She Built This City is all about exposing girls and women to the world of construction and other maker trades. Women have been historically excluded from the construction industry, and LaToya is working to change that by offering hands-on programs to women of all ages to learn construction skills while giving back to the community. She Built This City works with local nonprofits for all their building projects, ensuring that girls get real-life exposure to the field and providing the community with much-needed labor.
Can you talk about the gender stereotypes girls face in construction?
These stereotypes date back to the 40s when women first entered the workforce and society determined what “women’s work” entailed. As we break down those barriers, we’re seeing women excel in every field. Construction is the last frontier where we don’t have women leading or participating, but it’s all based on misconceptions. People are surprised to learn we have women graduating from a plumbing apprenticeship program because it’s a “dirty job”. You know what’s a dirty job? Being a mother and changing diapers. Women are already doing the dirtiest jobs and are so incredibly strong— there’s really no truth to these stereotypes. Every construction company I work with says they want to hire more women not because of diversity, but because they bring so much to the table in being reliable, communicative, and detailed problem solvers. Gender stereotypes are antiquated and based on myths and we’re breaking that down on every level we can.
How does She Built This City help empower young girls and women?
We focus on igniting interest in construction and maker trades. Career decisions can be made early, so if we start exposing 7-year-old girls to tools, safety, and career options in nontraditional ways, they will see that as a long term option for themselves. Construction is art and a creative process, and we try to lift up that aspect. If you ask these girls, “Who wants to use a drill?”, they all look confused. If you say, “Who wants to make solar-powered hand washing stations for the homeless?”, suddenly all their hands go up because that sounds really cool. For our middle and high schoolers, we create opportunities for them to use these technical skills in service of others. All our projects are with local nonprofits so we can help them build what they need while training our girls. Our adult programs are an “on-ramp” to starting a career in the field. We aren’t expert trainers, but we can provide 12-15 weeks of training that allow them to get entry level construction jobs. Some paths involve college and some don’t, our job is just to expose girls and women to all the options available to them.
What is your favorite part of working with She Built This City?
I find the most joy in coming up with collaborative solutions to problems. When we get to combine our training with real-life issues, it’s really awesome to see. Right now some of our high school girls are partnering with the local Humane Society to build bike racks that are shaped like animals. The girls are learning about architecture, using 3D printing, and getting to see the step by step process of what working with a construction client looks like. These are the kind of projects I really love being a part of.
What are your hopes for the girls you work with?
It is my hope that every person who comes in contact with our program leaves feeling empowered. Whether they learned how to use a tool, created something impactful, or picked up a new skill, I really hope we have an influential impact to help create equity in this field. We try to tackle every piece of the pipeline by working with kids, teens, adults, and parents to expose girls to paths they didn’t think were available to them. It’s not my job to choose a path for them, but to show them all the paths. I hope we see more women in this space long term. I call up construction companies who say they want to hire more women to make sure that they have opportunities available like child care, fair pay, and maternity leave. If they say they want to include women, they need to make the workspace a positive place for them so that women can really succeed. I truly hope that’s able to happen soon.