When Andrea Breen was 6 years old, she asked her mother for a toy dump truck for her birthday. Her mother mentioned this to her coworker and was met with concern fueled by the gender norms of the time. “Well, what are you going to do?” The coworker prodded. Her mother’s reply was that of someone who couldn’t care less about such stereotypes, and in an instant, she redefined the possibilities for Andrea’s life. “I am going to get her a dump truck!”
Andrea knew she wanted to be an engineer since Kindergarten. She was enamored by the challenging tech careers of her father & brother, and knew she needed one to match the sharpness of her own spirit. This decisiveness and trust in herself pushed Andrea to break from the status-quo brought on by gender stereotypes and motivated her throughout her life.
In 8th grade, she asked her girlfriends to sign up for a drafting class with her. They agreed, but on the first day she found was the only girl in class. Her friends, she soon learned, thought it was a joke. Throughout the semester, kids would steal her tools in ruthless, sneaky, bullying way that only boys of that age are truly capable of. Instead of getting mad, Andrea got to work. She regularly finished her assignments before the boys ever had a chance to steal her supplies and outperformed them day in and day out. She found herself motivated rather than discouraged.
In college, Andrea ran into a former schoolmate from that 8th grade class. Reminiscing on the experience, he recalled how much bullying she took and asked how in the world she handled it. She simply replied,
“I have this dream that fuels me. I want to be an engineer.”
So, she did. But at the interview that led to her first full-time job in construction, she was yet again reminded that being a woman in this field was not common. The interviewer sheepishly asked Andrea how she would find it to be a woman in a male dominated industry. She hesitated for a moment, then replied “I don’t know, I’ve never tried it as a man.” The interviewer laughed, and she landed the position.
Andrea’s experiences and no-nonsense approach to her career has helped her excel. Today, she works as the Quality Control and Safety Manager at Zignego Ready Mix where she is regularly out in the field troubleshooting complex issues, working in all conditions, and solving difficult problems. Her roles in the construction industry have allowed her to participate in the design process, public interaction on high profile jobs, product development, and troubleshooting. Andrea’s goal is to continue to work with designers and suppliers on cutting-edge applications and developments in the concrete materials industry, including sustainable construction.
Yet despite all of Andrea’s strength and certainty, she recognizes that she has faced personal challenges too. Andrea sees herself as an introvert, and she realized at a young age that in order to be successful and achieve her goals, she would need to overcome some serious fears. The idea of public speaking and putting herself out there was something that did not come naturally. It made Andrea deeply uncomfortable. She had to make a choice to compartmentalize her insecurities and push forward. So she sought out opportunities for public speaking even though she hated it and eventually became an industry certification instructor. Her drive to share technical knowledge with others propelled her to overcome that fear and to become a mentor to others.
Andrea is the Director of the National Association of Women in Construction, NAWIC Milwaukee Chapter 105, a self-governing, non-profit group organized to promote and support women involved in construction related fields. In this position, she helps young women who are coming into the industry to understand what she has learned, including the notion that she took with her into that first interview, that whether you are a man or a woman, if you love what you do and you are good at it, there really is no difference. She shares this advice with young women who have doubts.
“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Just try it, keep doing it, keep pursuing what you want, ask for help, find a mentor who does what you do, whether that’s a man or a woman, just keep going because you can reach it.”
Andrea believes in the power of positive messaging and that even the smallest moments of encouragement can help people through their toughest days. She is always seeking to put that energy out there and our hope is that her positive story is that dose of inspiration that someone needs today.