Best Person for the Job: Tonya First

Tonya First never expected to have a career in construction. During college, she took a temp job at ESI Electrical Contractors in Cincinnati, Ohio. That was 17 years ago. Since then, she has worked her way up, and now is ESI’s Director of HR & Organizational Development, supporting the company with HR, safety, strategic planning, and development.

“I love the constant changes and atmosphere of construction. It is amazing to see what our team is a part of. It is exciting and rewarding,” said First. “When we are on a project, you get to go where no one else goes. Sometimes it is a new build; other times it is an amazing renovation. Driving by that for years to come is the best.”

First wants to share her experiences to inspire more women (and girls) to choose construction as a career. Since 2021, she has served as the Chair of the “She Builds” committee of the Allied Construction Industries association in Greater Cincinnati, a group of women in construction that put education, activities, mentors, and information in front of young women, students, and women changing careers. “My company, ESI, is a sponsor along with other area companies to be sure we impact the number of women entering the industry,” she said.

She knows firsthand the importance of mentorship and support for women in construction. A member of the Cincinnati NAWIC Chapter 64 for more than 13 years, First said, ‘I met many wonderful ladies through the group. It was a great way to make connections and stay up to date on current information.” She continues to be active in her chapter, volunteering when she can to help with events, such as the Block Kids building competition.

In the future, First would like to see more women in construction in executive roles. Her professional goal is to “continue climbing the ladder. I want to stay in construction, I love where the drive and dedication has put me today.” In 2019, she completed her Master’s in Organizational Leadership while working and raising her family, earning the respect of her colleagues.

First shared these final thoughts for women considering a career in construction, “Construction is a male dominated business. I found it a challenge in the beginning. What surprised me is how supportive my colleagues are. It really does feel like a team working to get the job done.

It is an industry that is very rewarding and not going away. Do not allow the misconceptions and stereotypes drive your decision. The good outweighs the bad which comes with any profession.”