I had the honor of catching up with my friend Grace Herrera to discuss the upcoming book “The B Words” and how many of the “B’s ” apply to Grace. I met Grace years ago when she was just starting out in her career. I had the opportunity to hire her has a Safety Manager and so began a rewarding and unbreakable bond. Grace is far more than my colleague she is my friend for life. We have had many adventures over the years and hope to have many more.
As a Hispanic female working in the three traditionally male dominated industries, Grace has had her fair share of challenges on the road to self-defined success. She never gives up and meets every challenge with tenacity and her own true version of “Amazing Grace.”
TK: What do you do and how did you start a career in the construction industry?
GH: I currently serve as the Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Systems Manager for DPR Construction. I began my journey in construction as a Risk and Safety Assistant for an insurance agency in West Texas. Most of our clients were construction companies. One of my clients was a large general contractor with a female VP of Safety. (That would be me!) I was young and ready for the next challenge in my career, so when an opportunity presented itself, I convinced you to hire me as a safety manager. That opportunity was the catalyst for a fantastic, challenging job in construction. Whether working in safety, risk management, or technology, I have been fortunate to pursue my passion for performance excellence. DPR (www.dpr.com) is one of the top 50 ranked general contractors in the United States, and I am proud to be part of their team.
TK: While the construction industry has worked on increasing diversity, it is still predominately male field. What’s is it like for you to be the only woman in the room most of the time?
GH: I now see more women in leadership roles, but it is still a rarity. I have learned that my success is a result of my ability to showcase my knowledge and competency. Often men comment, “you really do know and understand construction!” after I lead a demo or a meeting. Recently I spoke at a large trade association event. After my session, I heard an attendee call out with surprise and excitement to my male colleague, “Grace knows here stuff! You need to attend her session!” The tone in his voice was genuine surprise. It feels good to know that my experience has opened doors and positively influenced some outdated opinions about women in our industry.
TK: During your career, have you had any exposure to unconscious bias?
GH: The trajectory of my career landed me in the cross-hairs of three male-dominated industries; safety, construction, and technology. In both my current and previous roles, I have been managing a safety software platform, and my male clients wrongly assume my background is solely computer technology. They don’t expect me to understand construction safety. They certainly don’t expect me to have field experience. I’m often met with surprise and awe when operations people realize I know their business inside and out because I experienced it first-hand. Once I have the opportunity to prove myself, I gain the respect of most of them. The challenge is always having to start from a place of proving myself. If I don’t consistently convey my expertise, I will not get the opportunity even to begin the conversation.
TK: Have you ever been called a “Bitch” for doing your job?
“Bitches get stuff done.”
— Rep. NY - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
GH: Unfortunately, yes! Just like many powerful, assertive women like, Rep. NY Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, I have been called a “Bitch” for doing my job. As a safety and risk professional, our purpose is to ensure there are protocols in place to protect the people performing the work. There were times when I had to call out field leaders for looking the other way or disregarding established protocols. And when I did not back down, they resorted to name-calling and backstabbing. When I still didn’t back down, the intensity escalated.
TK: What advice would you have for a young female colleague when confronted with being called derogatory term for doing her job?
GH: The best advice is to believe in your expertise and keep it professional. When I stand my ground I do so because I am confident in my knowledge and experience. I do my homework. I always encourage women to be prepared with facts and figures (data) to back up your position. The data/facts approach leaves little room for argument. It shines a light on those who are genuinely biased and getting by on emotion and power plays.
TK: Describe the importance of the bonds (connections) you have formed over the years, and how they have influenced your career?
GH: I’m confident I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my connections and bonds with some key women who have supported me along the way. Women, like you, who saw my potential when I didn’t see it for myself. Women have encouraged me to take a risk and try new objectives/approaches.
As a minority female in a very traditionally male industry, role models were few and far between. By having the courage to take a chance on me, I have carved out a niche career for myself that is rewarding, challenging, and exciting. I made some risky career moves over the years that took me way out of my comfort zone, but it got me to where I am today. My goal now is to serve as a role model for young Hispanic women with a dream. If I can do it, you can too.
TK: How has networking helped you along the way?
GH: Establishing great relationships with my colleagues has helped me earn their trust and respect and provides many networking opportunities. One connection has led to another resulting in may rewarding, trusted business relationships. For someone uncomfortable with the idea of networking, my advice is always to cultivate a passion for learning. I have always had a passion for learning from others and collaborating to share my expertise. I believe we can all learn something from each other regardless of how many years of experience we have. All it takes is an open mind and listening skills.
TK: What is your vision for the future?
GH: My vision is for strong women who stay true to themselves and honor their intelligence and experience would finally be recognized as great leaders. Too often, they become targets of name-calling and ridiculed for being perceived as “bitchy” or too emotional. I hope to one day work in an environment where gender is not the predominant factor in how people respond to each other.
This interview is a contribution to M.O.B.™ Editorials - original source: https://www.triciakagerer.com/b-words-blog