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Detroit woman holds high rank in construction industry, encourages other women to join

Posted at 7:23 AM, Sep 01, 2022

(WXYZ) — A Detroit woman who started out filling potholes in the city is now in a position of power becoming one of the only women in the country to be crowned Superintendent of Street Maintenance.

Patricia Henderson is a woman that is about her business.

She works, sometimes around the clock, helping to make sure Detroit streets are smooth. And now, she's encouraging other women in the area to see a future in construction.

“My job initially, was to fill potholes,” Henderson said.

Henderson started working for the city in 1998. She says she was often the only woman on the side of the road patching and pounding so gaining respect wasn’t easy.

“The men thought that I couldn’t do the job so they would purposely not do something and leave it for me to do," Henderson said.

But instead of caving, she took control.

“I’ll go right on ahead and do it. I'll pick up the jackhammer, the shovel, whatever was available. I went on and done the job without their help,” she said.

She quickly began to rise in the ranks, but she says the feeling is bittersweet knowing more women are not following the path she's cleared.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics, only 13% of payroll employees in construction are women. This number has remained stagnant since the 90s.

As of 2019, Detroit ranked 44th in the country when it came to female construction workers.

“You identify a problem and you come up with solutions to eliminate that problem," MDOT spokesperson Aaron Jenkins said.

Jenkins says MDOT has created an on-the-job training program aimed at recruiting women and other minorities to join construction crews.

Since the program began, enrollment has more than doubled. The program started off with 56 women in 2017 and has grown to 126 as of 2021.

"The recruiting is working,” Jenkins said.

Henderson says she has hired more women under her leadership including in her supervising staff and she wants to encourage others to take the chance.

"I would tell women, go for it. Who better than us to do it? We are just as strong. We are just as smart. We are just as dominant as the male. We can do it, I’m a witness. I've done it.”

If you'd like to learn more about MDOT's job training program, click here.