With estimates of the number of American women in construction ranging from 3 to 9 percent, it’s no wonder that Jenae Decker, Samantha Esparza and Rebecca Trow were surprised to find they were all assigned to the same project: Wilson High School’s auditorium renovation.
The trio is the first all-female construction management team on any major project in the school district. They are all under 40 years old and among the youngest female teams in the 44-year history of Bernards, the Los Angeles-based builder that employs more than 300 people.
As construction managers and engineers, Decker, Esparza and Trow serve as the district’s onsite liaisons with the construction crew. The trio was responsible for ensuring that the $27 million auditorium renovation project was completed on time and on budget.
The fully modernized building, completed in February, retains many of its 1920s Art Deco features while complying with modern accessibility and safety standards.
“I don’t think anyone planned it this way, but the fact that we are an all-female team has worked out well,” said Decker, the team leader. “To meet deadlines and troubleshoot unexpected issues, we all work long hours. But we get along so well, we’ve managed to keep each other’s spirits up and to continue to focus on the job at hand.”
The trio works with the entire construction crew to ensure the job gets done. This includes electricians, mechanical, structural and civil engineers, plumbers, glaziers, masons, steel workers, roofers, inspectors and regulators.
“We have to know about all these trades, so that we can assess whether a job has been done to specifications,” said Decker. “Every day is different and every day is a challenge.”
While Decker has been employed in the construction field for 10 years, Esparza has five years on the books and Trow just started with Bernards last fall. All three women say the best part of their job is the team spirit and variety of people they encounter daily.
Decker said she always loved to build things. When she studied engineering and construction management at Montana State University, she was the only woman among 50 men in her major.
Esparza, who studied geology at Cal State Los Angles, saw a swift transformation in the four years she was in college.
“When I started, there weren’t many women, but by the time I graduated, the program was about 50/50 men and women.”
Trow graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Iowa State University in 2015, then spent a year teaching English in South Korea before returning to Southern California to work for Bernards.
The women have become acclimated to a male-dominated profession.
“We know what we’re doing, and I think we’ve earned everyone's respect,” Decker said.
After completion of the all-weather track and field project at Wilson High, the trio anticipates moving to Garfield Elementary School, where they will oversee the heating/air conditioning installation.