As a woman, I would like to say that it’s about darn time that the feminist movement is being kicked into gear. Women are finally getting more respect, opportunity, and equality. Although we’re moving in the right direction, there’s still more work to be done, especially when it comes to the construction industry. In 2016, the National Association for Women in Construction reported that workers in construction totaled 10,328,000, and only 939,000 – that’s just under 10% - were women. In a field that is still male dominated, not only are women’s energies focused on doing their job, they’re also focused on squashing any belief that they aren’t suited for it. To keep this conversation moving, I spoke with the lovely ladies of TECHNE to gain an insight to their perspective working in the field.
Q: As accomplished Architects, do you find yourself still needing to “prove” yourself to male peers – architects, contractors, consultants?
KS: Sadly, yes. I’ve found that over time this has lessened, although occasionally there are individuals who question my experience and knowledge. In opposition to many situations I’ve encountered where individuals are fighting for the loudest voice or smartest person in the room, I believe our capacity to be vulnerable breeds trust. Feeling the pressure to ‘prove’ myself or compete for those titles forces me to take a step back. I work harder to provide the right answer or the correct information with the appropriate language rather than working as an equal with the team – it dramatically slows down the process. My hope is that these instances create an opportunity to educate our male counterparts that women do know as much as them, that we can provide the same amount of value and that our seat at the table is a necessary one.
JP: In meetings with my clients, contractors, and other architects, I try my hardest to not operate out of fear.
It can be easy to give in to the fear of being underappreciated, not respected, or of admitting there’s something I don’t know. It’s easy to speak up before I’ve fully formed my thought or before I have something considered to say. If I take time to evaluate the issues on the table, I can trust myself to identify an effective way of putting the problem in perspective. If my goal is just to be heard and just to be respected, I’m less successful.
Confidence is not knowing that everything will work out, confidence is knowing that everything will be all right if it doesn’t work out. I need to trust myself and trust that the people I respect will respect me.
MS: The question is a little different for me. Although I am a certified Interior Designer, the fact that I am an interior designer at all, already puts me lower on the totem pole of respect from my typically older, male peers. I have found that most everyone, including those in the field, do not know exactly what it is that we do. (I’ll put a link to the definition of Interior Design in the comments!). I had a recent experience, where the contractor told our principal, that he was actually ashamed that he had doubted me. He did not want to attend the weekly meeting if he wasn’t going to be there and ended up being pleasantly surprised once he realized that a younger, female, Interior Designer could carry a project just as effectively. It’s not so much about “proving” yourself to them, but revealing that you’re capable, smart, and responsible.
Q: Has the Feminist movement had any impact on your experiences within the industry, internally or externally?
JP: Feminism is believing that all people deserve to be treated like people. There couldn’t be a more base level belief. The Feminist movement has had a profound impact on my experiences. Every inch that the movement has moved humanity toward equality has made my life infinitely easier.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve discussed this topic publicly? If yes, what do you think was holding you back?
MS: Yes. I have no issue discussing my experiences, but rarely do I find the appropriate platform to air my grievances, especially to the broader public. It is so important to take advantage of these opportunities when they happen, and carry on the conversation whenever possible.
Q: Any advice to give ladies – young or experienced – in the construction field?
JP: You can do this job. Your unique set of skills and talents will give you a unique and valuable perspective. Have faith in yourself and know that we are all struggling with fears.
MS: To all my younger, less experienced, and intimidated ladies reading – there is nothing but growth! The journey to confidence in this field can be turbulent, but with time comes experience. You have a unique perspective from anyone else, and your opinion is valid. Share it. Feelings are also valid, and you are entitled to respect. If you’re feeling that someone is talking down to you, do not be afraid to address the situation. If you refer to my experience above, sometimes your peers aren’t even aware that they’re treating you in such a way. All in all, you got this, lady.
KS: Know that your voice is just as valuable as anyone else in the room. If you feel your confidence slipping, remember the passion you hold for your profession – it will provide you the strength you need to overcome any unwanted pressures or obstacles.
In the words of Mother Michelle Obama,
“Women and girls can do whatever they want. There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish.”