by Jacqueline A. Falla
Maria Ramirez found her way into the construction industry as a laborer 20 years ago. She began with a simple ambition: provide for her four children. What she found was a family in the field, and a permanent home at Elaine Construction, where her daughter Stephanie Torres joined her a few years ago. Stephanie and Maria shared with me their thoughts about the challenges, rewards, and love for the profession.
Jacqueline Falla: Why choose construction?
Maria Ramirez: I realized early on that construction provided a relatively stable work environment which, as a mother, was important to me. Initially I chose construction for the security it provided. I would learn over time how much more the industry would give me.
Stephanie Torres: My mom and I have always liked a challenge. Being one of a few women in the field makes us feel special, and when we are able to do what all the men can do, well, we know we are, and we get their respect, but most importantly we are always surprising ourselves with regard to our capabilities. After a long hard day we can look back and say “I did that,” and smile.
JF: What does it mean to be part of a union?
MR: When I started in the union I was one of only three women. It wasn’t always easy, but there was community in it, and they knew how hard I work, kept me employed, and eventually introduced me to Elaine Construction, and for that I am grateful.
JF: Who inspires you?
ST: My mom is my inspiration. Until I became a mother myself I didn’t appreciate all the sacrifices you must make. She gave us all we ever needed and much of what we wanted, without ever spoiling us. She built an empire for herself and I want to do the same.
MR: Lisa Wexler, Elaine’s president. She is a real advocate for women, empowers us, and it makes me want to work harder for her.
JF: What advice would you give a young woman interested in construction?
MR and ST: You can do so much more than you think you are capable of. Occasionally you’ll need to have a thick skin, and you’ll need to speak up, but together we women are stronger. Come join the fun.
JF: What’s the biggest challenge working in construction?
MR and ST: Knowing when to ask for help and knowing when it’s important to figure it out yourself.
JF: What’s it like to have your daughter follow in your footsteps?
MR: I’m excited and proud. She tried it out when she was younger, but took a break. When she returned, she came to work with Elaine Construction. She too has found a home here.
JF: What one item must you bring with you to the site every day?
MR and ST: A utility knife (they say in unison, with a smile in their voices, always).
Jacqueline A. Falla is director of client services at Elaine Construction.