Anayeli Martinez Real remembers clearly the day she reported to one of her first classes in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Construction Engineering program.
“When I started in construction engineering in 2006, I was the only female in my class,” she said. “I remember being asked, ‘Are you in the right class?’ I thought, ‘Gosh, am I in the right class?’
“I remember looking at my class schedule and saying ‘Yeah, I’m in the right place.’ It was a little bit of an intro into what I was about to get myself into, that it was a very male dominated field.”
Martinez Real persevered through those early challenges, graduating from UNL in 2011 and landing a job with one of the most prestigious construction firms in the country, Kiewit Building Group. While it was more of the same as far as gender diversity was concerned, the company was also the perfect proving ground for one as driven as she.
“In the beginning, it was a little rough when I started with Kiewit and I was the only woman on the jobsite,” she said. “Once I got over that initial, ‘Oh gosh, I’m the only outsider,’ then things got better.
“One thing I realized was everyone who was there was very passionate about engineering or construction and so we always found the common ground on that. When you realize everyone’s there because they love what they do, it’s easy to be passionate about it.”
A Strong Voice
Martinez Real’s passion for the job — and a nearly inexhaustible work ethic — got her noticed quickly and resulted in a series of successively larger and more complicated builds. In 14 years with the company, she’s managed a total of $900 million worth of projects in Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nebraska.
Along the way, she’s earned prestigious credentials such as a LEED Green Associate and Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 30-Hour training certification.
She’s also invested in bringing up the next diverse generation of the industry, serving on the Women in Kiewit Building Group committee, Future Women of Kiewit panelist and on the Kiewit Diversity, Inclusion and Equity committee.
All of which makes her a formidable recruiter for the company at college job fairs where she regularly shares her story with prospective employees, particularly women.
“No. 1, we have to attract women who want to go into the career, that’s the first step,” she said. “I think we are seeing more of that. Construction is very collaborative, there’s a lot of communication and a lot of problem solving that goes into it.
“Women who have joined the industry have generally thrived in that sort of environment, which is definitely a good thing. We now have more success stories that we are able to share with more of the youth who want to come into our industry.”
Setting Up Success
Martinez Real, who moved into the project executive role a year ago, said it’s not enough to merely recruit women and minorities into the field. Companies must also pay deliberate attention to setting them up for success.
“When I first started off, I had mentors from outside of my industry who were women and leaders,” she said. “What I’ve learned is you can’t just have a mentor, you also have to have a sponsor, somebody who’s talking about you in those meetings where decisions are being made about people’s careers and are willing to vouch for you in your career growth.
“We still have a very, very long way to go in construction and engineering to be anywhere near where other industries are in terms of diversity. But things are changing, and I think we’ll get there.”