“If you are networking with people in the industry who look like you, or who don’t look like you, you’re able to build these relationships and create these dreams that may have seemed intangible.”
Building a Network for Women to Thrive
Women in construction make up just 1.5 percent of the nation’s workforce—a daunting statistic that hints at the challenges women face in the field. Laura Ramirez, a field engineer at Raimore Construction, is trying to change that statistic and prove that women like her can pivot their careers into these in-demand, rewarding jobs.
Laura’s career path didn’t initially start with construction, but from a young age, she was set on economic mobility. During the 1980s, her mother escaped the civil unrest happening in El Salvador and immigrated to Portland, building a life for herself and Laura by working long hours cleaning houses.
“I didn’t know anyone who worked as hard as my mom,” Laura says. “And, you know, I didn’t know that we were poor growing up because she never let me see it. She set up a base for me to not struggle as much as she did.”
Laura’s mother wanted a better life for her daughter and encouraged her to pursue as much education as she could. “She never made me think that [higher education] wasn’t an option. It was just something that I would have to do.”
Instead of going to the high school near her home, she decided to attend Benson High School to be among its diverse students and explore the wide range of skills-based training it offered. The decision required sacrifice: she would commute nearly two hours from Clackamas to Northeast Portland. But her mother provided the inspiration she needed to press forward. “She motivated me by waking up early and cleaning houses, but she also put the responsibility on me to figure it out.”
Laura graduated from Benson with a diploma in construction but decided to pivot at college and pursue a career in education. She earned her B.A. in Spanish and Humanities from Western Oregon University and taught for a few years at a Spanish immersion school, eventually becoming the school’s Director of Operations. Although her time at the school was rewarding, she soon started to long for a new challenge. That’s when her high school training resurfaced.
Laura’s ideal work environment needed to allow opportunities to both problem-solve and help people. So as she thought about her options, she decided to connect with two former Benson classmates who worked at Raimore Construction. Even though they thought she was joking about wanting to work in construction, they encouraged her to make a pitch for a job there. It only took two tries before she landed an interview with Jeff Moreland Sr., Raimore’s CEO.
“During our meeting, I shared what I wanted to do and basically had to persuade him that I could do the job, even though I’ve never been in this industry,” she says. “He told me there were some things that I’d have to endure, like working with majority of men, and he basically prepared me for it.”
But Laura was more determined than ever to go into construction.
“Really, I think I just wanted to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing. Growing up, if I didn’t see girls doing something, then I would want to do that thing,” she says. “I think I was just always kind of rebellious and wanted to challenge the system. Then as I got older, I realized that this is a reason to push for it: because you don’t see it.”
Since joining Raimore, Laura has been promoted to field engineer and is now involved in many projects. But the project she is most passionate about is increasing the number of women in construction. “I just really want women to feel empowered and see themselves in these roles because other women who look like me need to know they can do the work and be just as successful as our male counterparts.”
And she has a compelling reason why: while women make 81 cents to every dollar earned by a man across all economic sectors, in construction specifically, women and men are separated by just a penny on the dollar, according to the National Association of Women in Construction. “It seems like people look at construction as a last option. But really, you can make a lot of money and create generational wealth,” she says.
To further her cause, she launched a meetup to create space for women who work in the trades across the Portland area to connect, network and support each other. What began as a one-off email among a few women became a monthly meetup that to-date has attracted more than a dozen women of different ages and backgrounds.
“The mentorship at Raimore levels out the playing field to make sure not only am I successful, but the women around me are too,” she says. “If you are networking with people in the industry who look like you, or who don’t look like you, you’re able to build these relationships and create these dreams that may have seemed intangible.”