Who comes to mind when you think of a construction contractor? For many, it’s a man in a hard hat.
Elizabeth Gomez, owner of Bridge City Contracting and a Hispanic woman, is trying to buck that stereotype; she wants people to know that she doesn’t exist to fill a “diversity quota.”
“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Oh they’re trying to fill the diversity quota,’” Gomez said. “I am educated and have so much experience. When people make those comments, it’s like definitely somewhere between a microaggression and completely ignorant. My husband and I have a good sense of humor. You can’t get offended by everything, but it does take away your dignity.”
Gomez, 43, spent her whole life in Vancouver, but her family is originally from Puerto Rico. Her husband, Roger Gomez, is Colombian.
Despite the challenges as one of the few Hispanic and women business owners in Clark County, Gomez is back on the upswing as the pandemic recedes. She recently was selected for a program by Comcast RISE, created to help lessen the impact of COVID on small businesses owned by people of color.
“I think that especially in this time when the conversations are surrounding BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) populations in this country and how we can improve as a nation – I think it’s so important to engage those companies. And as a business owner, I know it’s important for me to put my money where my values are,” Gomez said.
Bridge City Contracting, which specializes in residential and commercial remodeling, received several laptops, iPads and a desktop computer to help employees stay connected during the pandemic.
The Columbian caught up with Gomez to learn more about her and her job.
Tell me about some projects you’re working on.
We are working on quite a range of projects right now. We are doing a whole home remodel in Yacolt — a farmhouse built in the 1940s; we’re bringing it back to life. We’re doing a bathroom, starting a couple kitchens. We have a lot going on. A house I was at the other day is owned by former Clark County commissioner Judie Stanton. We were going over her design selections and her surface installations and looking at how her tile would be installed in her shower and her floor. I am a certified Aging-in-Place specialist through the National Association of Home Builders. A lot of times I work with occupational therapists on creating spaces to help people age in their homes. Typically what happens is people will wait until an event happens like a stroke when they start thinking about modifications to their home. Judie is thinking about planning her future and what her future is going to look like in her home. Part of that is we have created a huge shower that is a walk-in shower for her. We’re framing in grab bars and making the space very safe and livable for her as she looks toward the future.
Why did you pursue an aging-in-place certification?
I think there’s a lot of baby boomers, my parents included, who in the next few years really need to look at what their future looks like. Those are all tough conversations and challenging decisions to make, and I know that we had to go through that with my grandparents. We didn’t understand prior to both of my grandparents both having a medical event.
How did the pandemic impact your clients?
It has been really mixed. We’ve had a lot of contact with a lot of emotional people. I think especially coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing this more so. I feel like people are really delicate right now, and I don’t think that isolation has been good for their health. During the pandemic, we had a client who called us and she said, “Hey my 401(k) just went from like, six digits to like four digits. I don’t feel comfortable doing this remodel because now I’m concerned about my future.” We said don’t worry about it. We didn’t charge her – we said we hope you’ll recover. My husband had to have a lot of really firm conversations with trade partners and clients who didn’t want to wear PPE (personal protective equipment). Then the supply chain is still seeing a lot of issues. One of the biggest issues are the shortages – there’s a lumber shortage and an insulation shortage. There’s a lot of price hikes on construction materials. Unfortunately, this is affecting and will continue to affect the affordability of housing.
WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY
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So, construction is still a very male dominated business. Have you faced any challenges related to this and how did you overcome them?
That’s definitely the experience; when I walk into the room, it’s typically me and a bunch of guys. A lot of women are more in administrative roles and not necessarily in the field working with trades and managing projects. We are seeing a rise in the numbers, but it’s still a very male-dominated field. I think one of the biggest things is that people constantly underestimate me. I’m OK with that, because once we start talking they understand I know what I’m talking about.
You’re a woman, but also Hispanic. How has that experience been in your job?
A lot of people don’t understand racism happens every day, all day. I have white skin; I can’t imagine being Puerto Rican with Black skin. I hear their stories. It happens. It’s hard for people to understand because it doesn’t happen to them. In construction it happens a lot. People think we’re poor and dumb. They’re the general assumptions. I feel like my husband and I work overtime to break this stereotype. That is one of the things we can do and we do that by communicating with people and having conversations.
What are your hopes for the future?
I think one of my hopes is that I’m really in a position that not only can I advocate for my industry, but I can also advocate on behalf of the women in of my industry and on behalf of minorities in my industry.