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Women’s History Month: Building a Legacy for Women in the Construction Industry

Marquia Wooten poses at the Seattle Waterfront.

For more than 30 years, March has been recognized as Women’s History Month. Women’s History month celebrates the contributions women have made and continue to make in society, history, and culture. This March, the Office of Economic Development (OED) honors women in Seattle that are leading, innovating, and making impacts in key industries that are foundational to Seattle’s economic footing, culture, and growth.

Marquia Wooten is a director, mother, and mentor who is creating an impactful legacy in the construction industry. Wooten currently serves as the Director of RISE UP at ANEW—the oldest pre-apprenticeship program in the nation. ANEW intentionally focuses on the advancement of women in non-traditional career fields such as construction and manufacturing. ANEW also focuses on diversity and inclusion in the construction field for women and people of color. They launched the RISE Up (Respect, Inclusion, Safety, and Equity) program to partner with contractors and sub-contractors to foster more equitable, inclusive, safe, and productive work sites and industry culture.

As the Director of RISE Up at ANEW, Wooten works every day to make a positive difference in her field, by implementing ways to change the culture of construction that creates a healthier and more inclusive environment for everyone.

Marquia Wooten is interviewed at ANEW.

“My career in the trades is impactful and innovative.  Now, not only do I have women and minorities reaching out to me for mentorship, I also have white males coming to me for advice on how to get into apprenticeships or seeking help with stressful situations that take place on the jobsite”.

As a single mother, Wooten was working a job, living paycheck to paycheck, and considered going back to finish her college degree. However, she couldn’t afford it and didn’t want to accumulate more student loan debt. During a conversation with a friend, she was introduced ANEW, but was not initially interested because she believed construction was not for her. After being overlooked for a promotion that went to another person who was less qualified than her, she knew it was time to make a move. She decided to reach out to Cindy Frandrich, an ANEW graduate, who emphasized how this career change would be a great opportunity if she just gave it a try. Following Frandrich’s advice, Wooten called ANEW the next day, and immediately joined the upcoming cohort.

“I may not be the first in history, but I am the first woman to enter the trades in my family. Surprisingly, I gravitated to construction more than I believed I would. I exceled and graduated the pre-apprenticeship program with a special award. In 2014, I passed “Hell Week” and joined the Laborers Union, where I spent two years until I learned my real interest was the Operating Engineers.”

Marquia Wooten at Marion Street Pedestrian Bridge Project Site.

After a long and stressful process, Wooten successfully joined Local 302 in 2016. For seven years, she worked as an operating engineer, an experience she describes a life changing.  

“Not only did I run heavy equipment which isn’t common for a woman, especially a woman of color, I built relationships with other women from all trades and became a mentor to minorities and women coming up behind me looking to enter the construction industry.”

For the City of Seattle, the construction industry is a key economic driver for the local economy. OED focuses on supporting the industry, its employers, and workers to foster a thriving and more inclusive construction industry.

“Construction is essential to infrastructure development, economic growth, and job creation in Seattle. Opportunities in the industry are also low barrier entrances to employment, have family-sustaining wages and benefits, and the industry has the smallest gender wage gap with opportunities for advancement.” said Stella Wayman, Construction and Healthcare Strategic Advisor at OED.

Marquia Wooten (ANEW), Stella Wayman (OED) and Karissa Braxton (OED) have a conversation at the ANEW training facility.

“OED also understands that the talent pipeline requires leaders in construction to look like and understand a diverse workforce. That’s why we work with industry employers and invest in strategies to help BIPOC individuals navigate pathways into leadership roles. By diversifying the top tier of the industry, it helps give a sense of belonging, voice, and power to marginalized workers, and paves a path for future leaders as well.”

Wooten has worked on many construction projects throughout the City of Seattle including the 520 bridge, Climate Pledge Arena, I-90 light rail project, and the Coleman Dock.  As Wooten progressed in her career, her passion for mentorship and pursuing leadership opportunities grew.

“I realized there is a huge need for mentorship, but I wanted to really make a difference and that comes through leadership. I went back to school and enrolled in Construction Management and started my own Construction Company—GN Squared Construction—to advance my knowledge of how to run a business to connect women and others to opportunities. I have been a voice for others and have been a listening ear. My mentorship has motived others to get in the trades despite the stereotypes they are afraid of. I have also supported those who would have left the industry if they did not have someone to talk to and give them the resources they needed to get through their apprenticeship.”

Marquia Wooten connects with colleague at construction site.

With more than 9 years of experience in the trades, Wooten continues to push for the advancement of women and people of color in the construction field and works to change the industry to be more equitable, inclusive, safe and respectful from the inside out. For example, RISE Up partners with the City of Seattle to implement strict standards that that prohibit behaviors such as bullying and hazing on the basis of race, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation or religion. All City of Seattle projects over 5 million dollars are required to implement RISE Up best practices to ensure appropriate, safe and productive environments for all workers.

I am an asset to the leadership roles I am now in because of where I started. I know the struggles and barriers of being a single mother and apprentice, working in a white male dominated industry. My empathy along with the 9+ years of experience I have in the trades is something that sets me apart.”

Wooten works with current ANEW program participant.

In addition to her roles as Director of RISE Up at ANEW, business owner, and industry mentor, Wooten recently accepted a Program Advisor role at the Cassandra Banks Foundation. The Cassandra Banks Foundation is an organization that works to inspire and provide pathways for Black women to enter and succeed in non-traditional careers, become economically stable and empowered, and meaningfully change how philanthropy engages with communities of color. At the Foundation, Wooten looks forward to organizing a mentorship program for women of color in Seattle, and partner with a Retention Committee to pass an initiative to help apprentices who have challenges and barriers that risk them not completing their training.   

To learn more about Marquia and to hear her story in her own words, check out this video produced in partnership with Converge Media here!

Wooten poses at Seattle Waterfront construction site.