How Curiosity—And An Airplane Napkin—Changed the Face of the Construction Industry in a Big Way

An Unexpected First Office

Mittie Cannon says one thing is responsible for much her professional success: curiosity.

After graduating from college with a degree in biology and chemistry, she accepted a short-term job managing a drug testing lab.

On her first day, Mittie reported for work at an unexpected location: a construction site.

“I didn’t know anything about the construction industry nor the skill trades, but I was curious.”


On her first day, Mittie reported for work at an unexpected location: a construction site.


“I showed up in high heels and hose,” she says.

“I got a lot of funny looks from Caucasian men with ponytails and tattoos. There were few African American people, and I can count on one hand the number of women I saw that day.”

“I certainly didn’t expect all that at my ‘office,’” she says.

“I stayed … because of my curiosity. And because I’ve never been a quitter.”

Earning Trust and Credibility

Guided by her curiosity, Mittie says she spent several months earning the trust of her male counterparts on that first construction site.

“At first, I heard, ‘Look out, here comes Greenie! [a term used for new employees with little or no experience],’” she says.

“But I asked questions, got involved in corporate trainings, and even took a welding class,” she says.

“Eventually, they started to trust me and let me in.”

“I was curious and I was hungry to learn,” Mittie says.

“Twenty years later, I still am those things, and it’s gotten me really far.”

Two Plus Decades of Success

More than 20 years after accepting her first job in construction, Mittie is still working in the field.

She is Manager of Workforce Development at Amec Foster Wheeler, a large construction and engineering firm headquartered in Tucker, Georgia.

“It’s my job to make sure our employees have the training they need to perform safe, quality work that meets the needs of our clients.”

Recently, Mittie has been recognized, both inside her organization and more broadly, for her leadership in a traditionally male-dominated field.


Recently, Mittie has been recognized, both inside her organization and more broadly,
for her leadership in a traditionally male-dominated field.


“I realized, even that first day on the construction site, that getting more women like myself into these jobs wouldn’t be easy,” she says.

“But I knew I could do something about it … that I could help pave the way.”

A Turning Point

Mittie says that after forging her own successful career in construction, her thoughts recently returned to recruiting other women into the field.

“I wanted to do something big to help,” she says, “but I wasn’t sure exactly what.”

As it turns out, inspiration came to her in a very unexpected way.

After a 2015 car accident, Mittie spent several weeks at home recovering from her injuries.

“I saw it as a sign,” she says.

“I had time to myself—away from my desk and responsibilities at work—to reset and think about what I could do for girls and women.”


“I had time to myself—away from my desk and responsibilities at work—
to reset and think about what I could do for girls and women.”


It was during her recovery, Mittie says, that she conceptualized “Power Up: It’s a Mother-Daughter Thing!”

“Through my work, I’ve met so many people in my community,” Mittie says.

“I thought, ‘I should bring them together to educate, engage, and encourage more young women to explore careers in construction.’”

A Noteworthy Napkin

A few weeks later, a fully-recovered Mittie flew from Birmingham to New Orleans for a construction conference.

‘“Power Up’ was still just an idea at that point,” Mittie says.

“And then one of the speakers said something that really hit me hard.”

‘He said, “A dream without a plan is nothing but a wish.’”

On the flight home, Mittie sketched out a logo on her Delta Air Lines napkin.

“The “Power Up’ logo you see today is the very same one I drew then,” she says.

2016 “Power Up: It’s a Mother-Daughter Thing!” Event

“Power Up”

In March 2016, Mittie hosted her first “Power Up: It’s a Mother-Daughter Thing!” event in Birmingham.

More than 300 people were in attendance—including mothers, daughters, employers, and training providers. The event was supported by a partnership formed by the Central Six Development Council, Girls’ Inc. of Central Alabama, Robins & Morton, and AIDT/AWTC as well.

There were presentations on career opportunities in construction, panels featuring successful women in construction (including DIY Network’s Kayleen McCabe), as well as hands-on activities that allowed guests to try their hands at drilling, brick laying, and more.

A very special “celebrity” guest was also in attendance that day: “Rosie the Riveter.”

Mittie The Mentor

Nurse Tomeka Thomas, and her eighth-grade daughter, Hunter, were two of the “Power Up” attendees.

Tomeka says they heard about the event through Hunter’s guidance counselor at school.

“Hunter had expressed interest in architecture and construction as potential career paths,” Tomeka says, “but I wasn’t sure how to help her.”

“The event showed us what jobs are available in those fields,” she says. “Everything we learned will be helpful in the next few years as I help Hunter plan for college.”

Hunter says enjoyed having her mom by her side that day.

“It was special to spend time with my mom and share my interests with her,” Hunter says.

The Next Generation

Tomeka says meeting Mittie Cannon was a highlight of the event for her and her daughter.

“Mittie volunteered to be Hunter’s mentor,” Tomeka says.

“Mittie’s encouragement is a huge step in the right direction for Hunter—towards college and a career she’s passionate about.”


“Mittie’s encouragement is a huge step in the right direction for Hunter—
towards college and a career she’s passionate about.”


“We’re already planning to attend next year’s ‘Power Up’ event,” Tomeka says.

“We can’t wait.”

“Power Up” event attendees had the opportunity to try their hands at drilling, brick laying, and more.