Achieving career success as safety consultant after immigrating from Albania
Ontario Construction Report staff writer
Ariana Mema immigrated to North America from Albania 15 years ago and decided to pursue her love of building. Meeting many challenges head on as a woman and immigrant, she is now president of Adriatica Safety Consulting Inc. and a Humber College construction program professor professor.
Mema says she always knew she would pursue a construction career. “Ever since I was a young kid, I remember playing with sand on the beach and building, alongside my brother, all sorts of roads, bridges, schools and obviously castles out of that wonderful material.”
She says when she arrived in Canada she found there was resistance to women working in construction management. “The majority of women in construction at the time were working in the office and dealing with administrative duties,” she said. “In Europe the culture was a lot more accepting towards females so this wasn’t as much of an issue. It was the opposite here in Canada.”
She says, despite her previous experience she had to start over, which required determination and perseverance. “The biggest challenge by far has been gaining professional credibility as both a woman and an immigrant, initially lacking in Canadian experience.
“My first job was office work dealing with anything that had to do with construction. I worked for Rafat General Contracting Inc.”
As a newcomer, Mema had been pleased to get a job and said the owners treated her as a family member (since it was a family business). Despite that acceptance, she was not able to go on construction sites or manage projects. “As an immigrant, you never forget your first job in a new country and I still fondly remember those great individuals who made my transition less painful. I will cherish the time I worked for them.”
She says women have to work harder to prove they can do the job, but believes that in general women adapt more quickly and have the ability to make their mark once they have overcome this hurdle. “Dealing with the occasional closed-minded individual is often the biggest challenge but I feel this is also a great opportunity because if we can manage to change their beliefs, they become advocates and supporters towards prompting even greater change.”
Mema next found work as a project co-ordinator with Bondfield Construction. “I had the privilege to work with one of the best project managers there, George Millis,” she said. “It was a special blessing for me to work with such a great man who mentored me and equipped me with all the necessary tools that I needed to be able to succeed on my own.”
She says Bondfield provided valuable experience.
“Thankfully I feel that with the changing of the times, young women will definitely have an easier time receiving recognition for their hard work, drive and motivation to succeed than previous generations,” she said. “Ultimately, I do believe this is a meritocratic profession so if you love what you do, and you communicate it well enough, you will be taken seriously. And of course at the end of the day, results will always speak for themselves.”
Armed with a complete understanding of the industry and experience under her belt, Mema decided to start her own company. “I was effectively stepping into my dream job: going onto a construction site where the action happens, seeing how things come together and working to improve that environment.”
Adriatica Safety Consulting Inc. offers safety services, including investigations and inspections, predicting hazards, developing company safety policies, providing safety training, contract and construction management.
Mema says few get to experience examining a construction site to see how the pieces all work together. She enjoys both the challenges a new site provides and the opportunities for growth and new knowledge. “I also consider myself lucky to be able to meet with people of different cultures and gain new perspectives while also feeling like it’s a second home due to our shared objective and vision in making things happen.”
Intending to expand the business and diversify into infrastructure projects, Mema recently completed a Master of Science in Construction Management with a specialty in infrastructure and heavy civil construction. “Our business has grown to include not just work in the GTA but also First Nations special projects and overseas work as well. “
Mema says there are many challenges in running a family business but these are easy to cope with when you love what you do. “In order to succeed you need to think and breathe construction 24/7, a task which is made so much easier if you truly love the discipline. Thankfully, I have the pleasure of working side by side with husband Tim. We keep each other motivated and on our best behaviour in good times and especially during times of adversity.”
She says she recommends construction careers for women, because overcoming the obstacles the industry can present makes them stronger, and because it is such a vibrant and growing industry. Her children are about to start related careers. Her son is taking civil engineering and her daughter plans to be an architect.
“Women in construction are becoming a greater influence day-by-day but we need to make sure to send the message to the new generation,” she said. “We should reach the high school kids to make sure they get the message before they make a decision as to which program to choose.”
She says ultimately, if they are motivated to work hard in a field where they can see tangible results of their effort every time they step onto a site, young people will see the value of construction careers.
“I would also recommend women currently working in the field and those who are in school preparing take every opportunity to network.” She says they should share concerns and passions and learn from each other’s stories.
“We want the new generation to be more aware of the amazing opportunity and potential within construction. It really is a great industry and there is something for all types of personalities, individuals and aspirations.”