AISC Celebrates Women in Construction Week: Tuesday Edition

Jeanne Park, Union Ironworker, Port of San Francisco 
(Photo Credit: William Berndt)

It's Women in Construction Week, and we're celebrating by highlighting an array of women in the steel industry every day this week. Today, we're featuring Jeanne Park, a union ironworker with the Port of San Francisco. Find out how she got her start in the industry, what challenges she's had to overcome, and what changes she'd like to see for the industry moving forward.

How did you get your start in the industry?
Park: I knew I liked welding when I helped rehab the welding shop in the art department in college. I loved being able to take something that seemed so immutable as iron and cut and shape it. The bright red colors that steel turns when you're working it is so satisfying. I discovered fairly quickly that I disliked--and was unsuited for--office work, as I tended to fall asleep when seated at a desk. I was referred to a general advocacy group for minority placement on jobs (I'm of Korean ancestry), known as Chinese for Affirmative Action, and they helped place me with Local 377 San Francisco where I started my apprenticeship in 1995.

What barriers or challenges have you had to overcome as a female in the industry?
When I got into the ironworkers as an apprentice I had a difficult time convincing my friends that I was serious about this as a career. Many of my male friends kind of laughed it off and my female friends couldn't relate to what I was doing, so they ignored it. Society as a whole seemed to think that anyone who wanted to do physical labor must somehow be less-intelligent. And for a woman to put herself in such a situation with a bunch of less-intelligent men was insane. As one of very few women in the San Francisco local, trying to network was difficult at best. Advice from male mentors regarding the work was wonderful, but in regards to dealing with the jobsite culture, it was hit or miss. I was told to disguise myself and my personality and be like the guys. I never felt comfortable doing this. Sometimes I couldn't tell if I was being mistreated because of my ethnicity, my gender, or my newness to the trade. 

Eventually, with common access to the internet and cell phones making access even easier, I was able to help network our sisters into a group of support and mentorship through social media. We find that although there are definitely different ways our business works across the country, there are many situations that we can build on as sister ironworkers so that no one needs to feel completely at a loss. We talk about properly fit safety equipment, dealing with port-a-johns, hot weather, cold weather, how to work that piece of iron into that tricky spot, post pictures of welding test plates asking for hints. We also discuss those grey-area situations where we don't feel safe (which is often) from our coworkers and when to pick one's battles. All in all, I believe our group has done much to improve the professionalism of the ironworker culture for all our membership.

What piece of advice would you give to your 10-year-old self?
Park: I would tell my 10-year-old self: self, you are angry all the time and you think things are unfair, and you are right. The kids making fun of you for being Asian and the adults telling you what you can't do because you're a girl are wrong. You were excellent and comfortable with math and science, and once you got the proper prescription glasses, pretty good at sports too. Being contrary and stubborn isn't the worst thing you could do, but it can hurt a lot. Also, maybe get tested for ADHD.

What changes would you like to see for the future of the industry?
Park: I would like my industry to understand that the changes in attitudes towards women and minorities are a good thing. It won't "ruin the industry" if the people who love this trade are willing to work "smarter than the steel." Professionalism and cooperation are what make buildings fly up into the air. We have to work together to keep our trade at the best skill level we can, and change is a part of this.

Anything else you'd like to mention?
I'm so proud of the current direction that the international union is taking in regards to women. The pregnancy leave was a bold exciting step of acceptance. This could never have happened without the work of Vicki O'Leary, international organizer or the cooperation of international president Eric Dean. The "Be that One Guy" campaign has the potential to move mountains. I'm glad to have played my part in helping the trade I love to move in a way that it can love me back.

If you'd like to learn more about the "Be that One Guy" campaign, make sure to check out "A Job Site Built for Tomorrow" at this year's NASCC: The Steel Conference. This panel discussion, featuring Nyckey Heath, Vicki O'Leary, and Lynda Leigh will explore how this campaign gives power back to the workers at every level and in every trade to keep harassment off the jobsite. 

For more information about Women in Construction Week, visit