Friday, December 10, 2010
Gentlemen, fear not, this is not a column about crazed testosterone women taking over the workforce. It is merely an exercise in awareness.
Last night, I successfully launched a “Connecting Women in Construction” project, under the auspices of the AAUW (American Association of University Women). Our goal is to develop a model of mentorship and opportunities for hands-on experience for our female students.
The catalyst for this project was an observation made as students introduced themselves at the beginning of the semester. Many of the male students shared that they were following in the footsteps of role models, and aspired to high positions of management and ownership. By contrast, only few of the female students had any prior contact within the industry and their goals were correspondingly limited to “graduating” or “finding a job.” In other words, many of the guys in our path followed a cultural “pipeline” which led them to aspire to a successful career in construction. Girls have to select the pathway of stepping stones to get to the same starting place, often with little encouragement along the way. Hence our first goal - mentorship.
The second part of the program came as a request from our female students themselves. They want a chance to go out and build. Boys often gain some relevant construction experience because they have signed on to house building crews in the summer during high school. But the reality is that cultural norms make this a less obvious option for girls. Ironically, in our program we are now facing the problem that many of the boys also have no field experience.
And why should we hire women? Well, Balfour Beatty Construction has found women to be well suited for their new “project integrator” positions. My own research on interpersonal skills in teams indicates that women may be stronger in communication and teamwork. And both Lean Project Delivery and Sustainable Construction (Energy Efficiency, Durability)have documented the need for well integrated teams and cooperation among trades to achieve the desired results. In previous blogs, I’ve spoken of the A/E/C industry’s voiced need for “people” skills, collaboration skills. Sounds like a good reason to me to explore the contributions women can make to address this need.
So, for all of you out in readershipland - (which, according to the stats tell me is growing significantly) - please be aware of stereotypes, mentorships and opportunities. Offer to help the Girl Scout Troop with a construction badge, offer a day in the field to girls in high school, or those enrolled in a community college. Buy your daughters some Legos. And mostly, be aware of opportunities to help women take the first step in joining our industry.