Interview by Maria Silva, NHEO Institute Community Development.
Please tell us your name, role, and your background:
Melissa Rohrer, Safety Director, D&L Electric Co., Ltd, Houston, Texas
How did you get involved in construction?
I became involved with construction at a very young age. I was a single mother with two small children to care for and needed a job that would allow me to earn a living and be at home with my children on the weekends.
My first construction job was an instrumentation technician helper working at a chemical plant in Pasadena, Texas, after a year of working there I then moved to another general contractor working at another chemical plant in Pasadena after three years of working there and attending computer classes, I decided to move in another direction and went to work for a Commercial Electrical Contractor as an administrative assistant to the owner. This gentleman poured knowledge into me and pushed me to always take on projects that were outside my comfort zone in which I learned the many duties of various roles in the company.
After seven years I was then moved to the Service Coordinator position where I was tasked with the day to day operations of the service department. It was then I decided I wanted to obtain my Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Safety and Health, I started taking online and night classes, the owner of D&L Electric moved me into the Safety Director position in 2014, and in 2015 I finished my degree from Columbia Southern University.
Since this time I have never looked back, it has been a blessing and joy to work for and with an amazing group of team leaders and members, I love what I do.
Why did you choose this profession?
I love to help people. I believe every accident is preventable and I love helping my fellow workers arrive home safely at the end of each day which is rewarding to me. Achieving this goal is done with continued teamwork, education, and training.
Doing this job allows me to work in both a field and office position, but what I enjoy most is being in the field helping my fellow workers find solutions to their problems or teaching them how to do their job safely.
Would you say it’s more difficult to start a career in construction for women than it is for men?
I believe a woman working in construction has advanced in great stride. There are many opportunities for women in construction that from general laborer, management, and executive levels.
Women are finding their way in the construction industry in unlimited capacities. While it may have been difficult it the past our society has moved past that stigma and women working in a construction environment is greatly welcomed.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you think women face in the construction industry?
Some of the biggest challenges women face working in construction is finding their place at the table and being taken seriously. I have had to learn to speak up and stand up for myself and earn the respect of my fellow male counterparts letting them know there is brain behind the pretty face.
Overtime and with thick skin I know I have earned the respect of my fellow co-workers proving that I am capable of doing the job. There are still times I run across that one person who requires me to validate my knowledge but I have learned to persevere through it.
Do you think the number of women in construction will increase in the future?
Yes, women are more than ever becoming drawn to opportunities in construction, environmental, and building trades. Working in construction gives women the opportunity to go beyond the traditional role of working in an office and expand their creative abilities in a new and exciting way. I see a trend where the number of women in construction will increase as trades experts and leaders.
What are your recommendations for other women and NHEO Institute members?
My recommendation to other women wanting to work in construction is to learn everything you can about the current position and industry you are working in. Find someone who has or is currently working in construction and have them mentor you.
Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself and take on new projects and learn new things. Network with other females who work in construction and collaborate with them on different problems or ideas you have. Join organizations to meet new people who strive for the same goals. Learn as much as you can but also share as much as you learn, as the ultimate goal is to help and lift each other up along the way.
What is something that surprises people about you?
I think people are surprised to know that I have worked construction my whole life in a variety of roles. I am one of 5 women who work at the company and my task have included a variety of items from helping projects function easily, equipment procurement, and now working full time safety.
People area also surprised to learn I am a mother of three adult children and grandmother to four amazing grandchildren who I enjoy spoiling every chance I get. It amazes people that I can fluctuate between momager and grandmother to a Construction Safety Director. I love working in construction and in safety helping those around me on a daily basis. Working construction has prepared me for many life lessons.