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Women and CEMEX: An increasing number find building materials a fulfilling career

Date published: Sep 2, 2015

In 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available, 70.1 percent of employed women in the United States worked in only four industries—Education and Health Services; Wholesale and Retail Trade; Professional and Business Services; and Leisure and Hospitality. The mining industry employed only 1.3% of U.S. women workers, and the construction industry accounted for another paltry 1.3%.

The mining and construction industries may employ more men than women, but within CEMEX in the U.S., a growing number of women enjoy rewarding careers.

“As a company that values our people as our main competitive advantage, a focus on always hiring the best must naturally extend to hiring women as well as men. This is in line with Our Vision for the future,” said Guillermo Martinez, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Communications for CEMEX USA.

So what’s it like to be a woman working in a global building materials company? The career stories of three CEMEX women managers can provide a bit of insight to help answer that question. Equally important, their career paths also provide an abundance of evidence to help other women conclude our industry is worth a closer look

Lindsay Sparks, Sales Manager, Houston Ready Mix

Lindsay Sparks

How did a girl from a small Texas town wind up living in Houston and working for a global corporation like CEMEX? Lindsay Sparks would tell you, “Lots of hard work.” However, she is also quick to point out how an incredible opportunity helped jumpstart her career nine years ago when she decided to give the construction industry a try.

After graduating from Texas A&M with both a bachelors and masters degree in Agribusiness, Sparks spent two years in the food industry where she gained considerable experience supervising large staffs, meeting budgets, and managing large client accounts.

One day a business associate called with an interesting proposal.
“He told me about the Professional in Development Program at CEMEX, a year-long training program that would allow me to work in virtually every business unit within the company. He said I would get to work in many different roles, and if I put my heart and soul into it, I could pretty well choose my path.”

Sparks jumped at the chance. Her first assignment involved a market analysis for the Ready Mix Commercial Group.

“We analyzed every contractor in the Houston market. It gave me a taste of the sales process and understanding of how contractors purchased materials in Houston. That first role at CEMEX set me up to succeed in later positions within the company. It gave me a tremendous foundation for understanding the ready mix market. It was a perfect introduction.”

She spent eight months as a business analyst before a territory manager position opened up in Ready Mix sales. It was here that Sparks began to feel she may have found a home.

“You don’t spend many days in the office as a territory manager. Most of my days were spent on job sites, at a plant, or in customers’ offices. Over the four years I spent in this job, I developed many solid relationships with customers, negotiating multi-million dollars deals, and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the market during this time. That taught me how to maximize sales under widely ranging conditions.”

As a result, Sparks was able to grow her territory in Houston by landing a Top Five national account and delivering excellent customer service.

Her outstanding track record made her a prime candidate when an opportunity to fill a recently vacant sales manager position opened up. In 2012, Sparks stepped into her current position as Sales Manager of the Houston Ready Mix Division. Here she’s responsible for generating considerably more revenue. She leads a team of eleven individuals, which has consistently met its sales goals for the past three years and is responsible for maintaining excellent relationships with hundreds of customers.

Sparks still finds plenty of reasons to get out of the office and go where the projects take her. She seems to revel in her non-traditional job.

“This job is perfect for me, because I can go from a job site early in the morning to a multi-million dollar negotiation all in a day’s time. The variety, and my ability to stay in contact with both worlds, is great. I love that. It fits my personality.

My A&M friends think it’s hilarious that I work in construction. Many work in offices and drive fancy SUV’s—and then there’s me. I drive an F150 with a toolbox and a hardhat in the back. But I still valet my truck!”

Sparks and her husband, who is also in the construction industry, started a family four years ago. She credits the company culture with helping her make the adjustment to balancing work life with family life.

“It’s really important for women to know that it’s possible in this company and industry to have a family and a career. I feel like our culture allows me to speak to anyone at any level in the organization. I work with the best people and management team. They give me the freedom to make decisions and allow me to learn from my mistakes. We’re like a family.”

Monica Manolas, Vice President of Human Resources, BSO/Florida Region

Monica Manolas

Monica Manolas has held her current position since 2012, but her resume within CEMEX swings wildly from technical, to sales, to management, to business analysis, to procurement, to engineering, and to safety—just to name a few. Manolas laughs when challenged to name her favorite role out of the many she has held.

“That’s like asking me which child I love the most,” she says, “and I love both my children equally.”

Manolas graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Miami and landed her first job as a chemist at the Miami cement plant, then a part of Rinker. Over the next seven years, she worked her way up to Quality Control Manager, then Production Manager, while managing to earn both a masters in Industrial and Systems Engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Florida.

In 2000, Manolas moved into a strategic planning role at Rinker headquarters in West Palm Beach where she worked on a variety of projects as part of a five-year strategic plan that aimed to create a high performance work culture. In 2002, while on maternity leave, she was offered the role of Vice President of Operations for Concrete Pipe.

“That’s where I began learning about human resources as well as the pipe business,” she says.

When CEMEX acquired Rinker in 2007, Manolas became General Manager of Ready Mix Concrete for the Treasure Coast area of Florida. Four years later, she was offered a vice president position in a newly created Enterprise Risk Management unit at the Houston corporate offices. After a year, Manolas moved back to Florida to accept her current position¬ as Vice President of Human Resources for Florida/California. In 2007, she earned her certification as a Senior Professional in HR.

“Every job I take, I take seriously and pursue the training and education to make sure I’m qualified in that role.” She admits she is always looking forward to the next challenge.

“I love using my technical expertise and sales know-how and contacts across the company to bring value to the HR side. I take great joy in getting the right people and the best talents.”

She actively recruits at colleges, universities and vocational schools, and her message to women is clear.

“What makes CEMEX different is we place a value on people more than anyone else. When we bring you in, we care about you as an individual and treat you as a family member. We’re always going to be fair and, yes, it’s about what you can do for the company, but also it’s about what the company can do for you.”

Laura Lee, Vice President of Procurement, CEMEX USA

Laura Lee

Laura Lee grew up in North Carolina and graduated with a degree in International Development from University of North Carolina. She left the U.S. soon after graduation for a tour of Europe and fell in love—with Madrid.

“I knew this was where I wanted to start my career,” she says. Even though she spoke only “survival Spanish,” within two years she was fluent in the language and now speaks it everyday. In Madrid, she also earned her MBA from Instituto de Empresa Business School.

Lee worked an assortment of jobs in Madrid before joining CEMEX during its first international expansion. The company had acquired three cement operations in Spain. At the time, Lee was working as director of marketing for San Diego-based Software Products International. She learned that CEMEX was hiring and joined in Procurement as a development manager. Her job was to integrate the three different companies into one, streamlined procurement process.

“When I joined the Spanish operation, I found women working in accounting, HR and administration,” she says. “At that time on the project team there were quite a few women as well. It wasn’t 50-50 women-to-men, but very easily 30-70. It was a great team with lots of energy and high performance. We were working 24/7.”

As CEMEX made more worldwide acquisitions, more opportunities opened up. Four years later, Lee was offered the opportunity to join a team representing CEMEX operations from different countries. The Continuous Improvement Project was based in Monterrey, Mexico, and Lee joined to represent procurement operations. A year later, she moved to a newly created Innovation Division.

“That was a really fun project. Our job was to report to an Innovation Committee consisting of upper management, key vendors and key clients with the goal of driving incremental and radical changes in the business.” Lee was the platform leader in charge of coordinating the inter-departmental teams.

Even though she was offered opportunities to join new teams and work on wide-ranging projects, Lee did see a gap in the number of women within management positions and she saw different challenges for professional women from country to country—from Spain, to Mexico, and even to the US.

In 2002, Lee transitioned from the Continuous Improvement Project to a sales manager role and held this job until 2004 when she returned to procurement with the Global Procurement Office, located in Houston. In 2010, she was asked to join the CEMEX USA Procurement Office.

Since beginning her career with the company, Lee says attitudes have changed. She now sees widespread acceptance of women as equals and as valued contributors.

“Frankly, there’s no time for attitudes if we want to be successful. We’re seeing improvement with more women being in responsible roles in top management and middle management. We’re also seeing more women in roles like engineering and operations in addition to the traditional roles of administration, accounting and HR.”

Her philosophy for women who want to succeed in any industry springs from a CEMEX career that spans 22 years.

“Come to work every day to have fun and make a difference. The future is in your hands, and your level of determination is the key. At the same time, the systems have to be in place for everyone to have opportunities to be successful and grow within the company, and I believe CEMEX strives to provide this.”

CEMEX is a global building materials company that provides high quality products and reliable service to customers and communities in more than 50 countries. CEMEX has a rich history of improving the well-being of those it serves through innovative building solutions, efficiency advancements, and efforts to promote a sustainable future.