Black Women Make A Name For Themselves In The Construction Business

June 14, 2012  |  

The days of the stereotypical image of a large man in hard hat and bright yellow vest working on a construction site are over. These days, women, especially black women, are tackling the typically male dominated field and finding success.

“When we first started [recruiting female students], we had to pull teeth to get them to come along because many thought you couldn’t be feminine and fit in this industry. But that’s just a myth,” Shelley Karriem the manager of Cardozo’s Academy of Construction & Design in Washington, DC said to the Washington Informer. “One of the things I often tell my students is that one of the best things that can happen on a construction site is to have a black woman aboard.”

Karriem said she tries to encourage young women to explore all of their options, and this past academic year, Cardozo saw about 50 girls enroll in the Construction & Design program.

Karriem isn’t alone in taking on the construction industry. Deryl McKissack is the owner and chief executive officer of McKissack & McKissack, which specializes in architecture and interiors as well as project and construction management. Based in Washington, her business employees 150 people and has four offices in the US.

“We need more engineers and architects in this country,” she said. But construction runs in McKissack’s blood. Her grandfather started a construction business 107 years ago in Tennessee. McKissack decided to start her own venture in Nashville, and grew it to its standing.

McKissack, who earned her undergraduate degree in civil engineering and has performed work for her alma mater, Howard University, says that “persistence and perseverance” are key.

“I think that’s key because if you don’t push yourself, no one else [will],” she said. “They have to be definitely prepared and have passion about what they’re doing. I tell them to enjoy their work because if they don’t it’s not worth doing.”

Although it may be intimidating at worth, McKissack believes that the benefits are worth it in this lucrative field.

Although Ann McNeill, the president of MCO Construction and Services in Miami supports higher education, she also acknowledges that many construction skills can be learned in trade schools. Young adults can still land a decent paying job in construction without the debt gained from a four-year degree. In addition McNeill mentions that women don’t have to pick up a hard hat to work in construction. They can be lawyers and like McNeill and McKissack, become the CEO.

“For women [in construction] it’s not something they should fear [simply] because it’s known as a man’s business, McKissack, said. “As long as [we women] are good at what we do, and have confidence in ourselves, we can’t just succeed but excel in this business.”

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