CHICAGO, IL -- GI Stone, one of the country’s leading commercial stone fabrication and installation firms, made history twice with the recent hire of Camra Sanders as a stone mason. Not only is Sanders the first female stone mason to join the award-winning firm, but she's also the first woman to join Chicago's Stone Masons Union Local 21 as a marble finisher in 20 years.  

“It’s with great pride that I’m able to welcome Camra to our team,” said GI Stone President Sandya Dandamudi. “As a woman of color in a male-dominated industry, I know how challenging it can be just to get a seat at the table, let alone be the only woman at that table. Seeing Camra join the team is a reminder of the importance of diversity at all levels of our business. It’s a major victory for our industry, especially when you take into account this is a trade that has continually lost skilled laborers in recent years.”

Sanders learned about marble setting and finishing through the St. Paul Community Development Ministries (SPCDM), which prepares historically underrepresented minorities to enter construction trades through a three-month apprenticeship program.

“I joined the program (SPCDM) to learn a trade I didn’t know much about,” said Sanders. “But after hearing Sandya’s story and learning about GI Stone, I knew this is where I was meant to be. I’m also very proud to be the first woman to join Local 21 as a marble finisher in a long time. I hope to be a role model for others.”

The skills Sanders learned at SPCDM are highly specialized and traditionally handed down within families for generations, leading to a limited new talent pool, noted Dandamudi. While Local Union 21 regularly adds female members across its eight trades, Camra is the first female marble finisher to join in 20 years.

Dandamudi was especially impressed that Sanders developed these skills at SPCDM. She has long supported the program with the hopes of creating a sustainable path for training new stone workers and hiring potential apprentices to teach them the craft within her own company.

“Supporting pre-apprentice programs that help people of different racial, gender and economic backgrounds discover stone-setting trades isn’t just good business for my firm, it’s good business for the entire commercial real estate industry – we all benefit,” said Dandamudi. “It’s a huge asset to have a resource like SPCDM from which we can hire with confidence knowing candidates have the baseline skills to grow into a career.”

In GI Stone, Sanders joins a supplier and subcontractor responsible for several high-profile commercial renovation and new construction projects in the Chicago area, including Tribune Tower Residences, One Chicago, Cirrus Condominiums, Four Seasons Hotel renovation, the hotel portion of St. Regis Chicago, The Row Fulton Market, Salesforce Tower, Fulton Labs at 400 N. Aberdeen, 167 Green Street office building, Nobu Hotel Chicago, Circle Park Apartments and Prairie Shores Apartments.