Renee Conner knows what it means to be a woman in construction. As a kid, she went out to sites with her father and, from that, she fell in love with construction industry. Renee worked on and off with her father until 1996, when her and her husband started their own business—a business which has been going strong for 20 years.
While a shortage of skilled workers plagues the construction industry, female workers are not being thought of as viable additions to the industry. “I never see enough women in the field. On my end of construction—I own a tapping company—I never see any women on the job. I might see a woman backhoe driver every now and again, but that’s about it,” says Renee. This is an issue Renee is trying to change, both with her business and with mentoring a girl in construction (MAGIC) camps.
“When I was going to school, girls weren’t even offered shop; we were offered home-economics. If a girl did take shop class, she was ribbed by the guys and told she couldn’t do it,” says Renee. This presents the first stage of battling discrimination against woman in the construction industry. While this battle seems small, it shows that from a very early age, females are pushed away from skills they could potentially use in future careers in construction.
The battles only get harder as these girls grow up and try to find a career in construction, whether it’s not being taken seriously or not being put in the field. “My dad was raised in the older way of thinking; that a woman’s place was in the office, not in the field. I’ve fought that all my life,” says Renee. “We can do more than just that. I’ve proven him wrong ever since starting my company with my husband.” The only way a woman can prove she can manage just as well as men in the construction industry is to get out in the field—one way or another—and prove it.
SURVIVE AND THRIVE
Having the skill and knowledge to be a tradeswoman or work in construction sectors aren’t the only things needed to succeed as a woman in construction; it takes determination and perseverance to truly dominate the field as a woman. “You have to have perseverance and you have to have thick skin to overcome the discrimination. You can go out on a job and ignore it; I ignored the ugly part of it,” says Renee.
“As a woman in the construction field, I actually saw what women had to face going in. I’ve run up against people in my own company, guys that refused to work if I came on the job. I’ve never let that stop me,” Renee adds. And this is where perseverance and determination come into play, because if a woman truly wants to enter the construction field, she has to fight for it. “I never gave up because, as a female out there, you always feel like you’ve got something to prove,” says Renee.
BREAKING GLASS CEILINGS
“I see the need to prove something going away more and more with each generation. It’s not that way for generations that are coming under us; we have broken some ceilings for them, gotten out there and pioneered all these different avenues. It’s not nearly as bad as it was 20 years ago even, when I first started my company,” says Renee. This lessened struggle is true through most male-dominated industries—construction being one of the main ones. By the time Renee and her husband started their business, there was a push-and-pull with women in construction; “I had some guys that thought ‘That’s great that you’re going out to work.’ But then, a bunch of them thought I would be there just for a day,” says Renee.
Knowing she had to fully learn the ins-and-outs of her trade, Renee dove right into the field with her husband, making sure there would never be a point in which she would be less knowledgeable than those around her and those in her tradecraft. “I knew when we started this company that it would be even harder on me if people called for orders and I didn’t know what they were talking about. I knew that if I was going to make it in this world, I needed to know what people were talking about and one way to do that was to be in the field and actually see and participate in what’s being done,” says Renee.
Since 2007, MAGIC has been teaching girls skilled trades, allowing girls to work with women in construction, and helping to build the confidence and knowledge it takes to have a successful career in the construction industry. “MAGIC is my way of giving back to the next generation and showing these girls that there is actually a viable career path for them in the world of construction,” says Renee, who helped found MAGIC in order to inspire and grow young minds. MAGIC is a national organization with week-long camps for girls interested in the construction industry. The camps are held in various cities around the U.S.
MAGIC is coming to Birmingham, Alabama, in 2016. ■
For More Information: For more information about MAGIC and to find out when camp dates are, visit www.mentoringagirlinconstruction.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, October 2015
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