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A Determined Mother’s Journey into the Trades - WIC Week 2023

As we look to diversify our workforce, it is important that we learn about the challenges women face in the field, as well as what motivates them. Manson’s Women in Construction (WIC) Week committee spoke with some of the talented craftswomen at Manson to learn about their experiences as women in construction.

A tradeswoman at Naval Base San Diego.
Maria Gutierrez at the Pier 6 Replacement Project.

After more than 20 years in the grocery retail industry, Maria Gutierrez knew it was time for a change. After facing financial challenges in providing for her two children, Maria left her job in 2006. “As a single mother, it became challenging to make ends meet,” Maria explains. “So, I left that industry and searched for something new.”

Maria grew up in the “Heart of Screenland,” more commonly known as Culver City, California—a city home to several world-renowned film studios including MGM studios. When she graduated high school, Maria set off for college and received a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in business. Upon graduation, she entered the food retail industry and built a career that has spanned over two decades.

Understanding that something had to change, Maria came across a flyer from the Laborers Training School that piqued her interest. Learning about the pay and opportunity to learn a respectable trade, Maria signed up for the apprenticeship program and attended the required five-day ‘boot camp’ that tested basic knowledge and physical fitness. “I didn’t come from a family of construction workers,” Maria explains. “My desire to pursue a career in construction was solely based on providing for my family.”

Through sheer determination, Maria completed the grueling five-day boot camp, allowing her to enter the two-year apprentice program. Eight out of 100 trainees passed the boot camp, with Maria being the only woman in the group to succeed. “People that knew I was taking the course kept telling me that I wasn’t going to make it,” Maria says. “Being a single mother gave me the strength to see it through because I knew I needed to do this for my family.”

Through the apprenticeship program, Maria received classroom instruction and on-the-job training in basic laborer skills. Determined to achieve success in the program, Maria jumped at every chance to learn skills, including pipe laying, scaffolding work, and heavy equipment operation. After completing her apprenticeship, Maria became a journeyperson—possessing the required skills to work with a company or as an independent contractor.

While still working her grocery retail position, Maria went on to work for several small construction companies, excited to begin her new career. During this period, she experienced the different ways contractors approached inclusion for their employees. “In my experience, the work culture of smaller companies made it difficult for women and marginalized groups to succeed within their roles,” Maria says. “Some of my colleagues were apprehensive in working with me either because of my ethnicity or gender.” In addition to racial and gender bias, Maria even experienced unexpected layoffs due to the latter, despite showing exceptional skills in her trade and receiving praise from supervisors. “I remember on one particular job that I kept receiving praise from a supervisor about my work, and then one day I was told I was no longer on the job,” Maria explains. “When I went to ask why the supervisor told me because the owner of the company didn’t want me on the crew.”

Understanding the obstacles she faced as a woman in construction, Maria worked twice as hard to earn the respect of her supervisors and peers. According to Maria, she propelled her career with the mentality to, “Work hard: like it’s your last day.”

In the Summer of 2022, Maria joined Manson on the Pier 6 Replacement project at Naval Base San Diego (NBSD).

When Maria first arrived at NBSD, she feared that she would experience similar racial and gender discrimination from past projects. To her surprise, the staff and crew at NBSD have made her feel welcome through support and encouragement, especially from Site Safety and Health Officer Sheldon McNabb. Nine months on the job, Maria cites the Pier 6 project as the most impressive job she’s ever been a part of. “To see a project, start out from nothing, and to work with a team to build it out has been incredible,” Maria explains. “I’ve done port jobs before but nothing like this,”

Reflecting on her 17-year career as a tradeswoman, Maria says still enjoys what she does. On the days when she’s not working hard, she loves reading, swimming, and spending time with her two children and two-year-old grandson.


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