Constructing A Stronger Me

Constructing A Stronger Me

It was the Dodge Physical Fitness Center weight room on the Columbia campus that intimidated me for most of my college days. It was a room full of heavy machinery and needless to say full of the other gender. I on the other hand, was a scrawny female that needed to look at the pictures on the machines in order to understand how they worked. One step inside that weight room and the air itself rejected my presence. It told me I did not belong. That I should go back up to the first floor and stick to being a cardio bunny.

I had the same feeling when I entered the construction workforce. After a smooth first day learning how to shuffle paperwork, I took my first steps in a construction site. The project was located in Park Slope and the team was laying foundation footings and walls more than 20 feet below street level. I was in awe of all the manpower, the tools, and the machinery all working in coordination. Yet, this did not constrain the feeling of intimidation slowly creeping in. Surely, the same feeling that I felt back at the university weight room. Once again I found myself in a setting where my presence felt small. Where my gender was no doubt something that hindered my credibility. And where my voice was like that of the Mayor of Whoville in Horton’s speck. Feeling this held me back from asking questions, offering solutions, and being proactive.

When thinking of being the only woman on a project site with at most 200 men, I recognized that a big challenge laid before me. Much like stepping into the weight room, I was going to have to be more daring if I was going to surpass the psychological hurdles of being a woman in construction. I did not cower at this challenge for as C.S. Lewis said, “hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny”. Having arrived in the U.S. at the age of ten without knowing a word of English and being a first-generation college graduate, I was already familiar with hard endeavors.

 

It seemed that life trained me for this mountain and surpassing this would no less be a stepping stone towards the next.

To establish myself as a respectable individual in a position that seemed unorthodox to many tradesmen, I reexamined the responsibilities of my position, an Assistant Project Manager. For as long as I was doing my job I was within navigable boundaries. Slowly but surely I took the reins of the job; doing buyouts, takeoffs, permits, inspections, requisitions, etc…I channeled my heritage of strong Latina women to speak up and assert myself. And more so, thinking of how far I came, I gave myself no alternative other than to succeed. Much like my experience in the weight room, where I eventually overcame my timidity and became physically stronger, I cultivated a strong, bold character that allowed me to argue about a late delivery. That made me comfortable demanding a tradesman to redo a task when done incorrectly. And to keep a cool straight face regardless of the situation. My boldness is now part of what defines my character and a facilitator to my success.

There’s no doubt that stepping into a weight room may not seem like a challenge to some, much less something significant. A mountain to some people may be a small hill to others. But had I not made that personal feat, conquering the prejudice found on a construction site would have certainly been a bigger strive. It takes courage to tell a 40-year-old man to stop calling you “love” and “sweetheart”. More so to be the only woman in the room directing 10 other males. The lack of gender diversity is real. But the struggle is profitable because I now have a strong character that has been the biggest facilitator to my success.

Stephanie Puljos

Stephanie Pujols, Assoc. AIA

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