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The ACI women fellows gathered at the Women in ACI meeting in November.

It started before the Women in Concrete event at World of Concrete was even a thought. Yet it was the beginning of a big change. Women were gathering and acknowledging that they weren't alone in the concrete industry.

Jo Coke, of Cormix at that time, remembers Women in ACI beginning in the late 1980s or early '90s after a woman member wrote a letter to the editor of Concrete International magazine, complaining that she was tired of being misidentified for somebody's wife at the mixers. Then one of ACI's most prominent members, a woman with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, was told upon trying to sign in for a convention that “this is a men's organization” and she didn't belong there.

Those unsettling events caused Kelly Page to think. Page was then on the ACI staff and now heads the International Concrete Repair Institute. Page and Coke decided to gather as many female members at the convention as possible for an informal get-together. They went across the street to a friendly restaurant that let them use their back room. “Kelly and I schlepped in a few bottles of wine, peanuts, and potato chips,” Coke says. “We had 10 to 12 people there.”

At the next two conventions, Coke made pink 3x5-inch cards about a gathering, and passed them out to all the women members she could find. Coke, Page, Aimee Pergalsky of Euclid Chemical Co., and Anne Ellis of AECOM were instrumental in getting the word out to women at ACI and making the meetings a success. Early company supporters included Master Builders and Cormix (now W.R. Grace).

An established venue

About that time, James Toscas, executive vice president of ACI, saw value in the group. Now Women in ACI is listed in the program guide at every convention under Events of the Day. Women in ACI conveniently always meets the same day and time at every convention—5 p.m. on Monday.

Women in ACI is no longer a secret meeting, but rather an opportunity for women in the industry to meet and network. Students and young professionals can meet inspirational female ACI fellows—women who have served ACI and made a difference.

“Attendance has grown exponentially,” says Coke. “There are no women convention attendees who don't know about it.”

At the same time, women's role in the industry has changed for the better. Coke was ACI's first female president, an unlikely accomplishment when the Women in ACI meetings began.

The goal of Women in ACI is simple: to enable women members to network, to spot each other at conventions as not a wife but a real member, and to increase the friendly atmosphere for attendees, especially new ones. And most importantly, Coke emphasizes, “There is no stress in this meeting.”

Kari Moosmann is cofounder of the Women in Concrete Alliance, an online networking resource for women in the concrete industry. E-mail info@womeninconcrete.org. Visit www.womeninconcrete.org to follow the group on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.