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Important Conversations: Women in Construction (Michelle Carbajal)

10 March 2022

By Taylor Gilliam & Michelle Carbajal

Since the company’s founding over 65 years ago, and even more so under the leadership of third-generation CEO Anne Teague, Landis has been committed to increasing diversity and representation in our industry. As an officially certified Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) firm (representing the most widely recognized and respected national certification for women-owned businesses in the U.S.), we love seeking out new opportunities and partnerships to open doors for women in construction.

While more women are entering into the field each year, recent data shows they are still incredibly underrepresented, making up less than 11% of all construction professionals nationwide. An even greater disparity is the number of women on the front lines of a job site—only 1 for every 100 employees in the field. Considering that women make up 47% of all employed individuals, this means that the construction industry is only benefitting from about 1.25% of women in the workforce.

This Women in Construction Week, I sat down with, or followed around on-site, a few of the wonderful women who work at Landis to learn more about their personal and professional experiences as women in a largely male-dominated field. In return, I also got to hear what it’s like for them to work for a woman-owned construction company and be inspired by their hopes for the future of women in construction. See below for the third piece in our “Important Conversations: Women in Construction” series.

Michelle Carbajal, Laborer

This conversation was less question-and-answer, and more listening to Michelle, as she showed me around the site, sharing about her experience, past and present, and ambitions for her future.

With the company since: 2019

I met with Michelle at the site of Martin Behrman Elementary School, a historic renovation underway of the entire 109,000 sq. ft. existing school on the West Bank with new construction of a 12,800 sq. ft. Early Learning Center and 14,900 sq. ft. gymnasium.

What are you working on right now?
MC: I’m in charge of maintaining the whole job site. It’s just me, and I’m over two girls who do that with me.

We clean and clean the same areas over and over, and we have to throw away heavy stuff, because the workers are messy, and it will be dangerous if we don’t clean up what they leave. But we get it done. When you asked me for an interview, I thought, “They have other people at Landis who do better things than me!”

She laughs.

But you’re the only woman Laborer.
MC: Yes, it’s just me. My sister got me this job. Me and Ingris are very different. Ingris is humble and sweet. She’s like water. I’m more like oil and fire.

In the field, a woman has to work harder to be able to maintain the job. That’s the only way I was able to stay with Landis. When I first started working with Landis, all I was supposed to do was stay in the elevator for 6 months! So after being in charge of the elevator I was ready to do more on the job site.

In this job, I have to be both–the muscles and the brain–because if not, I won’t get anywhere. And I want to get somewhere in this company. I want to hopefully be one of the first woman Superintendents. That’s why I always tell them, “Teach me more.”

You have to work smarter. Men are stronger but women are smarter. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Men think with their muscles, women think with their brains. In this job, I have to be both–the muscles and the brain–because if not, I won’t get anywhere. And I want to get somewhere in this company. I want to hopefully be one of the first woman Superintendents. That’s why I always tell them, “Teach me more.”

The only way that I’m going to grow in the company is if I learn. I’m always telling the guys, “Teach me how to do this and that.” I tell Mr. Spud, “Are you going to keep me doing this for the whole job?” He laughs, but he knows I’m hoping that later on, he will let me start using tools. I have my own tools. So I always carry my tools in the back of my car just in case I get lucky, you know, that day.”

What has your experience been as a woman in a largely male-dominated industry?
MC: I have been working at Landis for three years, and working in the field was a good fit for me. I could be myself without looking bad. I have a strong personality. Sometimes when you work with men, men get a little too friendly. So I have to be like... She gives me a very serious, don't-mess-with-me look.

I have to watch my mouth. I’m working on it, but if I slip up and cuss or say a bad word, nobody will be shocked. They let me be myself. Landis is a good company to work for. It’s a family.

You know that I went on maternity leave. Since I was the only full-time woman laborer, there wasn’t a maternity leave policy included. So when I found out I was pregnant, I was worried about how I would maintain my job. So Cathy called me one day and said, “I have something to tell you.” I said, “Am I fired?” and Cathy answered, “No, we are giving you paid maternity leave.” For me, that was a blessing. I was lucky enough that they paid me. They are really understanding. I’m a single mom too, so I’ve got to work extra so I can maintain my job and maintain my home. I have a nine-year-old and a six-month-old. I worked pregnant, the whole pregnancy, until three weeks before. At that point, I was like, “No more.” You can imagine my hormones, right?

What made you choose Landis when you joined the company?
MC: This is the thing with Landis. At Landis, you do it all. That’s one thing everyone knows. If you’re a carpenter, you’re not going to do only carpenter stuff. You have the opportunity to learn.

At the Convention Center job, during my pregnancy, I was in charge of cleaning all the restrooms every day, the full detail. I had four girls under me. But after a while, I stopped working on the restrooms and got to work with tools. I wanted to learn. Whatever they teach me, I will learn. That’s the difference and the beauty about me. At one point they had me drilling all the holes on tile. You know how hard is that? On tile? I got to drill all the holes.

As a woman, I have to work harder.

At Sonesta, I did caulking on all of the tubs. We had fourteen floors, and I did all of the tubs. At one point they asked me, “Can you do one floor per day?” At first, I was doing it, and after that, I had to put my foot down. I said, “Look, either you want quality or quantity.” And I’m always going to do it right. So I did that at Sonesta as well as the cleaning. That was my first job with Landis.

Then I did hardware at 818. I was doing the same thing: labor. And Richard had me do some of the cleaning. And they noticed that I was doing a better job than the hired cleaning company! So that’s how I ended up cleaning. I’m very detailed. I see things that other people don’t see.

This whole building was full of trash when I got here, like a lot. We cleaned the whole thing in a week. The boss man was like, “Good job!” And I was like, “Yeah, I know.”

Do you want to keep working in the field? What is your ambition?
MC: I want to open my own company one day. I want to open a cleaning company. I want to be able to open a company, and in order for me to do that, I have to work hard for Landis, because one day I’m hoping they will want my company to do the final cleanings for their projects. I’m showing them what I am capable of.

In the beginning it was hard. They gave me work because they know and trust my sister. One day somebody made that comment, and I said, “Yeah, I got the job because of Ingris, but I was the one who kept my job.” I keep my job every day. I want to always keep improving myself.

This whole building was full of trash when I got here, like a lot. We cleaned the whole thing in a week. The boss man was like, “Good job!” And I was like, “Yeah, I know.”

I like to be the best.

How (if at all) do you feel your experience has been different working for a woman-owned construction company?
MC: I think having a boss woman makes no difference. It is her humanity and humility that makes a change for the company. And working for her as a person and a human is what makes you feel grateful to work for her and for the company.

What advice would you give to other young women considering a career in the construction industry? And in the “Field”?
MC: Follow your dreams. Never let anyone tell you what you’re capable of doing.

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