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I was born in El Salvador at a time when the country was engulfed by civil war. I am an immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for the last 20 years. Here is where I learned to seize the opportunities offered by a graduate education. Through them, I plan to make a difference in the construction industry and evolve as an entrepreneur in construction and sustainable energy.

Graduate programs can help women reinvent a better future. They can teach a new way of doing business that will have a positive impact on society and the environment while also achieving profitability.

The old way of doing business is no longer viable: It poses too much risk, and as new generations of people are enlarging the pool of talent in the economy, they are seeking to work for purpose-driven organizations.

In my industry, women are capable of driving change and making a difference not only as part of the labor force, but also as managers and developers who can create jobs and housing for all ages and income levels.

In my industry, women are capable of driving change and making a difference not only as part of the labor force, but also as managers and developers.

My journey over 15 years of working in the construction industrybrought me to Bard College, in New York, where I’m working toward an MBA in sustainability and where I’ve learned to appreciate and better understand the positive role that women can play by applying concepts like the triple bottom line and by using a clear mission to drive organizational change.

Yet, women in construction represent only 10 percent of the workforce; and even though our pay gap has narrowed, so that we now earn 99.1 percent as much as our male counterparts, we still have much work to do to achieve equity in this industry.

Related: Women have been marginalized in the building trades. The infrastructure bill could change that

Nevertheless, the number of women-owned construction firms is on the rise, increasing by 5.8 percent between 2017 and 2018. These new opportunities are allowing women to play a larger role in this male-dominated industry. These opportunities will be more palpable if we integrate child care and the training to acquire the new skills and knowledge needed for these demanding jobs. 

As a woman moving into a new way of doing the construction business, I am concerned about long-term performance. For me, it has all been about upward mobility. Training should not just serve as a means to get someone ready for a job, but also provide support to continue a journey of self-realization and develop a sense of belonging — while creating a highly skilled workforce that can help us address present and future challenges.

We need to organize the inefficient supply chain. We need to reduce the amount of energy the industry uses and rethink the way we manage its waste. We need construction to be part of a circular economy. Climate change has exposed us to a world filled with chaos. The solutions we need call for entrepreneurs to be impactful when creating new scalable ventures.

Related: Where are all the women apprentices?

Making this happen, though, won’t be easy. Ninety percent of startup businesses failed in 2019, for various reasons. Perhaps they didn’t start at the right time or in the right industry.

Yet it can be done. The Bard MBA has taught me conventional finance and has allowed me to better align myself with my male counterparts; but after the two years I spent completing this program, it is the leadership and entrepreneurial skills I developed that have positioned me to take charge and evolve within the industry.

During this journey, I was exposed to a platform called RebelBase, which provides tools that can make a difference for entrepreneurs who are seeking to make an impact. With its multiple business-building modules, this platform takes entrepreneurs from an initial idea to a financial model; it also helps them create metrics to measure their impact and make a final pitch presentation for potential investors.

I’m graduating in May 2022. My final school project is to develop a strategy to expand a portfolio of real estate assets. The developments I intend to design, build and manage will be carbon-neutral ready or net zero. The tenants in these developments will have access to a network that will promote upward mobility and incentivize homeownership so they can create generational wealth.

Women like me, long overlooked in the construction industry, can reinvent ourselves and our industry by creating new businesses — and be the catalysts for a better future.

Sonia Lemus-Wright is a partner and green/sustainable expert at Wright Companies and a graduate student at Bard.

This story about women in the construction industry was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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