Having received some more funding to run our 3 day management and leadership courses for women in construction I spent much of my time this week ringing round employers to offer them the available placements. This experience is usually peppered with those who are enthusiastic; those who are sure you are trying to con them, and of course those that couldn’t care less and are simply waiting for the home bell to ring.
Occasionally, though, I get another response which sounds something like this: “Why should women get separate training? We just put ours in with the men, they are a robust lot and seem to be just fine.”
In itself it’s not a wrong statement. Back in the days when I worked on site, I also appeared to be fine. In fact, I would have told you so and had you offered me training specifically for women I would have probably turned it down - which might seem a little odd, given my current profession.
But it’s not that odd when you think about it. Life on site can be quite hard, with the long hours, pressure to meet completion dates, awful weather and early starts. On top of all of that, as a woman you are usually an oddity, which means you have to prove yourself that bit more, show that you are capable and - as I saw it - show that you can do all this without needing additional help.
It’s a ridiculous notion, now that I look back on it, but I’m only human and I never said I wasn’t flawed.
Because women in male-dominated professions do need a little bit of extra help to negotiate the barriers placed in front of them, and this shouldn’t be seen as a weakness or a laughing point because there are huge benefits to both the individual and the company.
1 Increasing Confidence Of course, every individual is different, but women as a group tend to have less self confidence then men. Don’t get this confused with ability: women can negotiate a tender along with the best of them. But when it comes to their own promotions, a different story can be told. Good training will help women recognise how to put systems in place to overcome this, which is good for them. As an employer, it's good for you too as research has shown more women at senior level increases profits.
2 Managing Stereotypes For some people, seeing women on site can be a difficult notion to get your head around, and that’s not surprising. I’ve worked with men who have never in a 40 year career worked with a woman on a building site. For them it was very difficult to see me as competent because they had to get over me being a woman first. Over time I would usually prove myself, but there is something a little draining about being Chartered and still having to always start from scratch. Good training discusses ways of coping and provides best practice examples.
3 Recognising patterns It never fails to surprise me how often the most damaging behaviours to individuals' careers come from good intentions. Women are often given the “softer jobs” in the office or site cabin, away from the “dangerous sites”. Which is a huge problem as for most women this is why they went into construction, those “dangerous sites” are also exciting, vibrant playgrounds of knowledge* and keeping women away from them is often a very frustrating experience. It also ensures that career progression is stalled, meaning even fewer women are making it to those all important senior positions. By recognising patterns of behaviour women can take steps to prevent it happening again. *note to readers NEVER play on a building site!
4 Understanding workplace politics Women on the whole behave less politically than men. This means that they are less likely to be noticed for their ability and therefore less likely to be lined up for promotion. By explaining the rules of workplace politics, the importance of networking and understanding how to work towards your employer's aims, women can move forward in leaps and bounds.
5 Learning how to treat a crisis Unfortunately there are times when people don’t behave as well as they should and even more unfortunately people who like to misbehave usually like a target that is different from the group norm. This means that women can face a higher level of workplace conflict when working in construction. Good training will show women how to deal with these issues, factoring in the make-up of their organisation, so that they can chose solutions that are best for them.
That’s just five reasons and I haven't event touched on how to how to maximise recognition for soft skills management, how to use your wardrobe to convey professionalism and the networking benefits of meeting like-minded individuals.
So in conclusion – yes, women in construction do need good management training designed specifically for them, or at least they do if you want to get the most out of them.
I would of course, as always, love to hear your views.
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