From the lofty heights of completing a master’s degree, the notion of working on a freezing cold, dirty building site in a “not-very-nice” part of town did not sound like a great idea. However, what I discovered from a temporary job on a construction site was the most exhilarating work environment, and I was hooked.
I had the benefit of two great mentors and managers who guided, supported and challenged me as I pursued my construction career. I gained invaluable experience, pursued further education and became a Member of the Chartered Institute of Building. From that point on, my career took off and for the last 15 years of my life, I’ve been working on building sites.
For the most part, I’ve been fortunate as a woman in a male-dominated industry and early on did not really see the issues related to gender discrimination. It made no difference that I was a woman, and if people treated me in an unfair way, I tackled it square on, but never felt it held me back or was part of a wider problem.
However, as my experiences broadened, and with more time on different projects and with varied teams, I began to see what others had accounted. At times, people devalue women’s roles, and this has motivated me to more proactively advocate for women working in construction.
For me, and for others, the challenge now is to provide inspiration to those following in our footsteps. What can you do to be an advocate? Here is my top advice:
See the whole person. The times I’ve felt most supported are those in which I’m treated and managed based on my expertise and performance. Managers in the construction industry should not treat their employees differently because they are women, but do what a skilled manager does and build on their strengths, figure out what motivates them and help them work on areas of development.
Face the facts. Acknowledge the challenges women face and be an advocate. When struggling to get the response I needed to progress a workflow from a client representative, I reached out to my manager and asked him what I was doing wrong. He analysed my work and concluded there was nothing amiss. He then met with me and the client representative, reiterating my position and authority. While it’s frustrating this was needed in the first place, a professional and diplomatic discussion can be a real game changer. (The client in this scenario requested I work on a further project with him based on the quality of my work.)
Be a mentor. Women working in construction need mentors and inspirational leaders as much as anyone else, and while it would be brilliant if those role models were also women, this doesn’t have to be the case. I would urge ALL leaders and managers to be role models regardless of gender. It’s helpful to meet other people who’ve been successful in our same roles to provide inspiration for the future. Having role models is important, the right ones even more so.