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Leading in a Male Controlled Field: Cheryl McKissack Daniels Dominates Construction Industry

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Women In Power

Cheryl McKissack Daniel is the definition of what we, here at IAmPMAG, deem a true ‘Steel Toe Stiletto’.

Sitting atop the oldest African-American-owned and female-run construction company in the nation as president of McKissack & McKissack, she successfully digs her heels into an industry where competition is cutthroat and dominated by men.


According to CBS NEWS, “As president of McKissack & McKissack, she manages projects ranging from a park in downtown Brooklyn to getting many of New York's trains to run on time. Her company is on board to revamp Long Island's railroad hub, which runs underneath the Brooklyn Nets' home.


McKissack Daniel says competing in construction's big leagues "takes relationships, and getting people to realize that you bring value to the table something unique and different."


As a woman who leads a company that can get the job done, McKissack Daniel’s firm is assigned to just about every major infrastructure improvement project that is financed by the city and state - including the current construction at LaGuardia Airport and the new Terminal One at JFK.


The Steel Toe Stiletto Phenom credits the groundwork laid and passed down by generations before her.


The company dates back more than two centuries to a Tennessee slave named Moses McKissack, who learned to make bricks from his Scottish slavemaster and then passed the trade down to her grandfather and great uncle.


In 1905, the family business was incorporated, and over the next 60 years, the company was at the forefront of building homes, hospitals, and colleges. In fact, McKissack Daniel's grandfather built the Tuskegee air force base where black pilots trained to desegregate World War II.


McKissack Daniel’s father William took over the business in 1968, laying the foundation for his three daughters. "We would go to work with him every Saturday starting at ten years old, walking construction sites, tracing documents, you know, learning about building systems early in life," McKissack Daniel said. "It was all ingrained in us."


But when her father suffered a stroke in 1982, it was her mother, with no formal training, who pulled up her bootstraps and used her master’s in psychology to find a way to keep the business thriving.


In 2000, McKissack Daniel, who earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from Howard University, took over the business and moved the headquarters from Nashville to New York.


"People do business with people who look like them." she said. "All the work that we've done outside of New York, it didn't matter in New York."


In an industry where it hard to break in, especially being a triple minority (African-American, African-African woman, and just female in general), McKissack Daniel makes it a top priority to hire minorities -- 34% of her workforce are women.


Plus, when her company worked on the $325 million patient pavilion at Harlem Hospital Center, she hired 200 of the 7,000 applicants. Then for the rest, she developed a job training workforce program in an attempt to place them in other fields across the city.


If there is anything that McKissack Daniel wants women of color to know, it is “that the construction industry can build wealth” and that the construction industry can look like them.


Give a woman a hard-hat and a pair of steel toes, then sit back and watch what she is able to create and conquer.


For more information about the McKissack & McKissack Construction Firm, visit

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