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A Woman in Construction and My Experience with YWCA Minneapolis

By Heather Hoffman, Project Manager at RJM Construction
October 13, 2016
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A Three-Year Construction Project at YWCA Minneapolis

RJM Construction recently performed an extensive renovation of the YWCA Minneapolis downtown location. This was a top to bottom remodel, from the roof to the locker rooms. Areas of renovation included the early childhood education classrooms, health and fitness spaces, common areas throughout the building, administrative offices and the pool. The project occurred over three years, and needed to be completed in phases, all while keeping YWCA Downtown open the entire time.

My Experience as a Woman in a Job Traditionally Held By Men

It is true that the industry is still dominated by men, and in general there is much need for diversity. Being a woman in construction provides me opportunities to choose to be bold, take strong actions and step out of my comfort zone in order to grow my career. Studies show that women often want to “wait” until they are ready to take on more challenging projects, roles or promotions. I have felt the need to step up to the table now and make myself heard. Instead of waiting for opportunities to come to me, I try to make them happen. As time has gone on, it continues to get easier, and I feel more confident about being myself and bringing my unique talents to the table.

I often get asked about what it’s like to be a woman in this business. People tend to expect a negative answer, but my experience has largely been positive. Of course there are some bad days, and I have to be honest and admit there are challenges. Sometimes when I walk into a room, people don’t trust my skills right off the bat because I look different than who they were expecting to see. It might take longer for me to gain trust and respect; they might need to see results first. And sure, some negative or biased people cross my path, but truthfully, at RJM Construction and numerous other connections in my path, there have been many, many more people who have mentored me and supported my work. Thanks to those mentors, I am determined to pay it forward as much as I can in my career.

Working Toward Diversity in Leadership

Today when looking at executive teams for major construction organizations in the Twin Cities and beyond, there are still mostly white men in leadership roles. And I really do mean mostly all. I don’t see any reason why that can’t change, and I think I can be a part of it. Just this summer when I had a chance to work with a female intern I made sure to communicate the opportunities available in the construction industry and tips on career advancement.

Learning About Empowering Women and More at YWCA Minneapolis

I didn’t know anything about YWCA Minneapolis when our construction project started three years ago. I now know so much about their work, and each time I learn more, it energizes me.

I remember my first understanding of the YWCA Minneapolis mission. We walked into YWCA Midtown to look at the reception area, and there was the mission statement, set right in the concrete floor. “Empowering women!” When I read it I was impressed and wanted to know more. This was not just a workout facility. Though I still didn’t understand how fitness and empowering women were related.

Most of my knowledge about the organization came though RJM’s sponsorship of YWCA programs and events, and subsequently, my involvement in attending. Learning about the Girls Inc. program made me grin ear to ear. Their personal stories of lives being changed, well, it was just SO GREAT! In addition to the stories, the things I see the organization supporting and accomplishing makes me believe they are doing something right – and it is having life-changing effects on individuals in our community. I especially like their support and education of young women and girls, and the focus on building self-esteem. It is one of the most needed ventures in our culture, and perhaps all cultures.

Getting Involved in the Eureka! Program

Naturally, with all of these things in mind, I clicked “LIKE” on the YWCA Minneapolis Facebook page. That way I would see their updates and messages come across my page. One day I saw a post about something called the Eureka! Program. I clicked on it, read the article and had a huge light bulb moment. There was a girl in my family, Morgan, who perfectly fit the description of someone who would benefit from this program. I knew she could use the support and influence from YWCA Minneapolis in her life. I was so excited to share this with her.

I couldn’t believe the program supported young girls from junior high all the way through high school! I was also awed that the University of Minnesota was part of the program, and that all participants would be able to experience the campus. Then I wondered about the cost. I found that the Eureka program was free of charge for accepted candidates. This sponsorship made all the difference. I contacted my cousin (Morgan’s mom) and let her know about it. Morgan was immediately excited and applied right away.

She attended this year and loved it. I was lucky enough to pick her up and give her a ride home several times after the program met. I got to hear all about her day. It was great fun. She is just past the first year of her experience, but I plan to continue to support her in maintaining her participation and contact with Eureka! and YWCA Minneapolis.