5 Questions: Gabby Grace

Gabby GraceGabby Grace owns Gabby Grace Landscaping and Masonry in Beacon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 4 percent of women in the construction industry work in skilled trades.

What was your background before you got into construction?
I’m an immigrant [from Uruguay] who grew up in Peekskill and moved to Beacon 20 years ago when Main Street was still boarded up. Since I came to this country, all I ever wanted to do was be a nurse and serve my community, so I went to nursing school. I became a mother of two and worked all over the Hudson Valley for many years as a nurse.

How did you end up in the construction industry?
I had the privilege of working with physicians who were either solo practitioners or part of a small group who were well known in their fields. A few years ago, hospitals and large medical groups started buying their little practices and I found that the quality of my direct relationship with patients started to suffer. The new management instituted rules for engagement and it became clear that they wanted more of a transaction as opposed to caring for the patients’ needs, so I lost my smile.

I wanted to start a landscaping business but I thought it was a pipe dream. It was also scary. Since my teen years, I had worked for uncles who were old-fashioned masons. When they retired, a couple of master masons I grew up with needed help with labor and client issues, so after a few months of putting out fires and resolving conflicts, we adopted each other and I decided to try it full time.

What challenges do women face in the industry?
The biggest hurdle is that people challenge our technical knowledge. I have to know twice as much as male counterparts because I get questioned three times more than they do. For moms, the long days and irregular work schedules can be tough. Supply-chain issues continue to be a problem and there’s been an enormous increase in the cost of materials, so there are never enough hours in the day. But the opportunities for a successful career have also increased because construction is evolving and we are breaking stereotypes. There are more young women going into the trades in general than ever before.

We need to remind young girls that a career in the infrastructure industry is also a great life choice. I’m a little biased, but I think women can multitask, communicate better and follow through for a perfect project execution.

What advice would you give a young woman who wants to get into construction?
I would tell her to be audacious, to develop confidence and to trust her gut. Be strong and don’t be afraid to fail because that’s how we learn. Ask questions, but don’t let anyone’s assumptions hold you back. Advocate for yourself, loudly demand respect and remember that the more you do something, the easier it becomes. Before you know it, it becomes second nature. You also have to be relentless in the pursuit of your dreams. In construction, in particular, everything’s a secret because information is power. So be informed. You need to know the process from beginning to end because you will be questioned.

Do you get your hands dirty?
I’ve been around construction all my life. I grew up mixing cement from scratch, screeding concrete by hand and installing Belgian block bibs. I dig the ground to install native gardens and have learned to install paver patios. I have to know what I’m talking about, so I learn by doing. I’m moving toward designing and building custom homes, but the one thing I haven’t mastered is chiseling stone by listening to it the way the master masons do, which is an absolute art. They are the best craftsmen in their field and have been practicing since childhood. I’m still a work in progress.

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