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How to be Successful as a Woman in Construction

Updated on October 30, 2014

I am an Assistant Project Manager for a construction company. Every day I answer questions like “how did you get into this kind of job?” or “what would make you want to do this kind of work?” Most people are shocked to see me where I work and many people look at me with a lot of cynicism. Everyone pays attention to my every move and is critical of everything I do. Most people assume I don’t know anything about the subjects at hand and that I am a glorified secretary that got my position with my looks. I work for a wonderful company that treats me very well and has tried to accommodate my desires. I am in no way ‘biting the hand that feeds me.’ The fact of the matter is though that many women don’t want to deal with these kinds of differences in the work place and will not take the initiative to fill this kind of role. I want to say to all the ladies out there- you can be successful and work in construction. You will be treated differently BUT you can still fulfill your dreams and do better for yourself than if you settled for a “woman’s job” just because you’re a woman.

Inequalities- What to Expect and How to Counter It

  • You will have a hard time convincing companies to hire you. Too small of a company and the fact that you are working very closely with men is uncomfortable- even to the men! Too large of a company and they have millions of applicants. Hence there are at least a dozen men with more experience than you and you are easily swept away with a valid excuse. I suggest targeting a company that is big enough to be a corporation (or is one) but still small enough to be considered a small business. Look for SWAM (small women and minority) companies.
  • You will get paid less. While creating resumes and cover letters in which you are asked salary requirements I always asked for just a little less than what the position normally pays. If you ask for the average or above average- even if your skills are worth it- your resume is going in the trash. If the company you are working for truly isn’t sexist and has the money to pay you more once they see what you are worth you will get a raise. As a woman you have to prove that you are worth the money they will be paying you.
  • The men around you will be critical of everything and live for the moment when they can prove you wrong or catch you in a mistake. Men are intimidated by a woman in a position of power in a male dominated field. There are many gender stereotypes. One is that a man is supposed to know how to build and fix things for women. So when a women is telling a man how something should be built she is making him insecure in his manhood. Catching you in your mistakes allows the man to have some of his security back. It is unreasonable to think that you will never make a mistake; we are all human after all. You can: be as accurate as possible, check and double check your work with a fine tooth comb, do your research, be a perfectionist. When you do make a mistake own up to it. If you cover up your mistakes you appear to be fraudulent, scared, and incapable. Finally, do whatever you can to correct the mistake.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

  • You will get talked over and ignored. You must make yourself be heard and be vocal! Just don’t be overly emotional while getting your point across and make sure you know what you are saying and have thought it through before you go shouting it out. Don’t run your mouth just so your presence is known- run your mouth while conveying an important message. If you are too emotional (perhaps because you are passionate about the subject) you will still be overlooked no matter how loud or vocal you are. Don’t stifle yourself either. Convey that you care about the subject and are very passionate but with delicacy. When a woman is very emotional a man thinks it is her hormones talking or that she is bickering. This scares men so they will tune and shut you out.
  • Your role will be down played. Your knowledge and skill set will be questioned. Very few people with have faith in your ability. The only way to overcome this is to know your stuff and do your job accurately and quickly. It will take you longer to prove yourself than it would a man but stay the course and all can’t help to see how great you are- eventually!

Efficiency

One of my strategies for success was to get more education than is necessary. Many of the skills needed to work in construction are handed down through generations or from man to man in the field. Women rarely get the chance to gain experience this way. Overcompensate with education to get your foot in the door and then get the experience. I have an associates applied science in architectural/civil engineering technology. None of my colleagues have education and if they do it is usually less. Some skilled trades have certificates or other associates degrees. I gained experience wherever I could at first doing diversified things. I have done estimating, detailing, project management. A little secretary/assisting and a little accounting. When there wasn’t work for me in the field I wanted to enter I took any job I could get- it shows that I am not afraid of work and will roll my sleeves up and get dirty if need be. Word of caution though. If you do take jobs in other fields keep your eyes peeled in your field and never stop trying. You can get sucked in and stuck doing a job you don’t really want.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1985
1990
1995
2000
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Women in Construction
619
672
779
881
1074
1117
1122
1045
942
818
% of Pay = to Mans
68
74
74
77
81
82
81
80
80
80

For more information on women's occupations and rate of pay data can be found with OSHA, United States Census, and the Board of Labor Statistics.

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