If you’re expecting another article about breaking through the concrete ceiling or why women need to keep up the fight, prepare to be disappointed. While it’s necessary to appreciate all the women who have paved the way in the construction industry and the workforce overall, it’s not a good idea for today’s female leaders to focus on the struggle.
A positive emphasis on the power women already possess makes better business sense. Several recent studies indicate that increasing the number of women in executive leadership and board roles can increase profitability. One report from Grant Thorton LLP
suggests that male-only boards in the United States, United Kingdom and India are incurring an opportunity cost, measured in lower returns, of a whopping $655 billion.
Certainly keep recruiting female pipefitters and masons, but understand that there’s real ROI in attracting women at the top level. In traditionally male-dominated industries, such as construction, female leaders can make an impact in at least two important areas: mentoring other women and helping develop and implement strategies for mitigating bias and discrimination.
Mentor Women to Recognize Their Power
A lot of women don’t realize how much power they actually have. Marketing professionals know it: Almost all marketing is targeted toward women because they make the spending decisions. “Women now drive the world economy,” according to the Harvard Business Review. In addition, more companies are embracing qualities often associated with women, including emotional intelligence. Several articles and studies suggest that construction project management would benefit significantly if project managers had emotional intelligence training.
As such, female leaders should help other women embrace their power. Unfortunately, many women may lack the confidence to wield it. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know,” argue that bridging the “confidence gap” is an important first step in helping women become leaders.
To develop a valuable mentoring relationship, both parties should commit to the following.
- Reach an agreement on goals for the relationship, and check on progress regularly. This doesn’t have to be overly formal, but it ensures both parties are on the same page.
- Be honest and open to pushback. Because both people gain from the relationship, it should be a give and take that’s based on trust. This is especially important if the mentor is the mentee’s supervisor.
- Set regular times for communication. Feel free to engage more frequently, but having a standing appointment will help keep the relationship robust.
- Take advantage of technology to stay connected, especially if the mentor and mentee are located in different cities.
Female leaders also should encourage women to embrace their womanhood. A great resource for this is “Being Equal Doesn’t Mean Being the Same: Why Behaving Like a Girl Can Change Your Life and Grow Your Business,” by Joanna Krotz. There’s no reason why hardhats and high heels can’t share a closet.
Take the Bite Out of Bias and Discrimination
Bias is tricky. It’s a belief, while discrimination is an action. A person’s beliefs are protected by the Constitution, while the law provides specific provisions for acts of discrimination. However, from a risk management perspective, addressing bias is the ounce that can help prevent pounds of discrimination.
Increasing awareness is an important first step. Everyone has biases, and most of them are unconscious. It’s very difficult for people, on their own, to become aware of their biases. For that reason, a company may want to engage a trainer or consultant to facilitate the process.
Following are additional strategies for fostering gender equality.
- Promote work/life flexibility for all employees. It’s good for everyone, but because many women still have primary responsibility for child care, the lack of flexibility works against them more than men. Some companies provide onsite child care.
- Showcase successful women in the organization and uphold them as role models.
- Establish equal pay policies for the entire organization.
- Communicate an unequivocal policy forbidding sexual harassment in any setting at any level, and detail consequences for violating the policy.
- Ensure all managers and executives embrace gender equality as a core value of the company.
- Read “Hidden Bias: How Unconscious Attitudes on Diversity Undermine Organizations and What to Do About It,” by Gerard J. Holder.
Gender bias won’t vanish overnight; it’s an ongoing effort. A construction company that has an active gender equality program is likely to attract more female applicants at all levels, in addition to distinguishing itself as an industry pioneer.
Kim Shepherd is CEO of Decision Toolbox, a 100 percent virtual organization providing recruitment solutions, and author of “The Bite Me School of Management” and “Get Scrappy.” Tom Brennan is senior writer at Decision Toolbox. For more information, visit dtoolbox.com or follow @decisiontoolbox.