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A Conversation with Women in Construction

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March 31, 2022

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    Happy Women in Construction Week! Though construction has long been a male-dominated industry, more and more women are beginning to take an interest in pursuing not only a career in construction but leadership roles as well. It’s necessary that we support these women as they navigate a field that wasn’t designed to include them. We must ensure that they are granted the same space, opportunities, and respect as their male counterparts. To get a better understanding of their experience, I sat down with 3 women who work various jobs in the construction industry.

    Meet Meira!

    Meira is New York-based construction wireman/electrician apprentice. She is currently working on a construction site for a new apartment complex that will eventually become affordable housing. On a daily basis, Meira lays wire and places boxes throughout the site.

    Meet Alison!

    Alison is a project coordinator for a commercial construction company based in Australia. Her job consists of meeting with clients and subcontractors either on-site or online and ensuring that construction projects stay on track.

    Meet Destiny!

    Destiny is a union carpenter who works for Cornell University. On a daily basis, she receives tickets for various repairs or projects that need to be completed around the campus. These can vary from patching drywall, evaluating jobs and producing lists of materials, moving furniture, and anything else that might be needed.

    How did you get into construction?

    Meira: “I decided I didn’t want to go to college after high school. I saw my sister apply to college and as I learned more about what it even was, I started to feel like it was not something I wanted to do. The first time I heard about an electrical apprenticeship, my mom told me about it, she read about it in the paper. I was always taking tech classes and I was in the woodworking club and I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity for a while, I just always loved working with my hands and creating something very tangible.”

    Alison: “I always had a passion for building, I was interested in the look but I was more interested in what happens in the building, the purpose of the building, and how people interact in the building. Coming from an immigrant family, there was a big push to fields like engineering. I went to uni for civil engineering but I started taking elective classes in construction management. After a year, there was a point where I couldn’t keep up. I was working on top of school and it became so draining. I didn’t have any more passion or excitement for the major. I had to make the call that civil engineering wasn’t for me and construction management was. I liked that it was challenging but logical.”

    Destiny: “I started off working in a couple of factories that were around my hometown. I worked at two different cabinetry factories and I decided that I really liked the finish work side of carpentry. There was a union near me that was actually looking for apprentices so I decided to have a go at it.”

    Do you enjoy it?

    Meira: “Yeah I really do. I love that I feel like I’m learning while I work – which I am, that’s a lot of what an apprenticeship is. It’s such a refreshing way to learn and I don’t feel the pressure of a classroom on me, so I really enjoy it.

    Alison: “I think there are a few things that I enjoy. I like the practicality of it. With most professions it’s all virtual but with this industry you can physically see your work when you’re done and you have a real sense of accomplishment. I really like how buildings are becoming more than just shelter. With the progression of technology, more buildings are becoming smart buildings as well as becoming more environmentally friendly.”

    Destiny: “I started off working in a couple of factories that were around my hometown. I worked at two different cabinetry factories and I decided that I really liked the finish work side of carpentry. There was a union near me that was actually looking for apprentices so I decided to have a go at it.”

    Is there anything you don’t enjoy about it?

    Meira: “I don’t like being there when it’s so cold, it’s hard when you’re not indoors. When it comes to the work, things can get frustrating. Sometimes you’ll have to rework many times or go back and fix things and it can feel a little tedious but the more you do it, the better you get at it.”

    Alison: “This isn’t necessarily specific to my job but to the industry as a whole. I feel like it is so male-dominated and definitely a bit behind progressive-wise. When working onsite there’s a lot of toxic masculinity, bullying, homophobia, and sexism. Nobody really addresses it because there aren’t a lot of minorities in power. Being a woman in the industry, there’s definitely a lot of imposter syndrome and then there’s no effort to make women feel like they belong because they feel like you don’t belong either. Then you have these new apprentices being taken on by people who pass along these ideas and the cycle continues.”

    Destiny: “Honestly just the drama that comes along with it. Working around predominantly men, it’s like high school in some aspects. I don’t really care for that part of it. Other than that, I love what I do but it gets to be a bit much sometimes. As a woman on any job, it’s very touch and go.”

    Do you feel that you faced any challenges being a woman in construction?

    Meira: “Yeah, I really noticed that tech fields, apprenticeships, trades, were always sort of ‘advertised’ to the boys. All my male classmates were always told to take tech classes and that’s how you really learn about these careers. I felt like I really had to work to learn and realize that it was an option that I could do too. I really had to come to terms with the fact that ‘Oh I can do this as a woman’ and this is not just something that I can dream about doing. I felt sort of excluded before I even started.”

    Alison: “I didn’t feel it as much when I was studying. I was outnumbered in lectures for sure but it wasn’t till I started working in the industry that I realized how bad it really was. As a POC woman, it’s isolating, that feeling of impostor syndrome when you feel like you don’t belong. Toxic masculinity is a huge problem in the industry. There have been numerous instances where I meet with a client or a subcontractor and after the introduction they will not talk to me. There’s just a lot of people turning their back and excluding you. You really do need thick skin to keep inserting yourself where you’re clearly not wanted and not valued.”

    Destiny: “There was definitely a stigma right off the bat of like ‘oh here’s a girl on the job so we have to give her the smaller jobs.’ They look at us like we’re just weak women for the most part, at least until they know what we can do. That was one of the biggest issues at first.”

    What advice do you have for women who may be thinking about going into construction or the industrial trades?

    Meira: “I still feel like I’m a woman just starting to go into the trades but even already, it felt like a very daunting task to have to really do so much work to learn about something and make a place for yourself somewhere where it’s not common for women to be. It seems scary but I just did it. Once I did it, I learned that there’s so many wonderful things about being a woman in a trade. Construction workers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. It seems really scary but just push through because it’s very worth it.”

    Alison: “I think a lot of women will say ‘just go for it’ but I think it’s important to first have an understanding of yourself and your character because its quite draining to always have to justify your presence in the industry. If you don’t have that thick skin then this industry might not be for you. At the end of the day, it’s an amazing industry to be apart of. You have constant moving parts, you’re always learning and you can never know it all. It’s such a rewarding industry to be in and we definitely need more women.”

    Destiny: “I would definitely say it is absolutely going to be different, it’s going to be hard in some aspects, but push yourself and believe in yourself.”

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