Three women in Forsyth County’s workforce share their stories this International Women’s Day.
While any day of the year makes for a perfect opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, three women in Forsyth County’s workforce have decided to share their stories this International Women’s Day.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an official website of the United States government, estimates that about 47 percent of the American workforce is made up of women.
Capt. Amanda Gardner, Forsyth County Fire Department
Some women, such as Fire Department Capt. Amanda Gardner, make up an even smaller number of women in their respective fields. Firefighting is a male-dominated career with only 6.2 percent of firefighters being women.
There were physical challenges to becoming a firefighter, of course, Gardner said.
“The equipment [that we use] is not scaled for the size of what I am,” she said. “I’m 5’2”; I’m short. I’m actually the shortest girl in the department, even still.”
While every firefighter must overcome physical challenges, Gardner said she also had to overcome the fact that she was the first full-time female firefighter the Forsyth County Fire Department ever had.
Everything was new; her officers had to decide where she was going to sleep, what to do about bathrooms and more.
Gardner also said she was probably “watched and scrutinized more” when she began her firefighting career. Never questioned or “given a hard time,” but perhaps just observed.
“I don’t personally play off having a cheerleader,” she said. “I’m that type of person that if you think I can’t do [something], I’m going to show you that I can.”
And she did, she said.
After 23 years of hard work, Gardner now sits at the rank of Captain and leads an entire team of men.
“Being an officer as a female and having your crew that is all males support you, that to me – I’m very proud that they support me as their officer,” Gardner said. “There’s so many other places that a man [might not] like that a female is officer, but I’m very grateful that I have a crew that supports me.
“To me, it’s not even if you’re female or male, if you work hard, you show your integrity, you show your work ethic, you show teamwork – all those things – it doesn’t really matter if you’re female or male. The guys will accept you and bring you under their arms just like any other person,” she said.
Lisa Luly, Director of the Department of Information Systems & Technology
Lisa Luly, Director of the County’s Information Systems & Technology Department, is also familiar with the responsibility of managing a group of people. Though her story starts a little differently than Gardner’s.
Women make up about 26 percent of computer and information systems managers in the United States.
When Luly was younger, she wanted to be an accountant because she always “loved working with numbers.”
In college, she developed an interest in technology and entered that field as a software engineer.
Looking back at her career, Luly said she could remember a disparity between what she was doing and making and what her male coworkers were doing and making.
“When I first started out, I started working for a man in a primarily male-dominated environment as a software engineer, and I worked for a gentleman that just didn’t have experience managing women,” Luly said.
“He really struggled with how to communicate with me,” she said. “Thank goodness he saw another female manager [who then] took me under her wing and helped develop me and give me opportunities.”
With over 35 years of experience in information technology, Luly said she has met her fair share of mentors, male and female, that have all helped lift her “to that higher level” and “[break] that glass ceiling for me.”
In the last three and a half years working for the County, Luly said she has loved giving back to her team as a mentor as others had done for her.
“I just love enabling people to be successful and helping them be great,” she said.
Lynette Ramirez, Capital Improvement Projects Manager
Lynette Ramirez, Capital Improvement Projects Manager, said she wanted to be a chemical engineer when she grew up, and she went on to accomplish just that.
“I took my first chemistry class in the ninth grade, and I still remember that day when I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do something related to … chemistry,’” she said. “And then I said, ‘I want to be a chemical engineer.’”
Ramirez also got a master’s in environmental engineering, specializing in water treatment and thus exposing her to the “water world.”
Only 28 percent of chemical engineers in the United States are women.
Being from Puerto Rico, Ramirez worked for PRASA, Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority. She then worked for Miami-Dade County managing water projects there.
In Forsyth County, Ramirez works with the Capital Projects Department, focusing on water and sewer-related projects such as the water intake and Lake Lanier return flow projects.
Through her career, Ramirez said she was met with different challenges, and she worked to become “equally prepared technically and professionally” for any difficulty she faced.
“Challenges are out there; I have experienced them,” she said. “As a woman, I think that it is very important to have the tools to manage those challenges. I think empowerment when you’re a woman in a male-dominated field is very important.”
Like Luly, Ramirez also credited her many mentors with helping her face obstacles and shaping her into the professional she is today: one who loves her job and is proud to make contributions to society to improve peoples’ qualities of life.
“I think that I have the opportunity with my technical background and the work that I do every day to make a difference to people around us, our community [and] at the same time, the environment and for future generations to come.”
Looking forward, the world will continue to celebrate the accomplishments of not only Gardner, Luly and Ramirez, but also the women of Forsyth County, the nation and the world.
Celebratory Statements from Forsyth County’s Women Commissioners:
“I was excited to run for a position where I could serve my community. Serving with two other fantastic women who bring their unique perspectives to the role has been an honor. There are so many incredible women that play pivotal roles in our community's development, not only in the government but businesses throughout the county. Happy International Women's Day to all my new coworkers and the women of Forsyth County.” – District 1 Commissioner Kerry Hill
“When you think about how long it took for women to have the right to just vote, it’s amazing how many women are now serving in a political position. I believe many women have a vision to the windows of the world, through child rearing, compassion, empathy, education and navigating through the complexities in life. I would have never guessed that holding this office would have taken me to meetings at the White House, our state Capitol and with professionals in all walks of life. Knowing that your service as a commissioner, a public servant, has such a wide range of opportunities is an awesome responsibility and one I am very grateful and humbled to have. I hope it will inspire other young women to learn more about serving others.” – District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills
"We are very lucky that such a talented and diverse group of women choose to call Forsyth County their employer and home. International Women's Day gives us the chance to celebrate these women, their accomplishments and reaffirm that Forsyth County is a wonderful place to live, work and play for people of all walks of life. I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to meet with, work with and serve alongside with these skilled women every day." – District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson