand they were creating an organization from the ground up. “We have some very specific ideas of what we want Women of Asphalt to accomplish. While we know they’re possible, we recognized the five of us founding members could not do this alone. So many of our female colleagues have approached us and asked how they can be involved. We thought the working groups were a natural fit,” said Ozybko. This decision allowed the women to have a hand in designing programs that create value for members while achieving the mission of WofA.
In an industry that consists of more than 90% men, with the vast majority of senior leadership positions held by men, the ladies recognized that collaboration was critical to WofA’s success. “We are proud that we have the support of so many men in the industry. We need them backing our efforts and appreciate their desire to help our organization achieve its mission,” Miller noted. Since 2018, Miller and Ozybko, along with other founding members, have traveled across the country speaking on behalf of WofA. A number of the state asphalt pavement associations (SAPAs), including California, Colorado and Pennsylvania, hosted panel discussions the first year featuring women from their states. “A lot of the SAPA directors recognized early on what we were trying to achieve and threw their full support behind us,” said Ozybko. And then there was the whisper campaign. As Ozybko recounts, “I can’t tell you how many men came up to me and whispered ‘You know my women are my best workers.’” She replied, “You need to stop whispering and start saying that loud and proud.”
Running a volunteer organization, especially one being built from the ground up, takes grit, determination and a lot of perseverance. But it also needs money. The industry was exceptionally supportive in helping the organization get started. The founding board members worked diligently to show the organization’s value and have continued to receive industry support. WofA is extremely grateful for the companies that have supported their efforts. Blacklidge Emulsions was a first supporter and has provided resources for many of the branded assets, including the recently acclaimed top 10 construction industry podcast, Where We Belong. As WofA entered its third year, Wirtgen America supported the organization as a Diamond Partner. Companies large and small recognize the value of having a diverse group on their team and want to be associated with an organization that promotes the same values. Currently, the organization is 100% volunteer. All money goes to programs and operational expenses. As WofA continues to grow exponentially and meet the organization’s goals, the group will need to hire full-time staff soon.
Shining a Spotlight on the Ladies
When people think of the asphalt industry, they picture males — their dad, brother or son — working on a paving crew or running an asphalt plant. Ladies? They’re flaggers or doing administrative jobs. One of the first goals of WofA was to change the perception of what a typical asphalt employee looks like. Before 2019 World of Asphalt in Indianapolis, Indiana, WofA launched the “I am a Woman of Asphalt” campaign. In the days leading up to World of Asphalt each day, they featured a woman doing a different job in the asphalt industry. Her photo accompanied a brief biography and answers to a series of questions about her work experience and personal life. Over 100 days through an enormous media campaign, people in the industry were introduced to chemists, project managers, roller operators, CEOs, lab technicians, flaggers and women doing every job that touches the design, construction and maintenance of asphalt pavements. The campaign was so successful it caught the eye of Monica Dutcher, editor of NAPA’s Asphalt Pavement magazine. She began dedicating the magazine’s July/August issues to women in the asphalt industry with the 100 Women campaign as the first cover story. In July 2020, WofA featured “20 to Watch in 2020” video interviews showcasing 20 women making a difference in the asphalt industry. It has recently been announced that the theme for 2021 will feature women working in the field (more details to come). In addition to using social media platforms, WofA wanted to connect with their industry colleagues on a more personal level. Thus, the Where We Belong podcast was born. Over the past two years, the founding members have interviewed a dozen women holding various roles. In 2019-2020 they released a successful six-part series featuring women in leadership positions, including five of the 14 female state DOT secretaries or directors of transportation and Nicole Nason, the FHWA administrator.
Growing the Organization
Three areas of focus for 2020 have been WofA Branches, the WofA Mentorship Program and the WofA Job Board. The ladies knew that it was critical to get local branches up and running for the organization to meet its goals. Under the direction of board member Kirsten Fowler and her working group, a partnership agreement was created for SAPAs interested in supporting a branch in their respective state. To date, they have launched eight official branches (Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri and Utah), with another half dozen expected to launch in 2021.
With so few women in this industry, and realizing how much they could have benefited from a mentor, especially early in their careers, the WofA Mentorship Program was especially important to Miller and Ozybko. They turned to a fellow board member (and a woman with a lot of experience putting together one of these programs), Kari Shifflet. With her working group, Kari put together the inaugural 2021 WofA Mentorship Program comprising over 100 women and men. The program is no longer accepting applicants for 2021 but will open back up again next fall for 2022.
Before the global pandemic, the industry’s paramount issue was a shortage of workers, especially those working on paving crews, at the plant or in the lab. Following the mission of WofA to bring more women into the asphalt industry, the ladies wanted to position their website (www.womenofasphalt.org) as a clearinghouse for jobs specific to this industry targeting ladies. Companies posting jobs on the free platform tell people their company sees the value in a diverse workforce. New jobs are added daily, and the team continues to explore ways to engage with ladies who might not have considered a career in this field.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Miller and Ozybko frequently lament that WofA is “a labor of love.” What started as a desire to make the industry a little more “female-friendly” has grown into something so much more. “We knew the things we wanted to accomplish. We knew where there were opportunities for improvement to help women succeed in this industry, and we set out to try and make things a little better. Every once in a while, we would look up and see we just registered our 1,000th member, the FHWA had incorporated us in their Women’s Initiative Playbook, or we were invited to the CONEXPO-CON/AGG opening ceremonies for the unveiling of a 30-foot statue of a female construction worker (to go alongside the two male statues that greet visitors). And those are the moments we realize, ‘Yes, we are making a difference.’” said Ozybko.
Miller served as the organization’s first president (2018-2020), and Ozybko is the current president (2020-2022).
The Utah Asphalt Pavement Association