Welding is second nature to Mari. She loves what she does and couldn’t see herself doing anything else.
When you think of male-dominated industries, there’s a good chance construction comes to mind since the physically demanding labor needed on a construction site is often associated with masculinity. But QA/QC Inspector, Mari Lemke, is working hard to break down those stereotypes.
Mari knew at a very young age that she wanted to do welding; her family’s background revolves around welding, engineering, and construction. Mari earned her degree in Mechanical Engineering and her certification in welding inspection from API (American Petroleum Institute) and began working as a Quality Control (QC) Manager for Chevron. We had the pleasure of interviewing Mari and asking her about her experience in the industry, its changes, and what she thinks the future holds for women.
Q: How long have you been in the construction industry and what is your current title?
I have been in the industry for more thn 30 years. I retired from Chevron, but I love what I do so much I decided to come out of retirement and that’s how I landed with Total-Western as a Quality Assurance (QA) / Quality Control (QC) Inspector.
Q: Why did you choose construction? What led you to the industry?
This path was pretty much chosen for me. I was welding as a kid in the garage with my father and grandfather. It was all second nature to me; I was fascinated with welding and metals, especially the high-velocity electrons that are applied to materials when joined together. It’s something I have always done and been passionate about.
Q: What’s the best part of your job?
I love that I get to be outside in the field, climbing towers and getting dirty. I’m not an office person at all. I’m happiest when I’m outside.
Q: What makes you proud of working in the construction industry?
Being able to see final products and projects completed and knowing I contributed to them. I take pride in every project I work on, especially as a welder. I wouldn’t do anything else.
Q: What are some of the strengths you believe women bring to the construction industry?
I believe women are more driven and detail-oriented. Although this is a male-dominated industry, they don’t always possess those skills, so that gives women an advantage.
Q: What has been one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on?
I was involved in a Biofuel project out in Nevada where we had to build a boiler that would take trash and turn it into jet fuel. The boiler was designed in Germany, and I had never seen anything like it in my whole career. It was an exciting project to be a part of.
Q: What has been the most surprising part of being a woman working in this industry?
Throughout my career I have seen and experienced struggles that only women face. We must continuously prove ourselves no matter how knowledgeable or exceptional our welding skills are; there is always someone judging our work. I’ve seen women in this industry be disrespected because there are individuals who think that women don’t belong in construction. This industry can be very hard…it’s definitely not for everyone.
Q: How do you think construction can attract more female candidates?
Other than the pay, I think to attract more female candidates there must be better benefits. Cater to the needs these women might have. For example, I was a single parent, working during the day and going to school at night. A lot of times, in this industry, you must work nights or you get called out to jobs at random hours or you’re on the road a lot. That’s not always ideal if you have kids. Juggling daycare for your children or even having a family is a struggle when you have a career in this field.
Q: What do you think is the most important change happening in the construction industry?
I would say how important safety has become. Way back in the day, there were always accidents; this is a dangerous industry, especially in the refineries. We’ve come a long way with safety regulations and protocols so it’s a lot safer now working in the field.
Q: What advice would you give to a young woman starting out and/or looking to start in the industry?
Stay with it, be dedicated, and don’t be discouraged. There will always be someone doubting you and trying to hold you back. But if this is something you really want to do then stick to it, you must work hard for what you want.
Mari continues to be an advocate for women in the construction industry. She often spends her time teaching others about welding, especially her nieces. She hopes to see more women enter the field and can’t wait to see what the future of the construction industry holds.