“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
— Mahatma Ghandi
It’s a familiar quote that yields so much power and in the right moment, mixed with the right amount of passion and grit, can lead to big ideas.
GROWING UP BLUE COLLAR
Laura Sietz-Danielsen, a Talent Acquisition and Retention Leader for APi Group, has a lifetime of passion for the construction industry. Her family owned a heavy equipment company, Northern Engine, and Supply in Northern Minnesota. It was that passion that eventually led her right back into construction after spending several years in the nonprofit sector. She admits that she did not initially consider a construction career, partially because of the lack of representation to show her it was a viable option.
In fact, Laura’s formative years were surrounded by the dismal effects of gender discrimination within her community- a sexual harassment class action lawsuit from female mine workers against Eveleth Mines that would make history as the first of its kind. It later became the basis of the 2005 American Drama Film- North Country, starring Charlize Theron.
As for grit, Laura’s got that too. A tomboy growing up, she recalls the sense of belonging she felt when she started her first Construction Project Manager job, “I played soccer with the boys’ team when I was little because there wasn't a girl's team. Combine that with the blue-collar community I grew up in and this industry felt like a good fit.”
SHE GETS IT FROM HER MAMA
Laura’s daughter Reese unsurprisingly at around 18 months old developed an affinity for large excavators. Laura recalls,
“We would pass sites and from her car seat in the back, she'd yell, ‘Ex-vator’ and I would respond, ‘An impressive rig. Its main job is to.....’ She would yell, ‘Dig, dig, dig.’ I started to realize that none of the construction-themed books we were reading had women in them and thought, ‘What message am I sending to my excavator-loving daughter?’ I found myself changing the words so that at least one piece of equipment was a girl.”
Like two tectonic plates colliding, their shared love for big machines, dirt, and construction sites provided the inspiration Laura needed to step up to the challenge of creating the change she wanted to see in Reese’s world. Laughing about the inescapable obligation, Laura remembers saying to her husband one day, “Someone should do something about this!" It was soon after, a coworker asked for a children’s book recommendation. That’s when Laura says it hit her,
“Wait a minute, I am somebody. I can write that book.”
— Luara Sietz-Danielsen
BRINGING HER CONSTRUCTION SITE TO LIFE
She used the little rhymes she’d been saying with Reese for the foundation (pun maybe intended) and then added to it. The whole process took Laura two years. Once she got a publisher, she began working with an illustrator. “I really wanted the book to pull kids in with the things they love (like dump trucks and dozers) but pepper it with these amazing careers they may not have heard of before”, says Laura.
Thoughtfully thinking ahead into these children’s bright futures, Laura’s book features an array of characters operating the equipment on-site, and together, they get the job done! “It was important to me that every kid be able to see themselves represented--not just my kids,” says Laura of the gender-inclusive and ethnically diverse group of builders in her book. In addition to the physical appearance of her characters, Laura made sure to keep all the builders OSHA compliant. “I was the first author my publisher had worked with who put a safety clause in my contract,” says Laura, “I reserved the right to veto and request changes on any illustration that didn't meet OSHA standards. My friend Kristin did an audit on the illustrations before we went to print.”
After two years of hard work including a successful Kickstarter of over 80 pre-orders to help fund the book, Laura was able to publish “Build It”. Since the launch of her book, Laura has partnered with local Pathway programs to read at Elementary Schools and other locations like the Mall of America. “[Reading sessions are] by far the greatest aspect of writing a book. I LOVE seeing and hearing how kids react to it” says Laura. “I start by asking them what they think of when they hear the word "construction" and it is hilarious to hear their responses. I like to make the reading sessions interactive by asking them to make a scoop with their hands and pretend to be the excavator or reach their hands to the sky like the crane truck.” These reading sessions are one of the major happenings that Laura cannot wait to return to once the threat of COVID is under control.
CHANGING SOCIETY’S PERCEPTION OF THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
According to a recent survey from the National Association of Home Builders, only 3% of high school students selected the construction industry as a desired field to go into. However, Laura believes that the lack of interest could have been ingrained much earlier than their teenage years. “At some point, construction careers became ‘less than desirable’ and I think if we want to change that narrative”, argues Laura, “we have to start sooner than in high school--especially if we want young girls to get the message that they belong here.”
One of Laura’s missions in life is to do just that-and implement her approach as early as possible. According to an article published in Frontiers of Psychology, “Particular features of picture books, such as the specific content they incorporate, or the way in which the content is presented, may influence children's tendency to learn and transfer the educational content to real-world situations.” So if you find your little one screaming “ex-vator” from their car seat at 18 months old, or if you just want to make sure there are no gender limitations on your little girl’s dream job, Laura has you covered. And as she puts it best, “reading books to our children is one of the earliest forms of marketing. I realized, if we are ever going to change our industry, we need to start with the books we read our children.”