“Breaking barriers and generating changes is not easy, but if you have a passion for something you have to fight to achieve it”, that’s how Ana Grettel Leandro defines her life, while remembering that she wanted to be a construction engineer when that was “a career for men”, almost five decades ago.
With her effort and dedication, she became the first female graduate construction engineer from Tecnológico de Costa Rica (TEC). It was not easy, the people who were around her questioned her professional aspirations, even during her study time they pointed to her for being “the little girl with a helmet”. These anecdotes are in the past. Now Mrs. Ana Grettel says with pride that “work with a helmet stopped having a gender”.
Doña Ana Grettel was just 16 years old when she began to ask about a career in construction engineering and remembers that the answers were varied. “We do not recommend it, construction projects are difficult, uncomfortable sanitary services, the environment with the workers is complicated, the vocabulary … you have to queue.” Those were part of the references they gave to the young dreamer, who only thought: “No one is going to limit my dreams.”
The negative comments came from strangers and relatives, even his father condemned the idea and indicated that “it did not seem likely”, he even told her that he would not give him money to pay for the entrance exam and end up studying with a “lot of tucks”.
These words did not affect her goal, Ana got the money, applied the test and passed it. She entered the TEC in 1975 with a small group of women and remembers that little by little most of them changed professions, in the end she and another colleague (Flor Navarro) stayed with a group of more than 40 men.
“I do not regret anything”
“People kept looking at me strangely in the constructions, the buses passed by and everyone pointed to the little girl with a construction case. On tours, at night, all the companions would go to party and I would stay alone in the hotel.
“Now I see the past and I am proud of what I achieved. I became an engineer and even a teacher. I have always told my children and my students that one must not let their dreams be stolen and one must persevere for what one thinks and if one believes that he/she is good at something, that something is liked and you can make a difference, you have to fight for that”, saying that she has just retired and hopes to continue exercising her passion through consultancies.
“I liked it because I thought it would be good, although everyone told me not to study that, that it was something for men and I told them, but why can’t I? “I fight and fight and I am satisfied with what I achieved over the years, I always say -that good that I did- because I see that it was a gap that I broke and I am proud to know that I inspired other women,” she said.
Machismo was always present and she would like that to be eradicated
During her study days she had teachers who doubted her abilities when she got a good grade and, for example, asked him who she copied from. Nor can it be generalized, she emphasizes also having very good teachers.
The situation was repeated at a professional level, she remembers having some bosses with professional jealousy who did not let her advance and put more obstacles to prevent her growth, despite that she managed to grow and also run into more objective bosses “Very good and trustworthy.”
For the pioneer of the TEC in construction engineering, there are limitations that still remain and for that reason it is necessary that families teach the values of equality. “You have to teach your children that we can all be equal, that we all have to work on what we want, without limitations. We must teach that we can be good at whatever we set our minds to, we can be good regardless of gender, jobs stopped having genres, jobs with helmets stopped having gender.
“If a person wants to do something different, they need to find the necessary support in their family, that their friends support them and their coworkers. Regarding machismo and professional jealousy, one must learn to defend oneself, set limits and raise one’s voice, it is necessary to report abuse ,” said the 64-year-old engineer.
Doña Grettel recalls that 12 of her generation graduated, two were women, the first in the history of TEC to obtain that title. Of these, only Ana Grettel practiced the profession. “Fight, break barriers, strive, be positive and not minimize yourself, those are the keys that engineering promotes to achieve dreams regardless of what they will say or leaving aside the nonsensical stereotypes”, she says.
Currently, the Federated College of Engineers and Architects (CFIA) registers a total of 7,933 professional women in this area, of which 279 have their specialty in construction.