Though I am amazed and grateful to be a beautiful black woman today, I can’t help but think back and remember a time when I wasn’t so grateful. I remember the times that I faced ridicule for having dark skin, I remember the lack of black faces on my TV screens, and I remember receiving advice to wear sunscreen and hold an umbrella, not to protect against sun rays, but to prevent my skin from getting any darker. Living with these self-conscience and biased notions becomes even harder as we grow into adulthood only to learn that there are few who look like us in the professional world. Being one of the very few Black women in any professional work environment can be an extremely daunting experience. Whether it’s dealing with microaggressions or blatantly obvious discrimination, working in a space where someone like you has never been before, or worse, being on the outside while hoping to find a way in, can make this road to success for Black women a very difficult one.
Though black and brown people are receiving more recognition than ever before, there are still certain fields and niches, which lack the representation needed to convince the children in our communities that they have what it takes to go for it. These fields include legal, technology, medicine, and especially construction. According to Derek Thompson, a writer for the Atlantic, construction jobs are nearly all-white due to “a complicated, and often ugly, history with race that’s helped shut Blacks and Hispanics out of these highly coveted lines of work.” So naturally, being the “refuse to accept that we’re less than counterparts” woman that I am, I immediately began searching for someone, anyone, who could give hope to little black girls glazing dreamfully at an escalator in hopes of one day owning one.
Throughout my search, I came across Deana Neely. Deana Neely has over 10 years of experience in construction and has established herself as an industry insider and valuable partner that delivers excellence and consistently exceeds expectations. Deana is also a licensed electrical contractor, founder, and CEO of Detroit Voltage. Detroit Voltage is a certified Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) electric contracting firm headquartered in Detroit – offering both residential and commercial services. She has been featured and recognized by companies such as Google, Essence, and DTE Energy. Her rapid growth and continued portability have catapulted her onto the national stage. Deana took on the role of a public speaker and educator with intention and grace. She has a program launching soon to guide women through the process of launching a well-built construction company. Deana is a dedicated single mom to two amazing children who are ready to make their own mark in the construction world. Together, they are creating their future and making Detroit a brighter place to live.
“My interest in construction was sparked through my career in local government. While working, I observed the opportunities and flexibility the construction industry offered. I knew I wanted to shift my focus in that direction when I decided to start my own business to begin rebuilding the life I wanted for myself and my children.”
As an Army Veteran, I can certainly relate to the difficulties and obstacles that come along with working in a male-dominated industry. Though varying challenges exist, some common and ubiquitous difficulties include sexual harassment and sexism, stereotypes about women’s roles, a lack of support and resources for women to advance in their careers, gender pay gaps and disparities, inequalities in terms of opportunities, and the belief that women aren’t capable of doing the same work as men. When asked how she overcame the negativity and sexism of working in a male-dominated field, Neely said that she “overcame negativity and sexism by working hard and allowing my work to speak for itself”.
Unfortunately, our reality as black women is that regardless of our background, experience, or education, we are still subjected to racial and sexual challenges in the workplace —from obnoxious man-splaining to overt sexual harassment. We all know that in many industries, women don’t have it as equal as men. But in some fields, women are a minority, and it can be challenging navigating male-dominated waters. Fortunately, for little girls growing up the way that I did, we have role models like Deanna Neely and others who are taking the lead by putting a face to black women in male-dominated industries. The days where black women are viewed as intimidating for being smart, beautiful, and strong are soon to be a thing of history. In the words of Drake, “What a time it is to be alive for this…”