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Lenore Janis, Who Broke Construction Industry Barriers, Dies at 86

  • February 23, 2021

A divorce decree in hand, she graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1956 and moved to Manhattan in search of work. She got a job with a public-relations company but was shocked by what she found: A woman in the office told her that the only way to move up was to accept less pay than men doing the same job.

Ms. Janis was married and divorced two more times. In addition to her son John, she is survived by two grandchildren. Another son, Peter, died in 2011.

After leaving public relations, Ms. Janis worked in off-Broadway theater. In the late 1960s she created and ran the Jewish Heritage Theater for Children at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.

Newly divorced and raising her sons on her own, she moved back to White Plains in 1972. Her father died soon after she arrived, and she and her brothers, George and David, took over the family ironworks (George died in 2016, and David died in 2020). Suddenly she was working 60-hour weeks, much of it spent driving around the New York region to visit construction sites.

“I was Janey-come-lately to this industry and learned on the job,” she said in a 2004 interview. “For years I was the only woman attending various industry functions and often mistaken for someone who must be in the interior decoration business.”

In 1979, inspired by the workplace gains made by women in the 1970s, she founded Era Steel, named after the Equal Rights Amendment, which was then awaiting ratification by two-thirds of the states.

Ratification never happened, and as the new decade began, Ms. Janis found that running a construction firm as a woman was harder than she had expected. Banks wouldn’t loan to her, and despite her years of experience, she couldn’t get access to the back rooms where developers, bankers and construction executives — almost all of them men — made their deals.

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