Women In Construction


Jennifer Bruss

P.L. Freeman Co. Third-Year
Sheet Metal Apprentice

Jennifer Bruss is a third-year sheet metal apprentice working on the Wisconsin Center expansion project. She found her way to construction by way of her father, a master carpenter.

“Just seeing what my dad did and seeing how much detail was in the finished work, I was always interested, and I’d always want to work with my dad. It intrigued me,” Bruss said.

She picked up her first tool at four years old.

“It was a hammer. It was in my parents’ garage. I would tell you I put about 200 nails in the wall, but in reality, it was probably like ten. But when I was four years old, it seemed like 100, 200.”

As a teenager, Bruss began working a temp electrical job and initially planned to join the electrical union, but her plans changed after meeting the president of the sheet metal union, who convinced her to change paths. Now a third-year sheet metal apprentice, Bruss says she continues to learn and grow in her field daily. She eventually plans to further her career in the construction industry and explore engineering.

“Having to look at blueprints and jobsite plans and learning that ductwork or sprinklers take more priority when it comes to a building’s layout makes a future in engineering more intriguing. I’m actually learning as I’m doing this route, too,” Bruss said.

Bruss says she wishes more women would pursue careers in construction. She says being a woman in construction is empowering.

“But at the same time, there are moments of just irritation. You can be viewed as someone that isn’t capable, but sometimes it’s like you need to prove yourself, but at the same time, you need to have a thick skin,” Bruss said. “Don’t let it be known that it’s male-dominated to scare you away. There’s so many opportunities where you can get an education out of it, a decent paying job and benefits.”

To make the construction industry more inclusive to women, Bruss says it starts with giving women in construction more credit for all they do and not judging a book by its cover.

“They can do it too. That’s why they’re here.”

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LaSonya Donald

C.D. Smith Journeywoman Carpenter

LaSonya Donald was training to be an automotive technician and studying human services at Milwaukee Area Technical College when she enrolled in her first carpentry class.

“I actually fell in love with it, so I stuck with it,” Donald said.

Upon graduating, Donald enrolled in BIG STEP, or Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program, an initiative created to increase the number of women, minorities and young workers employed in the building trades. BIG STEP partnered with WRTP in 2002 to form WRTP I BIG STEP. WRTP, or Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, was created in the 1990s to renew Milwaukee’s industrial base after the recovery of manufacturing, retirement of an aging workforce and diversification of the regional economy created a growing skills shortage. Now operating as one organization, WRTP I BIG STEP is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit workforce intermediary dedicated to connecting people to self-sustaining jobs.

“I enrolled myself into the program BIG STEP, and actually, I started working on a job for them. It was in a factory, but it was for making parts for the Northwestern Mutual project. So I was actually working for the Glazier’s Union. ” Donald said.

Donald assembled window parts for the Northwestern Mutual project before eventually joining the Carpenter’s Union.

Donald says being a woman in construction is amazing.

“It’s full of opportunities. Currently, I serve on the Sisterhood in the Brotherhood committee of the carpenter’s union. And also, I give the men opportunities to relax and trust a woman to do the job. Get the job done,” Donald said.

Donald’s advice to younger women interested in pursuing a career in construction is to be confident.

“You have to have confidence in yourself. You have to have confidence in your work. If you don’t, no one’s going to believe in you,” Donald said. “Being a woman in construction is equivalent to playing sports. I ran track when I was younger. Not everyone will cheer you on, but you have to remain motivated and really want a career in construction.”

She says she will continue encouraging more women to pursue a career in construction and urge her colleagues to avoid stereotyping women to make construction a more inclusive industry.


Deborah Green

Platt Construction Flagger

Deborah Green went away to college to pursue her dreams and study theatre. College wasn’t working out due to financial reasons, and Green moved home. Green’s father and uncles worked in construction, and Green says her father used to share stories about his days on the job site, specifically about a particular heavy machinery operator. Green says she remembers asking her father if the operator was a Black man.

“And he said, ‘no baby. They don’t let Black men get on the equipment.’ And I said they’re going to let this Black woman. And I went into heavy equipment operations. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Green completed her heavy equipment operating program and kicked off her career in Illinois. However, it wasn’t an easy start.

“I was flagging there. I wanted to be an operator. I went to several companies trying to be an operator. Each time I was turned down. I was always told this: I was Black, and I was a woman.”

Green faced adversity during her time working in construction in Illinois and Wisconsin. Green says she wanted to get hired as a heavy equipment operator, but no one would give her a chance. She sued an employer for discrimination and won.

“But I chose not to take the money. I want to get hired. And that’s what they did. They hired me on, but I went through that.”

Green moved on to work for the laborers’ union and now works as a flagger on the Wisconsin Center expansion project.

Her advice to young women interested in a career in construction is to be encouraged.

“Don’t give up, don’t give out, and don’t give in. Just pursue, keep doing it. Because days are better now. They’re much better than they were in the past.”

Although she faced many challenges, Green says she’s grateful to be a woman in construction.

“I’m happy it made me very independent. It showed me self-worth. I would recommend it.”

Green says employers can make construction a more inclusive industry by being truthful to the words ‘equal-opportunity employer.’

These days, Green is setting her sights on a new business venture in addition to her construction career, her Christian clothing line I’ve Got Your Back.

She already has t-shirts and hats for sale.


Chelsea Tappa

Doral Corporation
Journeywoman Ironworker

Becoming a journeywoman ironworker was not the original plan for Chelsea Tappa.

“Although if I had known about ironworkers, it probably would have been… I always liked to build things and climb on things when I was little,” Tappa said.

Tappa originally went to college to pursue a career as a civil engineer in freshwater or wastewater treatment.

“I was going to college for a very long time. It was not working out for me. I decided to stop doing that. I was trying to figure out a career for myself.”

Tappa began exploring the idea of becoming an ironworker after a friend recommended it to her six years ago. She joined an apprenticeship program, which took four years to complete.

“So we go to actual class at our union hall, and then the main part of our apprenticeship is going and working in the field. Then you get mentored by the existing journeymen ironworkers, and they show you the ropes of everything to do,” Tappa said.

Tappa completed her training and eventually became a journeyman. She says as a woman in construction, her experience has been positive.

“I’ve certainly talked to other women who have not had a great experience. But most of the men I’ve ever worked with have been super supportive… the few people with whom I did have a bad experience, it was like, how do you think like that? How are you still living in the 1950s where you think that women can’t do the same thing that you can?”

Tappa says the construction industry needs more women.

“I think that we add not just diversity to the workplace, but I think that sometimes we think differently and we approach problems differently and that can be a benefit in the construction industry.”

She encourages her colleagues to be welcoming, patient and open to teaching women new things in the workplace.

She says being a woman in construction can be intimidating yet rewarding.

“You’re building something. You’re doing something with your hands all day long. You’re part of this big group effort to build a building or build a school or fix the street that you live on. Also, there’s the gratification of you’re getting a good paycheck that you’re bringing home. You’re able to support yourself. And that’s kind of hard to find these days.”


Ashley Szweda

C.D. Smith Labor

After finishing two degrees, Ashley Szweda decided to explore a career in construction after a friend encouraged her to do so.

“One of my girlfriends was a sheet metal worker. I had just moved back here from Texas, and she’s like ‘Ashley, go take the test! Just be a laborer, go make over $21 an hour, you’ll be fine. Then you’ll figure it out,’” Szweda said. “After you start out making over $21 an hour, now it’s a lot more. It’s hard to go back. I have two degrees, and this makes good money for the hours.”

Now, almost eight years later, Szweda says it’s always surprising to see her personal growth as a female laborer.

“When I first started I couldn’t strip form. I really couldn’t, and I wanted to refuse, like I can’t do it, won’t do it. Not going to touch it. And then the more I did it, I learned little tricks, and now I teach others and men that are twice my size, or I think have been doing this their whole life. I’ve shown them tricks.”

Szweda says being a woman in construction is challenging and everchanging.

“I built a very thick skin. You have to if you stick around. I like the change, and I like the challenge.”

Szweda encourages other women in construction to stick with it, and not take things to heart.

“Just come here and work, work the best you can, hard as you can. Find a mentor. That’s the biggest thing.”

To make construction a more inclusive industry, Szweda says women should be treated as equals.

“It needs to be educated that we’re all just people. So give us a fair shot. Do your job. Treat every woman like you would treat any other man. I think that would make things a lot easier,” Szweda said.