March is Women’s History Month, an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. March 3rd – 9th is Women in Construction (WIC) Week with the theme, “Be the Power in Your Success”. “#BalanceforBetter” is the campaign for International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8th, the idea behind which is for all of us to strive to build a more gender balanced world. I propose we combine these two ideas and focus on being the power behind building a more gender balanced world, particularly in the male-dominated construction industry.
The statistics are well known, less than 9% of the construction workforce is women. And that number has not changed significantly in the last 20 years. The industry is seeing a greater influx of women into the entry-level ranks of project engineer, project manager, etc. however they are not sticking around and very few make it to the executive level. With that in mind, we can’t wait for a revolution from the top, rather every woman working in the industry needs to take up the challenge of building a more balanced workplace and that starts with owing we are our sister’s keeper.
Working in the industry women are often the “only” on the job, in the meeting, etc. And data in recent studies show that being an Only means you are more likely to experience micro-aggressions in the professional setting. A micro-aggression can be anything from needing to provide additional evidence of competence to being addressed to in a less-than-professional way. Interestingly enough there are also challenges when women have women peers. Researcher Selin Kesebir found, “When women compete with other women, they often felt like their relationship was negatively impacted. Those feelings may lead women to avoid situations where they’d have to complete with female coworkers or to not compete as vigorously. This means they may miss out on landing big career opportunities.” And to top it all off, the likeability bias has been well established, “women who are nice are not competent and competent women are not nice.”
So, what are women to do? We can help mitigate these issues by forming our own tribes, women banding together to support each other in the workplace. This will begin to create the natural networking that men already enjoy. This does not mean that we all have to be friends, rather we need to demonstrate respect and appreciation for our female peers. We need to advocate for ourselves as well and remember that doesn’t mean it has to be at another women’s expense. Especially, in the construction industry there is more than enough room for all women to succeed.
As a practical measure, join a trade association that has a women’s subgroup or is specifically for women in the industry and attend women’s events focused on professional development. A recent HBR report found that women who attend female only conferences are more likely to be promoted and/or given a raise than women who don’t. If you have achieved success, sponsor a high potential woman in your organization, mentor others, form an employee affinity group for women and if you have a seat at the leadership table speak up for those who don’t have a voice. We have a responsibility to ensure that the path for those who come after us is easier than ours was!
“Set an example of awesomeness for all the women who join the ranks after you and make that your legacy — not that of the only woman who managed to make it through Survivor: Business Edition.” Corey Munchbach, “How to Survive Being the Only Woman in the Workplace”, www.entreprenuer.com, February 18, 2019.