‘No special treatment – just respect’ say America’s female demolition workers

By Steve DuckerMarch 21, 2023

Speaking at a forum during the recent National Demolition Association (NDA) convention in Phoenix, the key takeaway message was that women in demolition will thrive best in an environment that allows them to be themselves

A group of prominent female demolition workers have told their male counterparts that treating women as a separate category actually hinders their progress within the industry.

Speaking at a forum during the recent National Demolition Association (NDA) convention in Phoenix, the key takeaway message was that women in demolition will thrive best in an environment that allows them to be themselves.

The panel included LaJuan Counts, a director of the City of Detroit Department of Demolition; Ava Severino, a project engineer with Ohio-based contractor Independence Excavating; and Sandy Bodami Oca, director of marketing and business development at demolition firm Total Wrecking and Environmental, located in Buffalo, New York. NDA membership and operations director Natalie DeHart moderated the discussion.

Counts – who is in charge of a half-billion dollar budget at the City of Detroit – is the most experienced of the trio, with 30 years in the business.

This also means she has had longer to observe how women are treated in the demolition sector – including one job application where her interviewer was visibly shocked to discover Counts was not a man.

“I came into construction and demolition cold,” Counts said. “I had no background whatsoever. I came in at a very entry level – as a laborer, then an estimator, then a superintendent.

“But even though I always had the work ethic, at that time I was not considered a threat. I do think it is slightly offensive that I have to prove that I know what I know. That after 30 years in business, someone who has been there for a couple of years will question a direction I just gave.”

She added, “The city doesn’t trust half a billion dollars of demolition budget in my hands without me knowing what I’m doing.”

Unlike Counts, Ava Severino grew up with construction and demolition.

“It was a natural selection,” Severino told the audience.

“My entire family is in construction, so I started working for my dad as a laborer. I did every job that you would not want to do, and I was so embarrassed I didn’t tell my friends.”

As a student of construction, Severino admits to receiving “some not-OK comments in the classroom. It was normal to be the only girl, and to be asked if I was in the right class. When that happened, I would reply: ‘Yes, I don’t know what you want me to say’.”

Sandy Bodami Oca’s links to demolition are even more firmly rooted – her father, Frank Bodami, already had the Total Wrecking and Environmental business set up when she was born.

“I came out of the womb knowing demolition,” says Oca. “And I’ve been coming to NDA conventions since I was two years old.

“But my dream was to study fashion in New York City. Then my dad and his business partner decided to split up, so I gave up on fashion and went into the business.”

Oca recalls people asking her colleagues questions while ignoring her altogether, and says she got used to it.

But she also says: “I don’t experience so much negativity because I am the boss’s daughter, but really I’m not the boss’s daughter at work. I have a name, a job title, and co-workers. I’m here to do a job and to be part of a family at the end of the day.”

So what was the panel’s last word of advice to companies, particularly those in demolition industry, looking to recruit more women?

Oca: “Keeping women in a separate category kind of hinders us. If you create a culture where people want to come to work, you will attract them.”

Counts: “We need to create an environment that allows staff to be themselves.”

Severino: “I don’t want different treatment. I want to be treated the same. I want to be treated with respect.”

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