March 5-11, 2023, was the 25th Annual Women in Construction (WIC) Week! RSCP celebrated over a million women who pursued impactful careers in construction and who work daily to build better and safer roads and streamline transportation, expand the blossoming logistics sector, help build more water infrastructure, develop new, better buildings, and keep the lights on in homes throughout the United States, to highlight a few of the wonderful things women in construction are apart of.
Vera Salcedo is a foreman at Neff Construction and a member of the carpenters union, Local 909. Vera became a carpenter through a pre-apprenticeship program for incarcerated women, where she dedicated herself to learning a trade and gaining a marketable skill set. Despite beginning the program under the assumption that women couldn’t easily enter the construction industry, she quickly began to learn, through hands-on training and the exposure of her pre-apprenticeship program, that she had the skills and ability to make a career in carpentry.
Driven by a motivation to support her children and move her life forward, Vera took advantage of the opportunity during her incarceration, officially joining Local 909 after serving her sentence. By joining the union, Vera was able to support her family, establish a life-long career, and rebuild her community. Her first mentor, Chewy Pinon, provided Vera with the opportunity to officially sign onto her first role, where she did everything from digging footings, forming concrete slabs, building panels, or any other jobs she could help support.
Vera, like many women working in a male-dominated field, has experienced scrutiny due to her gender. Stunned looks at a woman’s presence and men immediately questioning her competency are all experiences she continues to have as a female foreman. Yet, Vera has been determined to succeed from the beginning. Her grit and tenacity are what have propelled her forward, and she relies on the mentality that with time and experience comes betterment.
Though Vera’s path to construction is anything but typical, she wants to empower other women to thrive in the industry. “Don’t let anybody stop you from becoming who you want to be, don’t let society hold you back,” Vera urges. “The more we (women) do it, the more comfortable men are going to get with us being out there in the industry.” Joining the carpenters union provided stability, financial gain, and social mobility to Vera during a crucial time in her life and can offer the same hope to countless others. Listen to our podcast episode with Vera here.
Julia Padilla is a San Diego native and a construction laborer with LIUNA Local 89, a San Diego County union providing stable employment and financial security to its members and their families by negotiating livable wages and protecting benefit standards.
In 2017, after 17 years of working in retail, Julia enrolled in a construction boot camp to make a career change. After successfully completing the program and an apprenticeship, Julia became a licensed laborer. Now, she realizes that her entrance into the construction industry was a permanent career shift, bringing exciting and interesting new challenges to her day-to-day life.
Growing up on a farm with a father in the local union, Julia has never been a stranger to hard work. As a construction laborer, her work is incredibly intensive. From the physically demanding, long drills in her training program to now building out the infrastructure of San Diego, being a laborer has required dedication.
Julia initially felt out of place at the beginning of her program. She had to overcome being raised to be a “girly girl,” growing a thick skin and a solid backbone to be successful in construction. Julia received encouragement and mentorship from female colleagues and became determined to understand and participate in the union’s culture. Eventually, Julia found a deep sense of comradery with her peers and remains dedicated to her trade to this day. Listen to our podcast episode with Julia here.
Amber Wood is an operating engineer with Local 12, based in Pasadena. She’s been in the industry for almost 20 years as a fourth-generation union worker.
Though Amber’s family has been in the construction business for many decades, she is the first woman from her family to formally venture into the industry. She is proud to represent her lineage and family reputation in the field, as well as bear witness to the larger changes in the industry.
Amber is not only part of the 10% of women who make up the industry – an even smaller amount who work labor jobs on work sites – she is also a mother. Over the course of her career, Amber and her husband, also an operating engineer with Local 12, has had to balance raising three kids with the demands of their careers. Early mornings left little opportunity for daycare, and varying contract lengths made schedules unpredictable. Despite the inherent challenges with the job, Amber found her coworkers supportive and understanding. She even recalls the overt support and kindness shown to her when she told her coworkers she was pregnant. Noting that, at the time, it was clear how her work environment and culture were shifting toward the receptivity of young women in the industry.
Amber’s perspective on the world of construction is unique. Having entered the field in 2000, she has seen the industry grow to include more women and progressive action. Amber refers to her fellow tradesmen as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters,’ underscoring a kinship between all those who make up this vital workforce. Her connection with other tradesmen, particularly her ‘sisters,’ is the backbone of her work. Having built an ever-growing community, Amber works every day to bring support for and from her ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ to every job site. Listen to our podcast episode with Amber here.
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