Tracy Carson resides in our favorite city, Milwaukee. For the past two years, she’s been working as an assistant project manager for JCP-Construction. In 2019 she was recognized for her accomplishments at the annual Women in Construction Honors event.
You'd never know that it was a chance encounter that paved Tracy's career in construction. Wanting to stay fit as a high school pompon girl, Tracy found a job as a health club instructor. One day, when she was just 17, a member of the club noticed that Tracy was the only one working. The lady asked Tracy if she ran the facility and was so impressed with her organizational skills that she suggested Tracy become an engineer. That woman turned out to be a student counselor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).
When Tracy was about to go out of state to college, she learned she was pregnant. Her mother suggested that she stay at home but encouraged her to pursue her education locally.
“My mom was firm about me going to college. She said, ‘one baby doesn’t stop everything’.”
Tracy called the student counselor and applied to MSOE. She initially chose to major in Computer Programming, following her mother, who was the first African American woman in Milwaukee to become a Computer Staff Analyst. However, once enrolled, Tracy followed her passion and strengths to obtain a degree in Architectural and Construction Management.
Challenges and Obstacles in the Workplace
After college, Tracy was hired by a mentor at Toki and Associates, an engineering, architectural, surveying, and construction management company in Milwaukee. It was a minority-run company, but this was the mid-90s and Tracy quickly realized that women in constructions were treated differently.
"I felt like the elephant in the room. It was the epitome of an old boys' network. I was either perceived as the smartest or the dumbest in the room."
She had to deal with assignments that were not given to others. Tracy received piles of paperwork, answered the phone, sat in a noisy part of the office, and was left out of the decision-making process.
In the field, there were instances where she was cursed at for trying to do her job, like asking white male employees to put on a hard hat. She says “I went through hell” – the job was hard enough, yet every day she also had to fight to prove her worth. Tracy had to rely on her emotional intelligence and expertise to overcome the stigma of belonging to two minority groups.
Life Changes Course
After her second child was born, Tracy decided to step away and take a break. She didn’t want the increased stress of being put down and knew that her company would not be understanding of the demands of a mother with children.
When the youngest of her four children turned five, Tracy was recruited by a construction company to help pitch a new project. During the presentation, the gentleman in charge was extremely impressed with her skills and offered her the job to manage a high-profile project on the spot. It was the first time Tracy felt she received the respect that she deserved and finally had an opportunity to flourish.
Building Confidence in Others
Though she’s been a construction superstar for years, Tracy has turned down numerous job promotions. She values the extra time she gets to spend with her husband, four children, and now grandchildren.
Tracy is an active member of her church and also loves to teach young women that they can be successful in the construction industry. “If I can hold the light and make someone else shine, that’s ok. I also want to give that next young lady hope for success,” she says. Tracy’s story is proof that commitment to great work is eventually recognized despite the setbacks and adversity.
The Look of Success
Tracy discovered Xena Workwear at the Women in Construction Honors event. She loves that our steel-toe boots can pair with skinny jeans or dress pants to improve women’s professional appearance.
"It’s not about trying to look good on the construction site. Women want to look good everywhere. Just because you work in construction, doesn’t mean you have to look like a man."