London, UK


To the women in Construction: Do you need to behave like a man to succeed?

November 7, 2016


I had an interesting conversation with an architect recently who I reached out to, to get a different perspective of what a career in the construction industry was like for a woman. When I asked her if she felt like there was a glass ceiling, she thoughtfully remarked "yes, but not in the way you would think". The woman in question explained to me how it worked at her firm, "it's a case of he who shouts loudest". The glass ceiling was not gender based as such but those who pushed hardest, noisily proclaiming how great they were and how much they wanted the job were the ones who got it. Although it was generally men, there were women who got ahead in this way and it was down to them adopting the behaviour that is typically associated with how men operate in the work place. If you don't play the game, you don't get the job.

The crux of the conversation was that she didn't believe the best talent was being nurtured and promoted by using this strategy. How can you capture those who were quietly brilliant at their job but either do not have the confidence to put themselves forward or it is not their style? By overlooking them and failing push them forward in favour of those people who are loud (and competent) and have an unfailing confidence to put themselves forward for jobs, firms run the risk of missing out on the best talent.

So is there anything wrong with this? You could say that if you want a job, you should go for it and if you aren't willing to sell yourself to an employer who will?

The reality is that men are a lot more likely to go for the job they want, regardless of whether they are qualified, than women. A study by and Mckinsey & co. found that fewer women than men are aiming for the very top. Among senior managers, 60% of women said they want to be a top executive, compared to 72% of men. Women were also more likely to cite stress and pressure as one of the biggest reasons for not wanting to hold top positions.

Construction is one of those tricky industries where it still hasn't caught up and has a poor record of recruiting and retaining women, let alone promoting them to senior positions. However, as I have spoken about in previous posts, this is becoming more of a focus for firms as they realise they need to fill roles and women are the obvious source as they currently only represent 11% of the industry. The issue is there is still a perception that women aren't somehow suited to senior roles and as a result fewer women put themselves forward, or worse they are still overlooked.

So what is the solution? Do we as women need to change the way we behave in a male dominated work environment? The architect I mentioned earlier made me consider my opinion on this when she said, "behaving like a man doesn't mean we are equal to him, the reality is we're having to adapt ourselves to fit within a male industry and so we are not really any better off, we've just learned to play the game." And this I think is true. What we need is for the companies within the Built Environment to adapt and recognise that whilst the industry has been predominantly male, if this is to change the culture must also change to be more gender neutral. We need gender neutral competencies and behaviours, in order to attract the best talent to companies and into more senior roles.

In order to ensure we promote, develop and nurture the best talent within the construction industry it is important to recognise that different people need different things. Not everyone will shout about how great they are - you know it's just not very British!


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