Yesterday I was on a panel discussion at the ENR Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference in New York. It was a great experience for me. A couple of things that really stuck out:
1. This was the first time EVER that I was in the minority. And I mean THE MINORITY! There were probably five men there out of 300 attendees. It was a very different feeling. I never felt out-of-place really, but I did feel outnumbered. It was a little intimidating. I finally felt what it must be like for women and minorities at a normal construction conference filled with mostly middle-aged, white men.
2. I experienced bathroom discrimination for the first time. I say that with tongue planted firmly in my cheek. How many times do we men sail in and out of the bathroom at intermission or the seventh inning stress while the line at the women’s bathroom snakes around the corner for miles? There were so many women and so few men that they actually put a sign over the men’s restroom that said “WOMEN ONLY”. I had to go down two floors to use the bathroom. What a shift in perspective. Women probably get really frustrated by those long lines and think to themselves, “When are the mostly male architects going to wake up and put in twice as many stalls in the women’s bathrooms?”
3. Women interact differently than men, at least in construction and engineering. Men will gather and greet with a cool confidence. The interactions are low-key and low energy and the topic of conversation is mostly about business. When a large group of women interact, the energy is amazing! It is palpable. The room is buzzing! They are animated and talking and exchanging business cards and discussing lots of different things, including non-business topics.
4. Women have some of the same issues as men. There are some difference such as childcare that are quite different for men and women, but what I took away was that the skills for a woman to be successful in the construction industry are exactly the same skills that men need. It’s just in a different context and should be taught in a slightly different way to address their specific needs. Leadership, presence, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence skills are at least a part of those success factors. Individuals will likely just be working on different areas.
I look forward to more of these kinds of conferences and hope that other industry organizations will reach out and invite this group to the table. They deserve a seat at that table.
Check out my ENR Viewpoint article on diversity: