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Colorado women tackling male-dominated industry head-on

Mar 22, 2022

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The demand for housing in Colorado is soaring and female homebuilders and developers are now breaking ground and barriers in the male-dominated industry.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11% of women are in the construction industry. A group of women in Colorado is changing the game by teaming up for a large project in Aurora.

Carla Ferreira oversees a billion-dollar housing development project, which is one of the area’s largest residential developments, just south of Denver International Airport. She is the director of on-site development for the Aurora Highlands and is working to transform roughly 5,000 acres into 13,000 homes, four schools, 21 miles of trails, recreation centers, restaurants, shops and more.

Ferreira is 32 years old but has been around real estate, homebuilding, and construction since she was a child. Ferreira’s father, Carlo, is a developer and taught her the ropes along the way.

She shared with FOX31 that he was a single father and would often bring her to the office as a child, so it has been a passion her entire life. Although knowledgeable, Ferreira didn’t follow her father’s path, until five years ago. After gaining a college degree, it wasn’t until 2017 that Ferreira decided to get into business with her father, move to Colorado and work together on a ‘legacy project,’ which is the Aurora Highlands.

Ferreira said the planning has been in the works since 2014, however, it’s a massive undertaking and it had to be approved by the city council and faced several hurdles. Ground broke in 2018 and the project is expected to take 15 years to complete.

Ferreira said right now it’s a daddy-daughter duo, but in three years he will be retiring and she will be single-handedly running the operation as a woman. The principal director said she faces several challenges in the male-dominated industry.

“It has been very male-dominated, even within my own team sometimes,” Ferreira said. “People didn’t want to listen when I said this is my direction, will you please do this. Getting people to respect me as a young woman has been really hard. I shouldn’t have to be more patient than a guy in the room. I shouldn’t have to be more guarded with my tone. If I raise my voice I’m considered not as nice, but if a man does it it’s considered normal.”

Ferreira conquers engineering, consulting, construction, sales, marketing, community engagement and more on a daily basis, but said she’s often the only woman in the room and has dealt with men who don’t listen, get offended by her leadership, and question her ability.

“A man thinks that he needs to explain something to me “dumbed down’ like I didn’t understand it, like I didn’t also go to college,” Ferreira said.

She adds that it’s been a growth process and although there have been times she wants to cry, she has come into her own skin and is confident about her role and that she deserves it. And to show that, you may notice women around the construction site sporting hot pink hard hats. Ferreira said it adds a special touch, but more importantly represents women in charge, female empowerment and ‘boss moves.’

“So often I’d try to wear an all-black suit or look more masculine or try to play a different gender role and I realized I’m just going to be myself,” Ferreira said. “I think it represents women being in charge. I think it represents being a boss and being unashamed and taking that place and that position.”

That confident message was learned through other women in the business who Ferreira calls her mentors. She said seven out of 10 homebuilders are women in the Aurora Highlands Project and they get it. She shared that they lean on each other for support, leadership, and advice as women in power and together they’re shattering the glass ceiling in an underrepresented industry.

For future women, Fierra recommends standing your ground and not giving up and said that led her to now being unapologetically her– leading and living like a boss woman.