The construction industry isn’t particularly welcoming to women. Although females make up almost 50 percent of the total U.S. workforce, they comprised just 9.3 percent of construction industry labor as of 2015. And most of those workers were employed as sales and office staff. Only about 30 percent were professionals or construction managers, and far fewer were laborers on actual construction sites.
Industry bias notwithstanding, women can and do excel in the construction field. What’s more, construction is one of the few industries in the United States where women earn close to the same wages as men. So, construction management is definitely a worthwhile career goal for women graduating college with a civil engineering or other related degree. The median salary for construction managers as of 2017 is about $88,000 per year. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 11 percent job growth, or about 46,000 new positions, by 2026.
But breaking into the job market isn’t quite the same as breaking into the “good old boy’s club.” Women construction managers face a fair amount of subtle and not-so-subtle bias on the job. According to one young construction manager who spoke with the feminist media brand MAKERS, “It can be difficult to distinguish whether you are being asked to do something because they genuinely need your help or because you’re the girl on the team.” And effectively managing an all-male staff can be tough for a woman, especially when many of the men she’s supervising have decades of experience under their belts.
But tough doesn’t mean impossible. And women gain the respect of men in the construction industry all the time. The key to doing so is to employ a few simple strategies, say women who have “been there.” Here are a few key points they advise you to keep in mind.
Start by Building Trust
The way to build trust in your abilities as a manager isn’t by trying to prove how much you know right off the bat. According to women construction managers who have been in the industry for some time, it’s important to communicate that you’re “in charge.” But at the same time, you should acknowledge the expertise of workers who have doing their jobs for 20 or 30 years. Ask questions; listen to the answers, and admit that you’re still learning (because you are!) Men (and, yes, women) enjoy being asked to share their knowledge and experience. And they are far more likely to trust someone who is confident enough to admit they don’t have all the answers their first day on the job.
Use Humor to Break the Ice
When you’re managing an all-male construction crew, there is no way that bias and sexism won’t rear their ugly heads. Out of over 10 million construction workers in the U.S. today, about 930,000 are women. It’s a male-dominated profession, and some degree of friction between the workers and a female boss is more or less inevitable. How you handle that depends on the situation. But according to Lynn Hurley, a project manager since 2005, humor is a great way to break the ice. Once the men get to know you, she says, your gender will matter a lot less. “I try to give them some room to get used to the idea of a woman being in charge and let them see my capabilities. Usually it’s smooth sailing from there” she says.
Be Prepared to Promote Yourself
Any woman who enters a male-dominated industry knows that she will need work harder than her male counterparts to climb the ladder of success. And that’s a problem for many women, who, as a rule, are less comfortable “tooting their own horn” than men. But being quiet about your accomplishments can wreck havor on your career goals. “I have been overlooked for less qualified men and feel that I have to work harder to make my successes known,” said Hurley. “I have to consciously remind my male co-workers of my successes.”
If you’re not sure about how to sell yourself, ask a female friend help. Tell her what you’ve accomplished in your current role, and ask her to give you feedback. Role play until you feel more comfortable, then give the same “speech,” a bit more informally, to your co-workers and your boss.
Establish a Zero Tolerance Policy
Some female contrauction managers will tell you that sexually explicit humor, sexual innuendo and inappropriate physical contact are part and parcel of their jobs. But there is absolutely no excuse for women to endure any form of sexual harassment, whether it’s verbal or physical, while at work. As the manager of a project, your role is to communicate this clearly to your staff, and to call out anyone who crosses the line. If inappropriate behavior continues, you may need to establish a formal process for educating and counseling those involved. (Some large contracting companies will have a process in place to handle sexual harassment complaints, but many small businesses do not.)
About The Carmoon Group
The Carmoon Group, Ltd. is committed to helping woman and minority owned businesses succeed. We offer risk management advice, a wide array of insurance products, surety bonds, and access to financing for qualified businesses. Why not give us a call today and see what we can do to help your business grow? Or if you’re too busy to call, just reach out online and we’ll get back to you at a convenient time.