In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, and this year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter, we are featuring stories from our leaders and employees throughout the week of March 4, describing their own approach to workplace equality and honoring inclusion and diversity.

When I graduated with my master’s degree in communications, I didn’t expect to join the architecture, engineering and construction industry. In fact, my studies ranged from product marketing and public relations to pop culture and hip-hop.

Since 2011, it’s been an incredible experience building my career in the transportation market and being part of the impactful work we get to deliver. During that time, however, it also became clear that there are not enough women in our sector.

Because I’m a communicator, I’m always watching for emerging trends across industries and searching for lessons learned that we can apply to ourselves. Going back to my graduate school work, I could not help noticing the gender balance similarities between our industry and hip-hop. Yes, they seem unrelated, but the hip-hop music industry is, historically, one of the most male-dominated professions in the world. And that’s where I found my most recent inspiration in the meteoric rise of one very notable female rapper – Cardi B.

Cardi B’s ascension to stardom will go down in the history books as she continues to chip away at hip-hop’s glass ceiling. Just to name a few accomplishments, she is first solo female artist to win best rap album at the Grammy Awards and the first female rapper with two Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 songs. Although she has sparked controversy with her opinions on politics and spats with other artists,  her approach to disrupting her industry has universal relevance. As women working in a world both designed and built by men, there are (at least) four things we can learn from Cardi’s challenge of hip-hop’s status quo:

  1. Authenticity is a valuable asset. She built her brand by sharing personal reflections on social media, often on her struggle to survive in fields where the value of women is assessed by men. Often times, women are pressured to reign in our emotion for fear of being perceived as emotional – and that often extends to our relationships with other women at work. Being authentic about the struggles we face and overcome is not only valuable to our personal brands, but also opens the door to continual, transparent conversations about gender in the workplace that are vital to enacting change over time.
  2. When you find your platform, use it. As women in a male-dominated industry, particularly when we find ourselves in positions of leadership, we should lean into the opportunity to hold the door open behind us to ensure that other women are able to walk through it. Whether this is serving as a mentor, allowing flexible schedules for staff to accommodate family needs, or supporting organizations that fuel young women’s passion for STEAM, we should leverage every opportunity to advocate for other women.
  3. Power through your doubts. Cardi found out she was pregnant during one of the most critical moments of her budding career and publicly shared fears that having a baby would undo all of the success she worked so hard for. She reports that her then-boyfriend, now husband assured her that her success was secure due to her authenticity as an artist and relatability amongst her fan base; and he was right. Instead of giving into our doubts and fears amidst challenges, we need to surround ourselves with positive people who encourage us to power through and continue striving for greatness.
  4. Make money moves. Cardi is not shy about saying that making money – lots of money – is why she works harder than anyone else in the business. In additional to institutional gender discrimination, one of the reasons women make less money than men in the same roles is because men tend to be more like to ask for more career-building opportunities, higher pay, etc. than women are. We should not be afraid to assert ourselves and advocate for our value in any space at the office, but most importantly during our yearly reviews. Women should be more empowered to advocate for ourselves at the professional level.

Cardi B, like so many of us, had a number of setbacks along her path to stardom, but she powered through regardless; often citing the desire to build a better life for her family as her reason for perseverance. Although our industries are different, I’m inspired by Cardi’s work ethic, dedication toward staying true to herself and overcoming obstacles in her quest to become the greatest at what she does regardless of gender.

Originally published 03.8.2019

Author: Abby Tomlinson