3 women helping build tallest residential building on Florida's West Coast: 'I want my name on that'

A tall building under construction in Downtown St. Petersburg is a point of pride for one woman under a hardhat.

"Because it's going to be the tallest [residential] building on the West Coast of Florida and I want my name on that," said Daniela Farias, a recent USF Civil Engineering graduate.

Farias, Sofia Menacho, and Sydney Rocha are among the relatively few women in a field long dominated by men. According to one industry group, only 10 percent of construction industry workers are female.

"I think they may be a little bit discouraged to join this field because of the low numbers.," explained Rocha, a recent architecture graduate.

Daniela Farias and Sydney Rocha work in the construction industry.

All three women are working to help build The Residences at 400 Central. Eventually, the building will rise 46 stories.

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Suffolk Construction is in charge of the project, overseeing many subcontractors working in different trades.

"I work with the concrete subcontractors putting in all the steel and the rebar and also the mechanical and electrical and plumbing trees," said Farias.

All three women are in Suffolk's Career Start program. The goal is to diversify the workforce.

"People from different backgrounds, different cultures, different educations, they all bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences that diversify who we are and make us better as a company," said Chris Lewis, Suffolk's Project Executive.

Getting more women in hardhats depends on more girls taking more math, science, and technology courses in school.

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"If a young girl has a role model to look up to, if they see that it's more common, then I think more women would be encouraged to be in the field," shared Farias.

Some say women could be especially valuable because they are better with details, organizing, and design. Whether that's true or not, the thrill of the build seems to cut across the genders.

"I started here in July, and we were on the second floor," said Menacho. "Now we're on the 24th floor. It's amazing."

With a labor shortage in the industry, Suffolk and other companies are looking to fill jobs that were once virtually "men only" with qualified women. As new buildings rise, old barriers could be coming down.

"I think I never had that in my head that I can't do something," said Farias.

Efforts to recruit women may signal a changing mindset in the new buildings that are changing our skyline.

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