A magazine published an article about the advances women are making in construction. To my surprise the article featured a former co-worker of mine and painted a pretty rosy picture. Reading the article it sounds like women have finally achieved parity with men in construction.
There’s only one problem…all the stuff the article didn’t mention.My featured co-worker was already working in the company when I joined and was in a different division. We were the only two female project managers in the company and the only women working in non-traditional roles in our respective divisions. During my first year at a company leadership conference, I met more of my male peers from across the company. I was quickly asked if I worked full time. Dumbfounded I replied that I was working about 60 hours a week getting a large and risky program off the ground.
I soon learned the reason for the question was because my female peer only worked 30 hours per week. This of course didn’t sit well with my male peers –their first experience in working with a woman in a non-traditional role was to see her have preferential treatment. I have to admit it didn’t sit well with me either. I felt my female peer was feeding a stereotype and that I was on my own in breaking through it.
A year or so later, her division got a new manager and the company grapevine was alive with rumors. One of his first tasks was to give her an ultimatum – either work the hours it takes to be a project manager or leave. She left. The article left that part out!
Fast forward several years, she returned to the company as a senior project manager…for a while. She is now in Business Development with a VP title. It sounds like she is successfully climbing the corporate ladder. But another reality check shows this is a mirage.
In this company, real constructors aren’t in Business Development. Real constructors are out in the field. So it doesn’t matter what her title is, the men in the company don’t consider her a real constructor.
She has not broken through the all-male barrier.
I don’t know if she wanted to remain in project management or if going to BD was her choice. The article didn’t address that either. But in either case I question if she is really advancing women in construction. Advancing women in any industry does not come from performing the function the men say it’s OK for us to do. Advancement is having the opportunity to do any function we want without having to fight for it or being given a hard time about it.
When we only do the jobs that men say it’s Ok for us to do, we are trapped in a pretty little box. Laying fancy titles on us is just putting wrapping paper and a bow on the box to make it seem more attractive. If it’s pretty maybe we won’t challenge being put in a box.. But no matter how pretty it is, a box is a box.
Are you trapped in a pretty little box?
If so, what are you doing about it?
When this company put me in the pretty BD box and replaced me with an unqualified younger man who made more money than me. I did not go quietly! I was mad that I was being pushed out of a program I spent months of long hours putting together. I kept climbing out of the box. I rallied every ally I had to help me. I used every company resource to protest the move. It took me 6 months to get out.
I got out permanently when I discovered a bad decision my replacement made that cost the company $100,000 and was going to cost $300,000 before the project was done.
If I had accepted being in the box, my career would have been very different. I never would have gained the perspective and the experience that makes this website possible.
Empowered women don’t stay in pretty little boxes.
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