Anai Melendrez will likely be the only young woman from Oakland’s Fremont High School Class of 2018 to become a carpenter. Instead of spending the next four years in college, the 17-year-old senior plans to start a career in construction — an industry that has long been stereotyped for its crude manliness.
But Melendrez is not concerned.
Fremont High School senior Anai Melendrez “I'm personally not scared. I’m not the type of person to be timid,” she said.
Melendrez knows the reputation construction has. Women on the job site anticipate bullying, hazing, discrimination and sexual harassment. Women who have worked on construction job sites tell Bisnow they had to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to prove themselves.
Such challenges make Melendrez angry, but she is hopeful that the industry will change as the the U.S. continues to grapple with the #MeToo movement that sprung up in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal.
“This is a real problem that is surfacing in the industry,” she said. “But there are a lot of programs helping women in construction. A lot of people want to see equality now.”
The industry still has a long way to go. Women made up 9.1% of jobs in the construction industry as of 2016. Melendrez also will likely be the only female carpenter on the job site since only 2% of carpenters are women.
These statistics are not deterring Melendrez’s dream of building low-income housing and supportive housing for the homeless. Ever since she was a young girl, construction has been a part of her life. Her father owns a construction company, and he would let Melendrez go with him to job sites where she first learned how to work with tools, she said.
In school, she has done several projects and recently built benches and added burnt edges to provide a rustic look. She tried her hand at electricity through an internship with PG&E and realized she did not like the trade. Carpentry gives her the most fulfillment.
“I just enjoy working with my hands,” she said. “You see your projects when they’re done and it makes you feel really good.”
Melendrez received support from a mentor through the Oakland Unified School District, which brought back a vocational training/mentorship program over two years ago. The school district hired Emiliano Sanchez as director of career and technical education/trades and apprenticeship to provide students and their families with information about careers outside of a typical college career path.
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