In the world of construction, a sector traditionally dominated by men, Lana Edwards’ journey shows that hard work and persistence can inspire change. Her journey from the fields of agriculture to the construction sites of the United Kingdom is a story of inspiration for women aspiring to join this industry.
Lana is not just excelling with her skills but also shattering stereotypes in the male-dominated construction industry. CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 had the privilege of speaking with Lana, who shared her journey, challenges and advice for other women breaking ground in the construction industry.
FROM FARMING ROOTS TO CONSTRUCTION HEIGHTS
Lana's entry into the construction world was a natural transition from her early life in a farming family, where handling tractors and machinery was part of her everyday life. Lana first operated a heavy machine when she was just 8 years old! "When my father retired, I needed something else to do, so I joined the construction industry,” Lana recounts. Today, Lana, 60, is a self-employed heavy plant operator who holds multiple machine licenses. Her typical workday spans from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm, where she skillfully maneuvers heavy machines of all sizes. Each day is filled with a variety of challenges she loves solving. Her deep-rooted understanding of heavy machinery and her passion for the work have been critical in her successful transition into the construction industry.
PIONEERING CHANGE AND EMBRACING OPPORTUNITIES
Named among the “Top 100 Women in Construction” for two consecutive years, Lana's recognition is not just an accolade but a testament to her impact in breaking ground for women in the field. Lana says social media has played a significant role in opening the construction industry to women. She leverages social media as a powerful tool, first using it as a learning tool for herself. Lana posts videos and stories of her working in different machines at various sites. "The videos I started doing were for my own benefit as a learning tool for myself," she says. These videos soon turned into a source of inspiration, displaying that women can excel in construction roles that many still think only men can do. The power of sharing experiences and knowledge online is something Lana believes will inspire the next generation to pursue careers in the construction industry. “The big thing is that other women are watching these videos and seeing that we can do the job just as well as the men.”
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING WOMEN IN CONSTRUCTION
Lana's journey is filled with valuable lessons for women looking to break into the construction industry. Her key pieces of advice include:
1. Seize Every Opportunity: “Never say never and ‘Why not’” are two mottos Lana lives by. She encourages women to be open to new challenges and experiences, a mindset that can lead to unexpected and rewarding paths in the construction industry. She says more women are seeking to learn how to operate heavy plant machines by attending events aimed at giving women first-hand experience.
2. Learn from Others: Observing and learning from more experienced professionals is crucial. This approach can help women gain valuable insights and skills necessary for success. “Ears and eyes open, mouth closed,” Lana says is best when learning something new. Though Lana never had a mentor herself, she is deeply committed to sharing her knowledge and experience, believing in the unique strengths that women bring to construction. “I always try to pass on my knowledge.”
3. Financial Prudence: Preparing for the fluctuating nature of construction work is vital. Self-employment taught Lana the art of balance. Lana suggests that women keep a financial buffer “for rainy day funds" to manage during slower periods.
4. Utilize Unique Strengths: Women can bring a unique perspective and skill set to construction. Lana's pride in performing "delicate and precise jobs on site" illustrates how she believes women can blend a unique finesse with strength in their roles. In one video, Lana skillfully places a cap back on a water bottle using a digger, 5T Hitachi.
5. Stand Firm and Assertive: In a male-dominated field, being resilient and assertive is key for women to establish their place in a male-dominated field. Lana's approach is to let her work speak for itself, but she says that standing one’s ground when necessary is a powerful stance for women in the industry. She tackles industry challenges head-on, asserting, "Normally, I just let my work do the talking; but, on occasion, I have been known to stop the machine, throw the keys at them along with an ‘if you can do better, then here are the keys.’ " Lana said women need to stand their ground in the face of adversity.
INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION
Lana acknowledges the slow pace of change in making the industry more inclusive for women, especially in areas like suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and work-life balance. “PPE in ladies fit is long overdue,” she says. While Lana is based in the UK, she says the challenges women face in construction are universal, and change will require a shared goal of improving how the industry supports women. In her social media posts, Lana is very honest about the harsh working conditions, the unpredictability of landing steady work and just how unglamorous it can all be. But Lana is quick to point out that she loves what she does and can’t imagine doing anything else. She envisions a future where women in roles like hers become the norm. At the end of the day, Lana is optimistic that change will come. “You can’t put timescale on it,” she says. “It would be great for it to be normal to see women operating heavy plant, rather than the exception it is now.”
Photos courtesy of Lana Edwards