On my quest for more diversity and inclusion in the AEC industry, I have focused on women as well as minorities.
The title of the blog is Are You a Misogynist? Let’s look at the dictionary definition of a misogynist: a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.
I’ve been in the AEC industry a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a true misogynist. I’m not saying they don’t exist. I’m saying I never met one. From my point of view, most of the mistakes the men make with women in the industry are because of a typical emotional profile which includes high self-regard, assertiveness, and independence and low emotional self-awareness, empathy, and impulse control. With this combination of emotional skills, men may say or do inappropriate things and most of the time, do not even realize it. The profile also contributes to biases men may have toward women.
This is not an excuse, simply data that we can’t ignore. Part of our diversity and inclusion training includes emotional intelligence training and mindfulness, which helps these white males to be present in those moments, fully understand the reactions of others, truly understands when things get off track, and make adjustments for better outcomes through meaningful dialogue. Although this isn’t a total solution, many of these issue concerning women in the AEC industry can be made better through emotional self-awareness and emotional management.
Women have a tough time in the industry. They have to walk a very fine line between assertiveness and empathy. If they are too assertive, they are labeled a bitch. If they are too empathetic, they are dismissed. Most men don’t have to deal with this dilemma and are not aware that their experience of working in the industry might be different than a woman’s. Many white men tend to pull out the performance card. If you are a high performer, you will rise in your career no matter what your gender or skin color. This is an excellent thought, but with personal biases (conscious and unconscious), and the current culture of the industry, and based on several key studies, the reality is that women and minorities don’t get the same opportunities. This is really coming out now in the tech industry with the debacles at Uber and Google.
I hear women in the industry discuss the likability/credibility dilemma and that fine line between the two. Carol Bartz, the former CEO of Autodesk and Yahoo, was asked at a recent women in construction conference about this likability/credibility issue and which was most important. She responded as only Carol Bartz could. She said, “If I had to chose one, it would be credibility. But if you’re an asshole, you lose credibility pretty quickly.”
I put out a survey with the following question: As a woman in the AEC industry, what is your biggest challenge? The number one answer?: Lack of respect. I have worked with a woman who has a PhD from MIT in Civil Engineering, and she is still treated like an administrative assistant on some of her projects.
Let’s do a quick experiment. If you are a white male, what comes to mind when I say Woman Project Manager? If your mental image is filled with reservations or negative thoughts, then it’s probably time to take a look at yourself and work on your biased thinking. Does this make you a misogynist? That is for you to decide. But how you define yourself is less important than what you do with your bias.
If you are a white male, I challenge you to address any biases that you have toward women in the AEC industry and promote and support them as best you can. If we aren’t able to elevate more women into higher management positions, the women coming into the industry will continue to leave after a short period of time. If you were a woman, would you stay if you saw no opportunities for advancement?
One more note: The one point of discussion at all three of the women in construction conferences I’ve attended is how women sometimes undermine each other instead of supporting each other. It seems there is such a thing as women who are biased against other women. So, women out there, especially those in leadership positions, it’s up to you to overcome any biases that you may have and help to promote other women in the industry.
Our course on diversity and inclusion explores these mental models and biases and gives you tools to be able to overcome them. If you want even more resources on emotional intelligence and all of the critical people skills your folks need to succeed, click here for information on our online courses called The Total Leadership Library.
If you want more free information and resources, download my white paper that includes two of my bestselling books and another white paper on how to build the people before you build the project. Click here to download the white paper.