Interview with Romina Byrd

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Interview with Romina Byrd

Published by Edith Yanez in Interview · 15 November 2021
Interview with Romina Byrd
Director of Training and Development / Human Resources.
Miller & Long Concrete Construction.

Thank you, Romina, for your time and for the opportunity. Please tell us about yourself.

Romina: I came to this country when I was 4 years old from La Paz Bolivia. I lived in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. My sister and I went to school here. I started elementary school, at that time I didn't know any English, so my first language was Spanish, which is ironic because now I feel more comfortable speaking English.
Edith: That happens to many children who communicate better in English than in Spanish. Tell us, when did you enter the construction industry?
Romina: Well, I lived in Maryland. My mom took care of a family in Virginia, and we lived on a farm there. We started with nothing when we arrived in this country, my mother immigrated and she had nothing, she had no family, she didn't know anyone. She was married to my father, but later they divorced. And I was little, and I saw my sister who was 4 years younger than me. My mom was very strong. She met a family in Potomac and took care of their properties in the area, as well as their homes in other states. She did the accounting and finances and took care of her children. So, I was able to see another life, I was able to have experiences that other people will probably never have in their lives, like flying in a private plane, going skiing in the winter, or going on a yacht from the Annapolis coast to Cape Cod and then to Fort Lauderdale in Florida. But I never forgot where I came from. My mother was always helping other people. She also got her driver's license, learned the language, was very good at saving money, and then started her own massage therapy business.   
You know, I worked from a young age, babysitting, pulling weeds, I was always doing something, I was always busy, and I saved. And when I was in high school a person from the company where I work today told me, why don't you help us with some translations, then I started translating the company magazine from English to Spanish in the summers. But I wanted to go to college, so I went and got my BA in Psychology and my BA in Biology in North Carolina.
And after I graduated, I started teaching kids with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism, but they only paid me once a month, so it was difficult to support myself and the company I had worked for in the summers, Miller & Long Concrete Construction, called me and I started working there full time on March 1, 2000. I started in the accounting department, but many times I found myself on the phone answering HR questions: “I don't get along with my foreman”, “They don't pay me what they should”, so little by little I switched to the Human Resources and Training Department. And I also got married around that time. This is how I started, with a summer job. I always remind the kids that they are in the company's internship program, keep in touch, don't burn bridges, you never know when someone can help you or someone else. Next year I will be 22 years at Miller & Long.
Edith: I am fascinated with your mother's story. Let me see if I understand correctly, you came here at the age of 4 and your sister is 4 years younger than you. So, was she newborn or hadn't she been born yet?
Romina: She had not been born yet. She was born here.

Edith: So, your mom was pregnant when she traveled.

Romina: Yes. She was pregnant.

Edith: Incredible. She really is an extremely strong woman.

Romina: She gave up a lot of things to come here. She is very smart, she had a scholarship to study aeronautical mechanics in Argentina, but then she decided to get married and start her life by moving to the United States in search of a better opportunity not only for herself, but also for her children. And she ended up bringing my aunt to live here because she helped her come and other members of my family now live here. She is always helping and that influenced me. I remember my mom was always helping, we had nothing, but she kept helping.

Edith: I believe you; one comes to this country with nothing, nobody, only children and the desire to get ahead. The desire to get a job, but with no possessions, no materials, nothing. Is she still with your dad?
Romina: No. She divorced him and remarried, which was good. Divorce is not always bad. I realized that when I was very little.
Edith: No, no, it can't be bad if the marriage doesn't work.
Romina: Clear. Yes, she remarried, and I have another younger sister, 20 years younger than me. She is an artist. He studied in New York, in Manhattan.

Edith: Nice! I want to ask you about the situation of Latin-American women, you know the Gala where you were last weekend was organized by El Poder de Ser Mujer, which is an organization that helps women with problems of domestic violence, among other things. Many of the Latinas who come to this country are totally different from your mother, even though they came in a similar situation to hers. But she was a very strong person. I'm talking about Latinas with self-esteem problems, with financial problems and probably insecurities, not strong enough to leave a marriage even when they are being beaten in front of the children. Money is a problem, lack of independence is a problem, and taking care of children alone while working is also a serious issue. What would you say to those women?
Romina: I have come across this not only at work, but also among friends. I think the first thing I would say is that it is not easy, you must make the decision yourself. No one else can make the decisions for you. But they should know that they’re not alone, I think that is one of the things that we do not realize, is that regardless of whether you are Latina or if you come from other countries, it is not bad to ask for help.
About self-esteem, everyone has problems with their self-esteem, but we are in this world together. Especially women, I have been part of many women's organizations, where we all have similar stories and if we don't have the exact story, we know someone who has gone through something like this, but in the end, it is each of us helping another. So, I would say, to anyone struggling right now, don't lose hope, there is someone here to help you. You never know who is sitting next to you anywhere. Make lasting friendships and they will not only help you, but they can help someone else, whether you are in construction or hospitality, it doesn't matter, just don't be afraid to ask and learn.
There is so much I can say, look, I grew up where there was no laptop, no cell phone, I remember going to the library all the time, now you can pick up your phone and you can learn another language.  
Edith: Exactly
Romina: Now you meet women's networks on Facebook, where you have people who are close, who can help you. So, I would say, set your goals, it doesn't matter if they are small or big, work on them every day, every day, every day. For you, for your family. The other thing we can do is pray and no one can take that away from us. No one can take that away from us. And then see what the steps are to reach those goals. And if you don't know how to achieve them, look for someone, those organizations that we met at the GALA, the work they do is incredible! I was crying. So beautiful, having those ideas! Even if you don't know everything and you don't have to know everything. Remember that we are always students, we are always learning, every day. So, I would say, stop the fear of asking for help, because you know that you are strong, work on your goals and little by little, with the help of others, join that group of people who love you and those people that you do not know you love. they want, but who you need to meet with for help.
Edith: What about a woman who wants to enter the construction industry? You are in the construction, what would you say to them? What do you think are the obstacles for women to enter the construction industry?
Romina: I think the biggest hurdle for women is that we don't really ask questions all the time, not like men. I think men just ask; they don't care. Even when they're not 100% ready, they just do it. Women hold back, they want to make sure everything is perfect, correct, they want to make sure they understand everything, which is good, not bad, but sometimes opportunities are missed. And I think that's one of the biggest obstacles for women in the construction industry, but it's also a good challenge because they are going to have their own businesses and there is a lot of work at the federal level for women who want to start their businesses and there are organizations that help them if they don't know how to start a business. But they can also come in working for a general contractor who hires subcontractors. We have great general contractors like Clark Construction, Turner, Gilbane, Donahoe, Whiting Turner and they are all over the country and they are always hiring. Notice that now, we only have 10% of women working in the construction industry, only 10%! Many of them are in engineering, in offices, but in construction trades it is much less, it is like 3%. It is a very small percentage.
There are women working in my company and I always ask them if they want to go to an apprenticeship to learn carpentry and they say no. And I understand it because it is difficult if you have a family. You must be at work at 6:30 in the morning, if you have children, you must find someone to take care of your children, to take them to school. Before when it was virtual, we had to see someone who had a computer and who knew how to solve all that and it is difficult because later you have to pick up your children at 2:30 or 3:00 PM and you are still not working. It is not an easy thing to do. But there are companies that help with the care of children. But you have to ask, they can ask if there are benefits where they can use those pre-tax dollars to help them with childcare, which many people don't know exist.
You have to ask those questions in the job interview, what benefits can you give me? So, I think that's one of the biggest hurdles, if you don't ask the questions like you should. There are men who are single parents, who ask and receive help. I think that, as women, we need to ask more questions and get more of the support, which is already there for us.

We have a foreman, María Aparicio, we have women who are working as skilled workers and as banderilleros. We're on the Amazon project right now and the way these women are telling the trucks to go, to stop and it's just amazing. They are incredible women, who work from very early in the morning until 5, 6 or 7 at night, sometimes double shifts, on weekends and earn a lot of money. They make a lot of money, and they don't have to get their nails dirty all the time, you can get your manicure done and move the trucks around. They are amazing, amazing women.
Edith: You don't have to lose your femininity to work in construction.
Romina: No, it is not necessary. I think that's the beauty of the construction. It is an art, building is an art. It is like in any industry you find beauty and the best thing is that it is like a big family, and one becomes part of this big family.
Edith: How do you see the future of construction?
Romina: There are many possibilities for women in construction. I am part of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), I am the director of the Northeast area, I support women from Vermont to DC and they are incredible. We have lawyers, marketing specialists, others work in insurance companies. The construction industry is so big. If you don't want to work outside on the construction site in hot or cold weather, you don't have to, but there are women working all over the country. There are women in Michigan, women in Chicago, and other women in California. And not only in this country, NAWIC also supports women in other countries. Construction presents great career opportunities for women. If you want to participate, I suggest that you meet organizations like NAWIC, CREW, ABC, METRO Washington, ASA and another that is for men and women who work in technology. In construction there are different organizations that help in everything, all you must do is use your phone to find out more about these organizations. Be curious, always be a student.
Edith: What would be Romina Byrd's goal for women in construction? What percentage of women should work in construction?
Romina: Look, I'm a yoga instructor, so I always look at everything as a balance. I think 50% men and 50% women. It's my utopia, I don't know. I think that we are going to be more successful in construction because when you see a more diverse company it makes more profit, so I think that once construction companies realize this, they will promote diversity more and then there will be more women of different cultures in the industry.

Edith: Do you think that 50% can be reached in 10 years?

Romina: I think so because it is always the right thing to do. Like I said, I think everyone is looking, I mean, I think it's the best thing to do, but I think in the end everyone is looking at the profit, I think everyone wants to make a profit, I think it's the right thing to do, because also that promotes the growth of the company. I think we'll have a 50% -50% split game.
Edith: And the last question just out of curiosity: there are many companies investing a lot of money in Artificial Intelligence, do you think that something we should worry about now?
Romina: Yes, yes, I have seen those robots that put bricks, you know they put the bricks in the walls, but it is so expensive to create the robot and if something goes wrong, we still need people to fix the damage. Besides, people are still needed to create them, to program them. But I agree with technology, I believe that change is constant, you always have to learn, we always have to grow, become better, it makes everything more profitable, more efficient. But I don't think humanity is going to go away. We need ideas, ideas come from people, not robots, at least so far. But I think we shouldn't stop looking at it. I think we need to see everything. Be aware all the time.
Thank you very much Romina for your time. It has been a real pleasure talking to you.
And to our readers: we return next week with a new interview with a construction woman.
About Romina Byrd:
He has been with Miller & Long Concrete Construction since 1997.
She has served as President, Director, Marketing Chair of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). She is currently the Director of the Northeast region.
She is CTF Vice President Thomas Edison, Wheaton MD and was a member of the ABC (Association of Builders and Contractors) Committee of Women Building Washington for the Washington metropolitan area.

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