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Following family path took a leap of faith // VIVIAN PRUITT: CONSTRUCTION

The men in Vivian Pruitt's family gave her a love of building. But it took a woman friend to convince her she could be a builder herself.

"The two most important men in my life were my grandfather and uncle. Both were builders and developers," she said.

But as the 42-year-old St. Petersburg native was growing up, she never thought she could be one, too.

"Growing up, you were either a nurse or a teacher, ... and I never did know what I wanted to do because I knew I didn't want to be one of those," Pruitt said. Instead, she worked on the fringe of the building industry for years, selling and estimating materials needed for projects.

About a year and a half ago, her friend Barbara L. Langford, who works in pool and spa repairs, suggested Pruitt become a contractor herself. Pruitt already had a license that she had gotten on a dare seven years before.

"I guess actually I was a little fearful of starting my own business," she said. "My very best friends said, "You are silly. Go for it.' "

Convinced but not comfortable about the idea, she saved up enough money to pay all her bills for three months and opened Vivian Pruitt Construction, using her St. Petersburg home as her office.

"I was a nervous wreck," she said.

She's calmer now that she has a few home remodelings under her belt. She loves the work but hates the discrimination she says she faces nearly every day.

Some inspectors hold her work to greater scrutiny than that done by her male counterparts, she said. And some female customers haven't been much better.

"They are used to having men come out and tell them what's wrong," she said. "And some people are upset that I don't do it (the actual hands-on building) myself."

Pruitt, like most general contractors, hires subcontractors to do the work. She supervises them and makes sure it's all done right.

"The construction industry is still definitely a man's world," she said. Because of that, "a lot of women don't go into the field, or they go in and they get bullied out."