Meet Raquel Derek, Franjo’s Chief Financial Officer. Raquel has been with us since 2010, helping to grow our small family-owned construction company into a $200+ Million contracting organization that now includes multiple companies. Anyone who’s spoken with Raquel, even for two minutes, will be able to tell she is incredibly efficient and detail-oriented. This is a big reason why she’s earned her current role (and killing it).
Continuing with Women in Construction Week, we interviewed Raquel on her experiences.
Tell me about your journey in construction. How did you get into the industry? What path have you taken to get where you are now?
After graduating from college, I was looking for an entry-level position in the accounting field. I found just that at Franjo Construction after hearing about the role from a college friend. I was able to get in when it was still a small company. Throughout the past 11 years, Frank and Joe gave me every resource and opportunity I wanted. We grew together. To get to where I am now, it was a combination of my determination and their trust in me. They never restricted or questioned me. There was no ceiling. I was trusted to make this position be whatever it needed to be.
Do you feel anything would have gone differently if you were male?
While I had a ton of support internally, I didn’t always have that from the outside. I had to work harder in a shorter period of time simply to prove my capabilities. I sensed that being female affected my peers’ perception of my credibility. I overcame that by not letting those external factors affect my goals. I did not allow for any distractions and just stayed the course. I almost feel like it motivated me to be even more successful because I was around people who doubted me.
There seems to be a lack of resources found online for supporting women in construction. What’s there seems vague, minimal, or non-committal at best. Why do you think that is? Do you think it’s an issue?
The industry is behind the times as far as creating equality and women empowerment, but I’m not sure why that is. I think sharing more success stories of women in construction will create change. There’s just not enough awareness because the leadership teams are mostly males, so you don’t always see the women that work hard behind the scenes. Women are probably deterred from entering the industry because they see that it’s mostly male. They see that many construction companies don’t create opportunities for women, so the issue perpetuates itself.
Was the construction industry your goal?
No. I wanted to be a forensic accountant/auditing. I wanted to be involved in working with the FCC and stopping fraud or finding what companies were doing wrong and penalize.
Do you feel that you face any challenges in this industry based on being female?
Yes, as I said above,
I felt like I had to prove myself more than anyone else
…even those at the same level as me. I wasn’t ignored, but it’s harder to be heard as a woman. Adding to that, I was young, which was a double-whammy.
Are you excluded from anything?
I don’t think intentionally. Sometimes it’s just a matter of different interests. With it being a male-dominated industry, most of the activities tend to lean toward things most men like to do. I may skip something because I don’t like that particular activity, but I’m still missing the camaraderie. Work-wise, I am not excluded.
Are there any advantages to being a woman in the construction industry?
Yes. Speaking generally here, females tend to have a more sensitive side. I think it has helped soften things around here. My peers and our clients often feel more comfortable opening up to me because they know they’re being listened to as opposed to just heard. I think that being more personal has helped us to build relationships with our clients, especially the female base.
Again, generally speaking, women are more detail-oriented and pay more attention. So, I have that biological advantage.
What changes need to be made to make the construction industry better for women? What can each of us do to support this?
The biggest need is to create more awareness of females in the industry. We are here, but that’s not always talked about. We’d like to be shown support and understanding that no position in the industry is too small or too big. We need to foster an environment where we’re all equal. Treat the women the same way we’re treating the men.
I also think some sort of forum or peer group for women in construction to discuss ideas, issues, and bounce ideas off each other would be good.
Lastly, the way we treat each other could be improved. Sometimes women are treating each other as competition, but we’re not. We’re all on the same team.
What advice would you give to any woman who’s considering a career in this industry?
Ignore the noise. Focus on your goals.
The fact that it’s male-dominated shouldn’t deter a woman from wanting to enter the industry.
If anything, use that fact as fuel to enter the industry, climb the ladder, and effect change.
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